The boy fatally shot his 7-year-old sister, Jenna, while the girl was seated in the family van, waiting for her parents to return from a quick errand at a Stanwood art studio.
"It was an accident, plain and simple. It is not a crime," Seattle defense lawyer David Allen said.
On Tuesday, Derek Carlile made his first court appearance since prosecutors charged him with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the March 10 shooting. He pleaded not guilty during the brief hearing in Snohomish Superior Court.
Deputy prosecutor Lisa Paul did not ask the judge to impose bail. His trial date was set for Aug. 24.
Carlile, 31, remains on paid administrative leave from his job. Marysville police said an internal investigation will wait until the criminal case is resolved.
Prosecutors allege that the off-duty officer failed to heed or be aware of the danger of leaving his four children, ages 1 to 7, alone in a van with a loaded handgun.
"The defendant's failure to be aware of this substantial risk was a gross deviation from the standard that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation," Paul wrote in charging documents.
Allen told reporters that there may have been some carelessness on the part of his client, but Carlile's actions don't add up to the gross negligence that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to convict him of second-degree manslaughter.
It will be up to a jury to decide if he made a mistake, or if he committed a crime, Allen said.
Carlile reached for his wife's hand as he walked out of the courtroom. They were accompanied by more than a dozen relatives, friends and fellow Marysville police officers. The Camano Island couple stood behind Allen as the Seattle attorney answered questions from media.
At one point during the press conference, Forrest Carlile quietly asked her husband if he was OK.
"The family obviously is having a difficult time," Allen said.
They have deep faith and strong support. Their sole concern is for their family, he said.
Carlile hopes to get the manslaughter charge resolved, and to return to work as a police officer, his lawyer said.
Investigators believe that Carlile's son grabbed a .38-caliber revolver from a cup holder next to the driver's seat in the family van. The boy, who was known to be fascinated with guns, reportedly fired the revolver once.
Jenna was struck in her abdomen. She died within hours, after emergency surgery.
Carlile reportedly told detectives that he usually kept the handgun in a holster on his ankle or locked it in a side compartment in the driver's door. The officer said that because he was in a hurry that day, he didn't strap the gun to his leg before he parked the van outside the studio, court papers said.
The family had stopped at the art business on their way to a wedding reception. Both parents got out of the van, leaving their children inside.
Carlile was talking with the studio's owner while his wife went to drop off some business cards and then to look at the lamps that her husband and their friend had purchased earlier that day.
Carlile told police at some point he locked the van so the children couldn't get out. He said he heard a thud come from the van and assumed the boy had kicked the vehicle, Paul wrote. A short time later, his 5-year-old daughter climbed out of the van, saying something about a gun and her brother.
The off-duty officer ran to his children and found Jenna, his oldest daughter, slumped over in her seat. He saw blood and realized the girl had been shot. The boy was out of his booster seat and the Smith and Wesson lay on the floor.
The couple reportedly told investigators that the boy was curious about guns. He plays with toy guns and knew how to pull the triggers.
"He's very fascinated with guns and that's why I'm beatin' myself up because I left my damn gun, for 40 seconds in the center ... it's like what the hell?" Carlile reportedly told investigators.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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