The Yakima police officer who fatally shot a man Jan. 4 had previously been disciplined for using excessive force about eight months earlier, police records show.
Officer Casey Gillette received a written reprimand for punching a man in the face while investigating a fight in May 2013, according to disciplinary records obtained from the Yakima Police Department.
The department is currently investigating Gillette’s shooting of 23-year-old Rocendo Arias at an East Nob Hill Boulevard car wash.
Capt. Rod Light, police spokesman, said Gillette’s reprimand for using excessive force is not a factor in the current investigation.
“We’re not going to make a nexus between an incident that happened last year versus the most recent incident,” Light said.
According to the disciplinary report, obtained by the Yakima Herald-Republic under the state Public Records Act, Gillette and two other officers responded to a report of a fight at 305 N. Seventh St. in the early hours of May 10, 2013.
The report says when Gillette and the other officers arrived, there was no sign of a fight, but a man came out of the house and taunted the officers and challenged them to a fight.
Gillette, according to the report, went into the fenced yard without saying a word and struck the man, stunning him. The report says Gillette wrestled the man to the ground and placed him under arrest.
In the report, a police supervisor at the scene said Gillette wanted to charge the man with disorderly conduct. The supervisor told Gillette that charge did not exist in the city’s criminal code.
Gillette later explained to investigators that disorderly conduct was the charge he used in similar situations in Toppenish, where he had been a police officer for three years before joining the Yakima force nine months earlier.
Gillette and the supervisor agreed that obstruction was a more appropriate charge, the report said. However, the city prosecutor’s office found no probable cause for the arrest or the charge and dismissed it in June 2013.
Reached Thursday, Joshua Espinoza, the man struck by Gillette, declined to comment.
In the report, police Chief Dominic Rizzi Jr. said the obstruction charge was justifiable, but ruled that Gillette “mistakenly” believed he had grounds to use force to arrest the man.
“I believe there were other options available, at that point in time, which Officer Gillette could have utilized, including but not limited to verbal direction,” Rizzi wrote. Read a copy of the internal investigation
Light said the reprimand was more of a training opportunity than punishment.
“We don’t look at it as a means of punishment, but as a way of changing behavior and educating the officer so they don’t exercise these actions,” Light said.
Light said he did not have a number for how often written reprimands are given, but said it didn’t happen often.
He said it was the supervisor who reported Gillette’s actions to commanders, triggering the internal investigation.
Gillette has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. Last month, police said he would be returning to work on Jan. 31. It was not immediately clear late Thursday why he remained on leave.
The department is still investigating the Jan. 4 shooting and Light said it is awaiting results from the Washington State Patrol’s crime lab.
According to police, Gillette was investigating a suspicious car at the car wash on Jan. 4.
Police said he opened the car door and saw Arias sitting with what appeared to be a gun in his hand and shot him. The gun turned out to be a replica capable of shooting soft plastic pellets.
The investigation is being handled by Yakima police, however, the State Patrol is lending its forensics expertise.
Light said it could be several weeks before the investigation is completed and forwarded to the Yakima County Prosecutor’s Office, which will determine if the shooting was justified.