Defense attorney Natalie Tarantino gives her opening statement in the trial of Richard Rotter at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Monday, March 20, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Defense attorney Natalie Tarantino gives her opening statement in the trial of Richard Rotter at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Monday, March 20, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Police give emotional testimony at Rotter trial

On the second day of trial in the slaying of Everett officer Dan Rocha, witnesses described a hectic scene after the shooting.

EVERETT — Richard Johnson testified Tuesday he was in the Starbucks drive-thru with his wife when he heard the gunshots that killed Everett police officer Dan Rocha last March.

“Just as we had got done ordering, I was going to start the vehicle up to pull forward,” Johnson said on the stand. “And all of a sudden, pop, pop, pop, pop — about four or five rounds went off.”

Johnson got out of his car, and in a crouch, made his way inside the restaurant, hoping to find police. He eventually made his way outside again where he saw Rocha’s body, a pistol on the ground next to his left leg. He knelt down to check for a pulse. When Johnson didn’t feel one, he put his jacket over Rocha’s face.

“Why?” deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson asked.

“Because it was the thing to do,” Johnson responded.

Johnson was one of more than a half-dozen witnesses called to the stand Tuesday on the second day of testimony for the aggravated murder trial of Richard Rotter. The witnesses, both civilians and police, described a hectic scene in the minutes after Rotter shot and killed Rocha, 41.

On March 25, 2022, Rocha made a routine stop for coffee at the Starbucks near Everett Community College when he noticed a man in the parking lot, now identified by police as Rotter, moving what he believed to be guns between two cars. Rocha called for backup and approached him.

Everett police Sgt. Steven Harney responded to Rocha’s request for backup. On the way to the scene, he noticed an alarming amount of new calls coming in.

“They were stacking up on my computer screen,” Harney testified Tuesday.

Richard Rotter listens to witness questioning in his trial at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Monday, March 20, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Richard Rotter listens to witness questioning in his trial at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Monday, March 20, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Detective David Sinex arrived on the scene shortly after Harney. He reported finding Rocha’s body partially covered by Johnson’s jacket.

“As an officer you go to a lot of shootings,” Sinex told jurors. “But seeing duty boots and duty pants was hard for me and still is hard for me to think about.”

Despite knowing Rocha’s gunshot wounds were likely “not survivable,” the detective opened his vest and performed CPR.

“If it was me or my family, I would want someone to try and do aid for me,” Sinex said. “If I could keep his heart beating and his family could see him one more time by me doing CPR, that’s kind of where my mind was.”

A firefighter examined Rocha and told Sinex it was past the time of aid, according to his testimony.

More than one Everett officer got emotional on the stand and struggled to speak.

Chief Dan Templeman, who hired Rocha in 2018, said he arrived to a chaotic shooting scene. The chief testified one of his officers told him the victim “didn’t make it.”

“At that point I didn’t know who, I just knew it was one of my officers,” Templeman said.

Defense attorney Natalie Tarantino has yet to cross examine witnesses. The defense indicated on Monday the facts of the case are not up for debate, and will instead argue that Rotter’s action could not have been premeditated due to his mental health and drug issues.

The trial is expected to last three weeks.

Maya Tizon 425-339-3434; maya.tizon@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @mayatizon.

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