Thirty-three seconds after Richland Police Officer Christian Jabri spotted the unarmed Charlie Suarez on the pedestrian trail between Cottonwood Drive and the SR 240 bypass highway, he shot at him five times. Two of the bullets hit Suarez in the left knee and right thigh. Three missed and haven’t been found. 

Suarez had rolled his vehicle on the I-182 Wellsian Way exit near Fred Meyer and ran from the scene. Jabri and other Richland police officers looked for him in the wintertime darkness. 

The two people involved have different stories about what happened during their brief contact. Richland police officers do not have body cameras, but the process is underway to provide them by next year.

The following is information from the 5,319-page Special Investigative Unit (SIU) report1 that the Observer obtained via a public record request made to the City of Richland.

The rollover

On Feb. 1, 2021, Suarez had the day off from his 12-hour shifts at the Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) plant in Wallula, WA. He stopped by the Pasco home of Eloisa Ramirez, the mother of two of his children. He wanted to take the children to Chuck E Cheese in Kennewick.

According to Ramirez, Suarez pounded on her house and they argued. She told investigators that Suarez tried to hit her with his car.

Suarez drove away from Ramirez’s home. He told investigators that he was trying to decide whether to drive to Chelan to see his mother. He knew he needed gas for the three-hour trip, so he got off I-182 at Wellsian Way. He admitted later that he was driving too fast when he rolled his white 2002 GMC Denali at the curve.

The first thing he remembered was feeling like he was in a fishbowl looking at the windows and seeing people peering in at him. He climbed out of the passenger side door and started running up Thayer Drive. He said he ran because he didn’t have a driver’s license.

Police respond

According to Southeast Communications Center (SECOMM) records, a call came in at 6:58 p.m. that there had been a rollover. Several more calls followed. The reporting caller originally said that the accident was behind Walmart but called again to say it was behind Fred Meyer.

At the time of the accident, Jabri was at the police station on George Washington Way. He was preparing to respond to a call about an “unwanted person” at WinCo on Columbia Point Drive.

Jabri heard dispatch call out that a driver of a rolled vehicle had fled and realized that the location near Wellsian Way was in his patrol area. He told dispatch he was going to help find  the fleeing driver.

By 7:05 p.m. — seven minutes after the first call — five patrol units had been assigned to the search. Jabri followed another patrol car south on Thayer Drive from Lee Street, then turned and drove west on Cottonwood Drive searching that area.

Dispatch records show that by about 7:06 p.m., police had the license plate number for Suarez’s Denali SUV.  SIU records don’t show whether dispatch ran the numbers and told police about the owner.

The SIU report indicates Richland police didn’t know the name of the fleeing man until after he was shot. Jabri said in his statement that he didn’t learn Suarez’s name until the next day and he had never heard of him.

A memo in the SIU report also notes that Richland police didn’t know about the incident in Pasco.

Officers found one empty bottle of beer in Suarez’s car.  A blood sample taken within two hours after his accident showed his blood alcohol level at .058, under the .08 legal limit. The only other drug in his system was the opioid pain reliever that Richland Fire Department medics gave him in the ambulance.

Contact

As Suarez ran up the trail behind Cottonwood Drive, he sent threatening text messages to Ramirez. He also called his mother in Chelan and told her that he had had an accident and was probably going to jail.

SECOMM records show that at 7:12 p.m. — 14 minutes into the call —  Jabri radioed that he was checking the walking trail in his car. He bumped over the curb and started driving down the trail with his headlights on and shining a spotlight to illuminate the area.

Jabri spotted Suarez at about 36 seconds later and told the dispatcher to send a backup. 

Nineteen seconds after that, Jabri started chasing Suarez on foot.

According to Jabri, Suarez didn’t obey commands to get on the ground, made threatening gestures and kept reaching into his waistband as if going for a gun.

Suarez said that when Jabri shined this spotlight on him, he just gave up. 

“I can’t really run and all of my stuff’s in the car,” he said in his statement.

Suarez said he responded to Jabri’s commands and had his hands over his head. 

Jabri drew his weapon, which had a mounted flashlight, but said he reholstered it when he didn’t see a gun in Suarez’s hand.

At that moment, according to Jabri, Suarez turned and yelled and cursed at him while reaching into his waistband.

When Suarez started running toward him, Jabri believed that he had a gun and said, “I believed I could not see the gun because it might have been a black weapon.”  

At 7:13 p.m., 33 seconds after spotting Suarez on the trail, Jabri shot at Suarez five times.

One minute and seven seconds after Jabri called for a backup unit, it arrived at 7:13:46 p.m. — 34 seconds after he shot Suarez.

Suarez said he didn’t rush Jabri, that he instead tried to put his hands on the ground. That’s when he heard gunshots and was hit.

After the shooting

Police found five shell casings from Jabri’s sidearm at the scene. Investigators never located three of the bullets, believing the rounds landed in a berm next to a homeowner’s fence, too deep in the dirt to be located by their metal detector.

A jogger using a headlamp on the trail at that time wondered if police considered bystanders.

She said that in just a few seconds she could have been in the line of fire.

Police Officer Kevon Skinner arrived at the trail area shortly after the shooting. In the transcript of his statement, he described how dark the area was.

“I remember thinking there could be 100 people walking down there and I would never know until I get right up on them,” Skinner said.

In his statement Jabri said, “I yelled at the suspect to ‘get down’ multiple times. I did not have any option for cover, and I was completely exposed. My patrol vehicle was far from my location. Directly behind me and to the sides of me were open areas with no cover.”

Jabri didn’t explain why he chose to chase Suarez on foot in the dark in such a vulnerable area instead of waiting for backup units that he knew were nearby.

What next?

The SIU  turned its report over to Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller at the end of June.

Officers from departments in the region that are not involved in the case under investigation are chosen for the SIU. Commander Randy Maynard of the Kennewick Police Department headed this investigation.

The SIU assistant commanders were Cpt. Jeff Harpster of the Pasco Police Department and Lt. Aaron Clem of the Kennewick Police Department. Eleven other officers from Pasco, Kennewick and Walla Walla police departments and the Washington State Police participated in the investigation.

Miller will decide if the officer should be charged in the case. Any policy violations are left to the police department. Miller can take as long as he wants to make his decision.

Franklin Prosecutor Shawn Sant waited until July 2, 2021, over a year after receiving the SIU report on the fatal shooting of unarmed Dante Jones in November 2019, before announcing that there would be no charges in the case. Franklin County Deputy Cody Quantrell shot Jones during a traffic stop.

On July 1, 2021, Miller emailed the Observer that he had given the report to an outside panel of five elected state prosecutors for review. It is only the second case that has been submitted for this process. 

The first panel took almost three months to review the case that they received. The panel determined that the shooting of Jenoah Donald, a black motorist killed by a Clark County deputy, was justified.


1The SIU report includes 3000 pages from Suarez’s Instagram account and 500 pages of redacted medical records.

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