Rantz: Judge nearly let go suspect in WSP trooper shooting in Kent

Feb 19, 2024, 6:04 PM | Updated: Feb 20, 2024, 2:46 pm

Image: The scene from the shooting of a Washington State Patrol (WSP) trooper in Kent on Friday, Fe...

The scene from the shooting of a Washington State Patrol (WSP) trooper in Kent on Friday, Feb. 16. 2024. (Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

A judge nearly released the suspect who allegedly shot a Washington State Patrol (WSP) trooper in Kent last week. A Department of Corrections (DOC) warrant was the only thing that stopped the judge.

The suspect, who isn’t being named until probable cause is found, was arrested after police say he shot a trooper multiple times following an attempt to make a traffic stop in Kent Friday night. He allegedly used the trooper’s firearm, according to two sources speaking to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH. According to a source with knowledge of the suspect, he also has a criminal history in Pierce County.

After being interviewed by investigators, the suspect was booked into the King County Jail at 4:03 p.m. on Feb. 17. By then, the day’s first appearance calendar already occurred. The next available first appearance hearing was Monday at 1:30 p.m., as the court does not have a first appearance calendar on Sunday.

However, a judge used the court’s schedule against the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (KCPAO).

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A soft-on-crime judge nearly strikes again in Kent WSP shooting case

At Monday’s first appearance, the public defender argued that the Kent WSP shooting suspect should be released, arguing the hearing must occur within 48 hours. If not, the defendant must be released “because there was not a finding of probable cause for the current arrest,” according to a KCPAO spokesperson.

The judge agreed, even though there was no possible way for the suspect to be seen in court within 48 hours.

“The court did not find probable cause. That means the defendant would have been released if not for the separate no-bail DOC warrant, which is keeping him in the King County Jail,” the spokesperson explained.

He is expected to face charges Tuesday afternoon. It’s still unclear what incident the warrant stems from. The judge has not yet been identified but is a pro-tem District Court judge.

UPDATE 2/20, 11:30 a.m.: The judge is Zach Franz, according to a court spokesperson. The court’s presiding judge Rebecca C. Robertson said in a statement that Judge Franz “had to release the suspect because the suspect had been held longer than 48 hours.” She said that district court judges are available for probable cause findings 24/7, though did not explain the issue over the calendar for first appearances. A request for comment to the KCPAO has been sent.

Making sense of judges who go easy on dangerous suspects

The judge’s decision makes no sense. If the suspect was accused of a mass shooting, would the court’s schedule allow him to be released, too? What is the KCPAO supposed to do with a calendar it doesn’t set? With this decision, all one must do is commit a crime on a Friday night. It suggests an eagerness to find any reason, however unjustifiable and specious, to release dangerous criminals where they may likely commit a crime. That a suspect who allegedly shot a cop isn’t considered dangerous enough to keep in jail is rather telling.

This is the latest example of a King County criminal justice system engineered to always side with dangerous suspects. Soft-on-crime judges err towards releasing suspects on their own personal recognizance, even when there is great risk to the public.

Often, judges defend their soft-on-crime approach and reluctance to impose bail by pointing to state requirements that judges offer a “presumption that the defendant be released without posting bail.” But the state also says that judges may impose bail in cases where the suspect is at risk of committing a future violent offense or is unlikely to appear at a future court appearance.

Crime has been trending in the wrong direction

Since the Democrats’ 2020 Black Lives Matter-inspired criminal justice reforms, crime has been trending in the wrong direction. Our criminals are getting more violent, and the only thing stopping dead bodies from crowding county medical examiner’s offices is the fact that they’re not especially good shots.

But the violence is notable. Seattle reached a record-high number of homicides in 2023. Tacoma has exceeded previous records, too. In King County, there have been nearly a dozen seemingly random freeway shootings so far this year.

“The violence that we’re seeing, not only on just the freeway system, but just in general, is alarming. And (I’m) grateful that the trooper’s injuries, while very serious, aren’t any worse than they are,” WSP Captain Ron Mead said.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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Rantz: Judge nearly let go suspect in WSP trooper shooting in Kent