MOUNT VERNON — Even through the night vision surveillance footage shown in Skagit County Superior Court on Thursday, Mount Vernon Police Detective Wayne Jones said he could distinguish the tuft of white hair distinctive to his fellow officer Michael “Mick” McClaughry.
Recalling the events of Dec. 15, 2016, Jones said that as he rushed into the chaotic scene unfolding at the intersection of LaVenture Road and East First Street, he heard “officer down” on the radio.
As he arrived at the intersection, he saw two other officers — Mount Vernon Police Officer Liz Paul and Burlington Police Officer Preston Payne — struggling to pull the unconscious and bleeding McClaughry out of the front yard of the house on the corner of the intersection, dragging him across the normally-busy LaVenture Road and behind Paul’s marked police vehicle.
“Fearing for them and all of us there, I began putting directed fire to where I perceived the bullets to be coming from,” Jones testified on Thursday. “Basically from the center of the house.”
Several Mount Vernon police officers testified Thursday in the trial of Ernesto Rivas, the man accused of shooting McClaughry.
Rivas is facing six charges for the incident, including one count of attempted murder for allegedly shooting McClaughry and three counts of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon for shooting at McClaughry, Paul and Detective Ben Green. He also faces another attempted murder charge for the shooting of a man who prosecutors say was a rival gang member. That shooting is what first brought law enforcement to Rivas’ home.
As part of Jones’ testimony, Chief Deputy Criminal Prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula showed video footage of the incident, obtained from some of the many surveillance cameras positioned around the home.
“I put myself in between the line of fire,” Jones said of the moment his fellow officers dragged McClaughry into the vehicle of Mount Vernon Police Sgt. Mike Don, who then sped away from the scene.
Shortly after, Jones, Paul and Payne took cover behind Payne’s larger police vehicle and shone a spotlight into the house.
“As we did that, additional rounds came out of the residence,” Jones said. “We thought they were trying to shoot out the spotlight.”
McClaughry was shot in the head, but survived with permanent blindness.
For their actions that night, Jones, Paul, Payne, Green and Don along with Sgt. Pete Lindberg and McClaughry, would receive the state’s highest honor for law enforcement officers.
Behind the house, which they had been led to by K9 officer Vektor, officers Russ Leighton and Zach Wright testified separately Thursday that they heard gunfire and, in the ambient light of a nearby street light, saw debris heading toward them, hitting the fence that separated them from Rivas’ home.
Fearing they were in the line of fire, both men and the State Patrol trooper with them retreated from the scene.
Wright, with the police dog, took cover behind a tree barely as wide as his body, he said.
Both testified that it felt like hours that they were out there in the roughly 20-degree weather before they were evacuated by fellow law enforcement officers in an armored vehicle.
Mount Vernon Police Sgt. Walter Martinez testified that he had been off-duty when he heard an officer had been shot. A member of the department’s SWAT team, Martinez rushed to the precinct and drove an armored vehicle to the neighborhood, evacuating 32 people from 16 homes near where the gunfire was sporadically erupting.
Also Thursday, jurors heard multiple accounts from people associated with Rivas whom he had allegedly called on the night of the shooting, saying he had shot a police officer and did not think he would survive the night.
“The cops have my house surrounded,” Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich read from a transcript of a voicemail left on the phone of a woman Rivas was dating. “I don’t know if I shot one, so I don’t know if I’m going to die tonight.”
Jones is expected to continue testimony Friday with other officers. McClaughry is set to testify at some point during the six-week trial.