By Kera Wanielista / Skagit Valley Herald
MOUNT VERNON — Testimony has begun in the trial of Ernesto Rivas, the man accused of shooting Mount Vernon police officer Michael “Mick” McClaughry, who grew up in Everett.
The trial is expected to last six weeks.
Rivas, 47, is facing six charges: First-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault with a deadly weapon for the shooting that led officers to his house to investigate; first-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault with a deadly weapon in the shooting of McClaughry; and two counts of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon for shooting at Mount Vernon police officers Ben Green and Liz Paul, who were with McClaughry investigating the first shooting.
McClaughry graduated from Cascade High School and served for three and a half years as a reserve police officer for the city of Everett before joining the Mount Vernon force.
During opening arguments Tuesday morning, prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula set the scene of the cold, dark December day in 2016, when officers responded to a report of a shooting that occurred near the intersection of North LaVenture Road and East Fir Street.
In that incident a man, who was reportedly a member of a rival gang to the one to which Rivas belonged, was waiting by his vehicle, which had a flat tire, when he was approached by two boys and was shot in the neck.
The two boys — later identified as 15-year-old Roberto Lopez Jr. and 16-year-old Austin Isaias Gonzales — fled to Rivas’ house, Kaholokula said.
Gonzales had been armed with a revolver given to him by Rivas, who was his mentor and neighbor, Kaholokula said.
When officers went to Rivas’ nearby home in the 800 block of North LaVenture Road, McClaughry, a 31-year veteran of the department, knocked on Rivas’ door, called out his name and said officers wanted to speak with him, Kaholokula said.
“They knew him to be a (gang member), but they also knew him as a person who didn’t have a beef with law enforcement,” she said. “So they thought they’d be OK going up and talking to him.”
While waiting for an answer, McClaughry dropped his head and looked at the ground. That, she said, is when he was shot from inside the house through a glass window.
The bullet struck him behind the ear, she said. He survived, but is blind from the injury.
“Officer McClaughry didn’t know that would be the last thing he would see,” she said.
As officers attempted to pull McClaughry to safety and assess his injuries, shots kept coming from the house, she said.
“Mr. Rivas wasn’t giving up,” Kaholokula said. “He wasn’t coming out.”
The ensuing standoff lasted five hours before Rivas exited the house wearing a bulletproof vest, she said.
Lopez was sentenced in January 2017 to six months in a juvenile detention facility after pleading guilty as an adult to second-degree assault with a deadly weapon.
In June 2017, Gonzales was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison after pleading guilty as an adult to three counts of second-degree assault, two of which carried a deadly weapon enhancement.
In opening arguments, defense attorney Jason Smith said Rivas grew up with alcoholic parents, domestic violence and a father who was in a gang.
While Rivas also is a gang member, Smith said, he had not been involved in any crime for a while, had positive relationships with law enforcement and was trying to be a community activist.
Rivas did not supply either of the boys with the gun used in the first incident, Smith said. However, when the boys ran to Rivas’ house for help, he had no choice but to help them.
“It was this nightmare that was brought upon him by these out-of-control, murderous, juvenile gang members,” Smith said.
As the boys sheltered in his home, Rivas thought he could still help them, Smith said. Until, that is, one of the teens shot McClaughry, Smith said.
“Now the nightmare goes from bad to worse,” Smith said.
Lopez is expected to testify in the trial, as is McClaughry.