Officer’s past an issue in drive-by shooting case

EVERETT — A Lake Stevens police officer who may testify against the man accused in the June drive-by killing of a Seattle girl has something troubling in his past that Snohomish County prosecutors aren’t sure should become public.

They went to court on Friday to argue for a protective order temporarily keeping the information under wraps.

The move came in the case of Erick N. Walker. The Marysville aerospace worker, 27, is accused of spending much of a night firing handguns at cars, houses, and a group of teenage girls.

Molly Conley, 15, of Seattle, was fatally shot while walking along a Lake Stevens road. Prosecutors allege Walker is linked by forensics to some of the gunfire, and that Conley’s killing was part of a violent spree that “exhibited extreme indifference to human life.”

He is scheduled to go on trial in January, charged with first-degree murder and four counts of drive-by shooting. If convicted, he likely would spend decades in prison.

Walker’s lawyer, longtime Everett defense attorney Mark Mestel, on Friday challenged the notion that prosecutors should dictate how he uses information potentially helpful to his client.

Prosecutors told Mestel they would share concerns about the credibility of a police witness in the case, but only if he first agreed to a court order restricting what he does with the information, Superior Court Judge Anita Farris was told.

The order would bar him from sharing the information with others, including his client. It would remain in effect until a judge ruled otherwise.

Nobody in court on Friday brought up any officers’ names. Stemler told Farris the officer works for the Lake Stevens Police Department.

The prosecution’s witness list names at least 10 officers from Lake Stevens, including two whose behavior during a June 2011 arrest prompted close scrutiny for the department and a $100,000 settlement in a civil rights lawsuit.

Officers Steve Warbis and James Wellington were accused of illegally arresting a man who had argued with an off-duty Warbis about the man’s driving.

Records show Warbis also was investigated for a drunken brawl in Everett in 2012.

Wellington has faced even more trouble, and remains on the force under a “last chance” employment agreement. He’s been the focus of at least six internal investigations since 2009, according to Lake Stevens police records obtained earlier by The Herald.

Farris on Friday told prosecutors to provide information about the unnamed Lake Stevens officer whose credibility may be impeached. She also temporarily granted the prosecutor’s disclosure restrictions and scheduled a Thursday hearing to revisit the matter.

“I don’t think it is fair to the defense, as well as the court, to rule on this in the blind,” she said.

Under case law, prosecutors are required to provide the defense with information regarding problems with the credibility of police officer witnesses. The prosecutor’s office maintains what it calls “potential impeachment disclosure” files about those officers, but treats the contents as confidential, Stemler said.

Restricting access to that information balances the rights of defendants to potentially use the information to impeach witnesses while also protecting the officers’ privacy interests, Stemler said.

Farris said that police personnel files can contain private, protected information, including the officers’ social security numbers and medical records.

After Friday’s hearing, Stemler continued to decline to name the Lake Stevens officer whose conduct has now become an issue in the Walker case.

At least one of the named witnesses has been publicly accused of dishonesty.

A former Lake Stevens chief questioned Wellington’s credibility, putting in writing that he found the officer prone to half truths that made him “unreliable and untrustworthy,” records show.

In 2012, Wellington was the focus of simultaneous internal investigations for allegedly sending a threatening e-mail about the city’s top administrator and being prosecuted for a drunken disturbance inside a hotel at Yellowstone National Park. He’s also been investigated for showing up at work smelling of booze, abusing sick leave, not telling the truth and misusing his city uniform allowance to purchase a backup handgun.

On the night she was killed, Molly was visiting friends in Lake Stevens to celebrate her 15th birthday. The freshman at Seattle’s Bishop Blanchet High School was nicknamed “4.0” because of her good grades.

Scott North: 425-339-3431, north@heraldnet.com

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