Daron Morris

Daron Morris

Should the 16-Year-Old Be Charged with Murder in the Death of Officer Moreno?

King County Prosecutor Candidate Daron Morris says no and thinks the Kent teen should not be tried as an adult.

A 16-year-old Kent boy should not be charged with murder in the death of Kent Police Officer Diego Moreno, says Daron Morris, a former public defender running for King County Prosecutor on the Nov. 6 general election ballot against incumbent Dan Satterberg.

“I am deeply saddened by the tragic death of Officer Moreno,” Morris said in a press release on Thursday. “My heart goes out to his family, the Kent Police Department, and Officer Moreno’s community.

“According to initial accounts, 16-year-old Emiliano Garcia bears responsibility for Officer Moreno’s death. Emiliano Garcia, however, did not murder Officer Moreno. He should not be charged with murder and the prosecutor should not file his case in adult court.”

King County prosecutors filed the murder charge July 25 against Garcia, who allegedly drove a 2003 Dodge Ram pickup pursued by a Kent Police officer who later inadvertently struck and killed Moreno at about 2 a.m. on July 22 at the intersection of Kent Des Moines Road and West Meeker Street, according to court documents. Moreno, 35, of Auburn, had just deployed spike strips to stop the truck shortly before he was hit.

Morris, a graduate of the New York University School of Law, moved to Seattle in 2001 and worked in various sectors of the King County Public Defense Office. He resigned from the Department of Public Defense shortly before he announced his candidacy in May.

“Charging Emiliano Garcia with felony murder holds him to the same level of culpability as if he had intentionally shot and killed Officer Moreno,” Morris said. “That is not justice. Emiliano Garcia must be held accountable to the community for his crime, but that does not mean prosecuting him as if he were a fully grown killer. He is a 16-year-old child with no prior criminal history who has made some truly awful and tragic choices.

“I am aware of no reason why Garcia’s case should not have been sent to juvenile court. The law does not compel this result.”

Not Guilty Plea

Garcia pleaded not guilty to the murder charge on Thursday in King County Superior Court at the King County Courthouse in Seattle. Defense attorney Brad Barshis told the court that Garcia was not responsible for Moreno’s death, according to media reports. The judge decided to let the case move forward against Garcia as charged. Garcia is in custody in the King County Youth Services Center in Seattle with bail set at $1 million.

According to a King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office media release, Garcia was charged in adult criminal court because under Washington law, if a juvenile is 16 or 17 years old and is charged with murder in the second degree, charges are to be filed into adult criminal court instead of juvenile court.

Prosecutors alleged that the occupants of the truck illegally possessed several guns and fired off numerous rounds in a Kent bar parking lot and then fled the scene, driving recklessly and attempting to elude the police. Two other teens were in the pickup with Garcia. Each of them pleaded not guilty to illegal possession of a weapon. A police pursuit began shortly after the shots were fired. Nobody was reported injured during the shooting, as shots were reportedly fired into the air.

In this case, prosecutors said, the defendant was committing a dangerous felony by attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle. This felony created a serious and grave risk to the public and to police. As a direct result of the defendant’s actions, Officer Moreno was killed.

“I hope that we will come together as a community around this tragedy,” Morris said. “There is no way to restore the profound loss that has been caused here. As the Moreno family grieves I hope that our justice system will center itself on their voices.

“I also hope our justice system will be responsive to the voices of Mr. Garcia’s family and to the larger community. I hope our Prosecutor’s Office will hold itself accountable to the entire community as it seeks justice in this very difficult and horribly sad case.”

Morris further explained his stance in the press release after he quoted Satterberg saying in a Seattle Times article from April that “that sending a young person into adult prison is a very serious decision that can have lifelong implications.” The article focused about how automatically sending juveniles to adult court, and adult prison, can increase recidivism.

“Children should be charged in juvenile court,” Morris said. “If our county prosecutor believes our juvenile justice system is incapable of meeting the needs of the community in a particular case, those arguments should be brought before a Juvenile Court judge for a full, fair and public hearing. Instead, our prosecutor has gone against his own words and, with the stroke of a pen, charged a child as an adult, and an unintentional killing as murder.”

Satterberg Explains Case

During an interview Thursday with KUOW radio, Satterberg further explained his decision to charge Garcia as an adult. Satterberg didn’t respond to a Kent Reporter request for an interview.

“When you run from police and they are chasing you, anything bad that happens is going to be your fault,” he said during the radio show. “Being age 16 doesn’t change that rule.”

Satterberg said any case filed in Juvenile Court, if a defendant is found guilty by a judge, that person cannot be held in custody beyond the age of 21, no matter what the crime.

“At age 21, you walk out the door,” he said.

But the standard sentencing ranges for crimes doesn’t apply in adult court for those under the age of 18. In second-degree murder cases, the maximum sentencing is 18 years.

Satterberg said a judge can send the Garcia case to Juvenile Court. But if prosecutors had filed the case in Juvenile Court, it could not later be moved to charge Garcia as an adult in King County Superior Court.

“This action was to preserve all of our options,” he said.

The case remains an ongoing investigation. The Valley Investigation Team and Washington State Patrol continue to review the pursuit and the collision. Satterberg said he expects the defense will try to pursue whether police were negligent in pursuing Garcia.

Nearly 3,300 people—many of them uniformed officers—turned out on Tuesday to attend a memorial service for Moreno at the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Kent Reporter.

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