By Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
A Navy man injured during an unusual 2017 police standoff that ended in the fatal shooting of another sailor filed a $20-million tort claim against Island County but hasn’t followed up with a lawsuit.
On May 4, the attorney for Heath Garcia and his wife filed the claim for damages, which is a step that has to be taken at least 60 days before a lawsuit can be filed in superior court against a governmental entity.
The claim was forwarded to the county’s risk pool, which handles torts and lawsuits against the member counties.
Garcia was shot above the ankle during the Sept. 17, 2017 incident and badly injured, ending his Navy career just short of retirement, the claim states.
In the Sept. 17, 2017 incident, Navy member Nicholas Perkins was armed and suicidal at his North Whidbey house, which led to a standoff with deputies with the Island County Sheriff’s Office, according to an analysis of the shooting by Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks. He declined to charge anyone.
After finding out about the incident involving his friend, Garcia left his post at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island without permission and went to the scene, Banks’ report states.
Garcia, however, later claimed he had permission to go.
At the scene, Garcia allegedly entered the home without permission from law enforcement in an attempt to talk his friend down. Garcia later claimed he did have permission from law enforcement.
Whether he had permission or not, Garcia exited the house and law enforcement officers on the scene, led by Lt. Mike Hawley, allowed him to go back into the house again in an attempt to prevent Perkins from hurting himself or anyone else.
Other members of the Navy also arrived at the scene and were able to talk Perkins into coming out, but he did so armed with a shotgun and yelling obscenities, the prosecutor’s report states; Garcia suddenly put Perkins in a bear hug and a deputy tackled the two men to the ground.
During a struggle on the ground, Perkins managed to switch off the safety on the deputy’s rifle and pulled the trigger 10 times, Banks wrote. One of the bullets struck Garcia in the lower leg.
Another deputy joined the tussle and shot Perkins three times, killing him.
The tort argues that law enforcement should never have allowed a civilian “to become involved in, and actively participate in, an extraordinarily dangerous incident involving an armed, military-trained service member suffering from mental illness, who was barricaded in his own home.”
“The Island County Sheriff’s Department and incident commander failed to ensure that proper procedures and responses were followed,” the complaint states.
The claim also states that the sheriff’s office failed to have a SWAT or a trained negotiator on scene.
Garcia suffered “terrible injuries” that required his ankle to be surgically reconstructed, the claim states.
Garcia was “medically retired” from the Navy in March of this year, which was 18 years and 10 months into his career, the complaint states.
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.