Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey said a fight between a couple of McCleary firefighters that turned into a showdown with a gun reminded him of a bad episode of Jerry Springer — especially with the odd twist that the arresting officer of the gun wielder is actually sleeping with the wife of the suspect.
And Godfrey reminded the court Wednesday afternoon that he absolutely hates being forced to watch Jerry Springer.
“I feel like that’s what I’m listening to here,” Godfrey said.
But the judge wants to give a jury the chance to experience it all in the coming weeks. He denied a motion seeking to dismiss the charges on the basis that the arresting officer had an ulterior motive in choosing who to send to jail and an obvious conflict of interest with the sexual relationship that he didn’t disclose until forced to do so.
McCleary volunteer firefighter and Grays Harbor Fire District 12 commissioner Robert Enriquez got into a fight with a fellow firefighter near City Hall back in January, and by the time a police officer arrived, Enriquez “was holding a handgun with both hands in a shooting stance and pointing it directly” at the other man, according to charging documents.
Enriquez now faces second-degree assault charges with a three-day trial set to begin Aug. 21 in Grays Harbor Superior Court. The other man was not charged.
McCleary arresting officer Randy Bunch was having a sexual relationship with Enriquez’s wife at the time of the incident, but Bunch didn’t disclose the relationship.
As his defense, Enriquez has hired the law firm of John Henry Browne, best known for defending the likes of Barefoot Bandit Colton Harris-Moore and Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing civilians in Afghanistan. Browne wasn’t in court Wednesday, but two of his attorneys were, Emily Gause and Emma Scanlan. The defense team says that Enriquez lost a paid job with the Tacoma Fire Department as well as custody of his children since he was first arrested.
Godfrey presided over an evidentiary hearing Wednesday afternoon, which included witness testimony, to decide whether the charges should move forward. Scanlan argued that Officer Bunch’s involvement with the defendant’s wife “taints the entire investigation.”
Godfrey said “there was no question in his mind” that Bunch should have disclosed the relationship, but the situation is not dire enough to dismiss the charges.
“Either Mr. Enriquez has been wrongly arrested and brought before the court by an officer who was having an affair with his wife and, therefore, wished to prejudice the man in his dissolution proceedings or the alternative there was an actual assault after all of this matter with the firearm, as alleged by the state and the alleged victim,” Godfrey said. “The good news about this case is there are two other witnesses, two young men who saw the whole thing. … This is a jury question.”
Godfrey said he doesn’t buy the argument that Enriquez’ arrest destroyed his life.
“I thought this was America,” Godfrey said. “I thought you were innocent until proven guilty. Being falsely arrested happens throughout this country. We all know that because of the Innocence Project.”
McCleary Police Chief George Crumb said that Bunch remains on active duty. After the hearing, McCleary Mayor Gary Dent — who attended the hearing — said the city is looking into the conflict of interest situation.
Officer Bunch told the court he had been having a sexual relationship with the defendant’s wife, who was going through divorce proceedings at the time and is now divorced from the man.
Scanlan said that Bunch could have just put the cuffs on Enriquez and turned the situation over to another officer, but he chose not to.
“It didn’t occur to your mind that you were sleeping with the defendant’s wife?” she asked Bunch.
“It had nothing to do with this case,” Bunch replied.
“You don’t think the fact you were sleeping with the defendant’s wife had anything to do with this case?” Scanlan said.
“No, ma’am,” he replied.
Bunch said he would see no problem with another officer doing the same thing as what he did “as long as that decision wasn’t based on the personal relationship.” But, in hindsight, he says that officers should tell their superiors about potential conflicts of interest.
Chief Crumb and Deputy Sheriff Steve Smith both noted that Bunch was not the sole officer on the scene. Smith arrived at the same time as Bunch to find the gun showdown in action. Crumb said he came 10 to 15 minutes later. There were also other police on scene from Elma.
Crumb said he personally reviewed the case and its files before sending it to the Prosecutor’s Office for possible charges. The chief said he didn’t find out about the sexual relationship until July 26 — seven months after the incident and only when contacted by Browne, the defendant’s attorney.
He said Bunch has since been taken off the case.
The chief said he has reviewed the McCleary Police Department’s conflict of interest rules and can find no policy in existence. He said he would have liked it if Bunch had told him about the issue long ago.
Bunch said he had heard from his girlfriend the challenges she was facing with Enriquez and he did recognize Enriquez at the scene.
Back in January, Enriquez and the other McCleary firefighter, who happens to be the ex-husband of the woman Enriquez was in a relationship with, squared off at Beerbower Park outside City Hall with several inches of snow on the ground and the power out.
The conflict apparently started when the victim saw Enriquez with an open container of alcohol in a car when the victim came to pick up his daughter earlier in the evening, the victim testified.
The victim testified that Enriquez had a Maglight flashlight out and the victim thought it was being used as a weapon so he grabbed the victim’s wrist and a tussle resulted. Scanlan pointed out that the lights were out citywide and the flashlight was being used in the proper fashion. She noted that the victim “tackled” Enriquez first and then the victim was holding Enriquez from behind. She painted the victim as 6-foot 4-inches tall, 280 pounds and Enriquez as 5-foot 7-inches tall, and weighs far less.
During the tussle, Enriquez produced a handgun that had been in a holster and put it on the ground. He had a concealed weapons permit.
A 16-year-old juvenile who had been in Enriquez’s car emerged on to the scene and retrieved the gun and took it back to the car. Another juvenile was also in the car.
When Enriquez got back to his feet, he took the gun back and declared he was “making a citizen’s arrest,” instructing the juvenile to call 911, the victim testified. Bunch and Deputy Smith arrived a few minutes later.
Scanlan produced telephone records showing Bunch was texting his girlfriend — Enriquez’s ex-wife — immediately before the incident, as well as after it happened. But she said the content of those texts are not known. He also had a 22-minute conversation with her. On questioning, Bunch said he can’t recall what was said. “He didn’t disclose this for seven months,” she said. “Nobody knew what they were texting about. … Because if they say, ‘I arrested your husband, babe, now you don’t have to worry about it. I took care of it,’ we wouldn’t even be here.”
Deputy Prosecutor Kraig Newman said that the texts would have likely never be taken into evidence and likely would have been deleted.
Godfrey said all of those arguments, including if Bunch had an ulterior motive, can be presented to the jury.