Firefighter found not guilty, but case isn’t done

The verdict is in, but it’s not over.

In his second trial for second-degree assault, McCleary firefighter Robert Enriquez was found not guilty. An earlier trial resulted in a hung jury. He was charged after drawing his gun in an altercation with another firefighter last year.

His attorney, John Henry Browne, said the verdict was the first step in restoring justice for Enriquez, who lost his job with the Tacoma Fire Department because of the charge. Browne said civil lawsuits against that fire department, the City of McCleary, Police Chief George Crumb, and Officer Randy Bunch, the arresting officer, are in the works.

Asked what damages might be asked for in those suits, Browne said, “A lot. I don’t have the exact figure, but given the damages and the loss of his job and the fact that he had to move out of the county. … It’s a considerable chunk of money.”

Browne guessed it might range from $500,000 to $1 million.

“The family and my client were very pleased with the verdict, obviously. They’re very upset it had to go that far. The case should have been dismissed before it went to trial the first time,” Browne said. “This is not over, that’s for sure.”

The case stems from an incident the night of Jan. 19, 2012, during a heavy snowstorm when power went out all over the county. Many of the facts were agreed upon by both sides. Enriquez and Jim Dunn, both volunteer firefighters with the McCleary Fire Department, met at Beerbower Park to discuss a disagreement. When Enriquez approached with a large Maglite flashlight, Dunn found some motion Enriquez made threatening and grabbed the wrist of the hand holding the light, then the other wrist, and the pair tumbled to their knees in the snow. Enriquez claimed Dunn attacked him. After the scuffle, Enriquez drew his pistol and pointed it at Dunn until police arrived.

The men were in the park arguing about Dunn’s ex-wife, with whom Enriquez was living. Adding to the convoluted case, McCleary Police Officer Randy Bunch later admitted to having a relationship with Enriquez’s estranged wife at the time he arrested Enriquez.

“In most cities and counties that I know, an officer who did that would be fired,” Browne said. “What kind of a message does that send to other police officers? That you can have an affair with somebody’s wife and then arrest them?”

Enriquez’s first trial, in October, lasted three days but ended in a hung jury, with 8 of 12 jurors voting not guilty.

This time around, the trial took just as long but the jurors were able to reach a not guilty verdict. On a separate question of whether Enriquez’s use of force was for self defense, at least 10 of 12 jurors voted no.

“In some ways it’s a better resolution than what I had planned,” deputy prosecutor Kraig Newman said.

If the jury had decided Enriquez was acting in self defense, he would have been entitled to attorney’s fees.

What those fees would have been, “I couldn’t even speculate,” Newman said.

Newman and Browne had negotiated a resolution in December which would have avoided a second trial. If Enriquez participated in counseling and other requirements, the case would have been dismissed after a year, but Judge Gordon Godfrey rejected the agreement.

“What this has done was show to a certain degree that his actions were not righteous. He was not defending himself,” Newman added.

Browne disagreed with that interpretation, noting the jury’s instructions told them the fees would be paid with taxpayer money.

“That’s not uncommon, as a matter of fact I run into that a lot. … I think jurors are very reluctant to do that because they see things coming out of their own pockets. It doesn’t stop me from pursuing the civil cases at all. I think judges in Tacoma are going to be outraged by this whole thing about Bunch.”