A Yakima man who was arrested following a 14-hour standoff with police last year will stand trial.
Yakima County Superior Court Judge Richard Bartheld denied Leon Dwight Searles Jr.’s request Wednesday to dismiss the case against him with prejudice because it took too long to restore Searles’ competency and thus violated his right to a speedy trial.
“Languishing in custody while waiting for restoration exacerbates the issues of mental illness,” Loren Oakley, Searles’ attorney, argued during Wednesday’s hearing in the Yakima County jail courtroom.
A dismissal with prejudice would have barred prosecutors from refiling the case in the future.
Searles, 41, is charged with first-degree assault, five counts of felony harassment and two counts of first-degree unlawful firearms possession due to 10 prior felony convictions in connection with a Nov. 22 standoff at his home in the 1000 block of South Second Avenue.
Yakima police were initially called when a Safeway employee said Searles shoplifted $150 worth of groceries from the Mead Avenue store, according to court documents.
During the 15-hour standoff, Yakima police said Searles fired on officers with a 30-06 rifle and a pistol. During one of his court appearances, Searles said he was allowed to defend himself by any means necessary.
Yakima SWAT team members used an armored vehicle to remove part of the home in an effort to end the standoff, but police said officers never fired their guns at Searles.
Searles, who was combative during his preliminary appearances in court, was not arraigned in December after Oakley moved for a review of Searles’ mental competency to stand trial. He was deemed incompetent Jan. 3 and ordered to undergo treatment at Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake to restore his competency.
But Searles was not admitted to the hospital until April 5, nearly three months later, and was returned to the Yakima County jail on July 8 after he was deemed competent to stand trial. His trial is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 12.
Oakley said had Searles been admitted to the hospital within the 14 days after the order was issued, as required by law, he would have been returned to the jail around April 17, with the deadline for trying him set for the middle of June.
Deputy Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Nicholas Barrett said there was no reason to dismiss the case because the delays in getting Searles admitted were due to the outbreak of the Omicron COVID variant and were beyond the state’s control.
“There were delays, which is to be expected when we have shutdowns. We had partial shutdowns of many entities in the state and the world,” Barrett said. “There are going to be intended and unintended consequences, and one of those is delays.”
At a February hearing where Oakley also sought to have the case dismissed, Barrett pointed out that Eastern State Hospital was requiring unvaccinated people be quarantined before being admitted, and Searles refused to get vaccinated.
Searles said he wanted to appeal Bartheld’s ruling, arguing that he never waived his right to speedy trial.
Oakley told Searles that any appeal would have to wait until his case was closed and a verdict rendered.