SEATTLE -- A Marysville, Wash., police officer is charged with second-degree manslaughter after his daughter was shot and killed by a sibling using the officer’s personal gun. Prosecutors also say the parents knew the boy who fired the shot was fascinated with guns.
The Snohomish County Prosecutor’s office said Officer Derek Carlile “created a substantial risk of death by leaving his loaded, unsecured handgun in this vehicle in clear view and reach of four children.”
Jenna Carlile, 7, was killed when her 3-year-old brother allegedly picked up the gun and fired it in the family van in Stanwood on March 10. Police said the couple’s children, ages 7, 5, 3 and 1, were alone in the locked van while the couple was meeting with someone at a store.
According to charging documents, Carlile had his personal .38 revolver in the van. It was in a holster that holds a strap over the gun. Normally the holster is affixed to the ankle with a Velcro strap, but Carlisle allegedly told police he didn’t have it on his ankle because he was in a hurry. Police say the gun was fully loaded and the safety was not on, although it had an internal safety feature.
Prosecutors say the van has a locking compartment in the driver’s side door that could have held the gun, but Carlile allegedly put the gun and holster in an open center console bin. Carlile’s wife told police she saw the gun was out in the open and mentioned it to Carlile, assuming he would move it to a more secure location.
When the couple made the stop in Stanwood, they locked the doors so the kids would not get out, but police say Carlile did not remove the gun, activate the safety or lock the gun in the door compartment.
While outside the van, Carlile said he heard a “thud,” then the 5-year-old daughter came out of the van and said something had happened involving the gun and two of the children. When he returned, Carlisle said he saw Jenna had been shot, the 3-year-old was out of his booster seat and the gun was lying on the floor, pointed toward the seat where Jenna was sitting.
Jenna was taken to Harborview Medical Center where she died a few hours later.
The documents indicate the parents admitted the 3-year-old often tried to get into the home safe that holds Carlile’s guns, that he has his own air soft gun and a toy revolver and that Carlile has shot a BB gun with the boy. During a court ordered interview with police, the 5-year-old allegedly said the 3-year-old always wanted his mother to “get him guns” and that when he played his toy guns, the 3-year-old “Pretends to shoot us.”
Carlile allegedly told officers during an interview, “He’s very fascinated with guns and that’s why I’m beatin’ myself up because I left my damn gun, for forty seconds, in the center…. It’s like what the hell?”
Carlile’s wife is not being charged. Prosecutors say she did not own the gun or bring it to the van, and that she alerted Carlile when he put the gun in the open container.
Attorneys for Carlile say they are dissapointed in the prosecutor's decision and that there was tremendous public pressure to charge the officer.
"This is a double tragedy for the Carlile family that not only lost Jenna, but now also faces the possibility of losing Derek to prison if the prosecution is successful," wrote attorney David Allen. "While he takes full responsibility for this tragic accident, his actions were not criminal and he intends to vigorously defend this charge."
He argued that most cases like this are charged with a gross misdemeanor, saying "Public pressure had to have played a tremendous role in the prosecutor's decision."
But Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe said that's not the case and his job is to weigh compassion with accountability.
“We would have charged him whether he worked at Boeing or whether he worked at Lowe’s hardware. Our job is to try a label and hold people accountable for their criminal acts, not to apportion whether or not they've already been punished enough,” Roe said.
There has been some criticism over how long the investigation has taken and whether the officer was receiving preferential treatment. In a similar case in Pierce County in March in which a 3-year-old boy was killed, prosecutors filed charges within two weeks.
Carlile was placed on paid leave during the investigation.
Arraignment is scheduled for June 5. If convicted, Carlile could face 27 months in prison.