WOODINVILLE — When a suspect put his car in reverse following a 42-mile pursuit that wound from Lynnwood to Woodinville early Halloween morning, three Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies opened fire.
A report recently completed by the Snohomish Multi-Agency Response Team found that the deputies fired 48 shots, 31 of which struck the vehicle. The gunfire also wounded the suspect, Daniel Garnica-Melgoza, 42, of Bothell, who earlier in the night allegedly strangled his on-and-off girlfriend and attacked a man she had been dating before fleeing in his vehicle.
According to the report, Garnica-Melgoza reached speeds of more than 100 mph before being forced off the road by a patrol car near Woodinville High School. Witnesses had told deputies that Garnica-Melgoza was armed with some sort of bladed weapon and might have a gun.
The deputies told investigators they feared for their lives when he put the car in reverse.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office reviewed the results of the investigation, but declined to charge the officers.
“The decision by the officers to fire their weapons was made in an instant and in response to what they reasonably perceived to be a dangerous fleeing felon who would not respond to verbal command,” deputy prosecutor Mark Larson wrote in a May memorandum.
The Daily Herald obtained the response team’s report and the prosecutor’s letter through public records requests.
SMART is a team of detectives that investigates instances in which police use potentially fatal force.
Deputies initially responded to reports of an assault and a collision at 144th Street SW and Meadow Road near Martha Lake.
Garnica-Melgoza, driving a Chevrolet Tahoe, had intentionally backed into a Chevrolet Camaro, according to witnesses. The two drivers got into an argument. The suspect allegedly cut the other man, 30, with a small utility-tool ax.
The suspect then fled in the SUV. He reportedly wouldn’t pull over when deputies spotted his vehicle around 128th Street SE. Instead, he allegedly took off southbound on I-5 before turning on to Highway 520 and Woodinville-Duvall Road.
Once they’d stopped the vehicle, deputies positioned themselves behind the SUV with guns drawn. Shouted commands reportedly drew no response, except music from the Tahoe grew louder. One deputy told investigators he believed Garnica-Melgoza was using it to “amp” himself up.
A witness used his phone’s videocamera to record the encounter through his apartment window, according to the SMART report. The images were dark and blurry, but appeared to support the deputies’ version of events, detectives wrote.
In the recording, documents say, the deputies’ flashlight beams can be seen on the SUV. The vehicle’s reverse lights then turn on, the engine revs and a series of “pops” can be heard.
The SUV immediately stopped, documents say. Deputies reportedly used less lethal rounds in an attempt to break the vehicle’s windows.
Eventually, Garnica-Melgoza rolled down the driver’s side window. He was transported to Harborview Medical Center, where he was placed into intensive care.
A Washington State Patrol trooper’s dashcam also captured parts of the scene, according to the SMART report.
In interviews with detectives, the three deputies said they were all aiming at the suspect. Two were armed with handguns. The third carried an AR-15 rifle.
At the hospital, Garnica-Melgoza told detectives that he had his hands up when shot, according to documents. Afterward, he claimed, deputies stepped on his head.
He was released from the hospital Nov. 3 and booked into the Snohomish County Jail. He is charged with first- and second-degree assault, as well as attempting to elude police. A jury trial is scheduled for October. He is free on a $50,000 bond.
Garnica-Melgoza’s injuries were not made public, but he appeared to be dealing with them for weeks, according to police reports written in two other cases.
Less than two weeks after leaving the hospital, he threw a walker, allegedly hitting his daughter in the side of the head. Deputies arrested him for investigation of fourth-degree assault.
In December, deputies arrested him again for investigation of having methamphetamine and heroin. At the time, he wore a neck brace, according to court papers. He allegedly said he used the drugs to manage the pain of being shot multiple times. He told a deputy that “he has been making a lot of mistakes lately and wanted to try and fix his life.”
Correction: An earlier version misidentified which vehicle had the dashcam. It was a Washington State Patrol trooper’s vehicle.