Content warning: This story contains allegations of sexual assault.
EVERETT — A jury acquitted a former Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy who was charged with third-degree rape of a child.
Anthony Zayas, now 27, cried tears of relief and hugged defense attorney Samantha Sommerman as he heard the verdict read around noon Monday in Snohomish County Superior Court. As soon as the court hearing ended, the defendant hugged his mother and other family members who sat through three days of trial testimony.
Under state guidelines, Zayas faced 12 to 14 months in prison if convicted.
The defendant was employed as a Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy from 2019 to 2021. On June 20, 2020, he reportedly had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl he met on the internet through the dating application Tinder, according to charging papers. The girl used a fake name on her dating profile and wrote that she was 19.
The defendant, formerly of Arlington, took the witness stand Friday in his trial, claiming he believed the girl was over 18 when they met. The former deputy asked her age and birth date when they met, he testified. She reportedly told him she was 18 and would be turning 19 in August. She provided him with an exact date and year: Aug. 27, 2001.
Defense attorney Samantha Sommerman asked Zayas if he thought that answer was a red flag.
“Not with the way that she responded,” Zayas told the courtroom. “It was really smooth and confident — it’s like if you asked me my birthday, how I would respond to you — without any hesitation.”
Zayas testified that the girl’s appearance did not give him pause about her stated age of 18.
“She looked exactly to me as the person in the pictures,” Zayas said. “I recognized her based off of her Tinder profile.”
The jury believed Zayas. Twelve jurors — seven women and five men — deliberated for about five hours before returning a not-guilty verdict.
In Washington, a person is guilty of rape of a child in the third degree when the person has sexual intercourse with another who is at least 14 years old but less than 16, and the perpetrator is at least four years older than the victim.
Deputy prosecutor Jarett Goodkin argued that, under the law, Zayas had a responsibility to verify the girl’s age.
“She’s made bad decisions,” Goodkin told the courtroom Friday in his closing argument. “She’s done things she shouldn’t have. She’s run away. She’s got mental health problems. But isn’t really what this law is about — is to protect children just like her?”
Zayas’ defense attorney argued he made a reasonable effort to verify the girl’s age.
“He trusted her,” Sommerman said Friday in her closing argument. “He trusted (the girl) when she told him, repeatedly, that she was 18, soon to be 19. He didn’t ignore the warning signs. He asked questions. He asked follow-up questions.”
After the verdict was announced, Sommerman said she felt encouraged to see that justice had been done.
“Anthony Zayas matched with a 19-year-old college student on Tinder,” Sommerman said in an interview. “She repeatedly said she was 18, soon to be 19. She gave him no information to the contrary. She had an extremely intricate backstory: She had tattoos, she smoked cigarettes. For any questions Anthony had about her story, she had quick, confident answers. That’s why the jury acquitted him of this charge, because he truly believed her lies.”
The deputy prosecutor declined to comment on the verdict.
Zayas was placed on administrative leave in August 2020 while the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office conducted an internal investigation, sheriff’s office spokesperson Courtney O’Keefe said. He resigned March 2.
The former deputy now lives near Monterey, California, with his mother and her boyfriend, he testified. He no longer works in law enforcement, and he has since found a job in the restaurant industry.
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterellen