SEATTLE — Prosecutors charged a Washington state police officer Tuesday in the accidental death of his 7-year-old daughter, saying it was unconscionable for him to leave his loaded handgun loose in the family van, where the girl’s younger brother grabbed it and shot her.
Marysville police officer Derek Carlile could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of second-degree manslaughter, a charge that involves criminal negligence.
Carlile “failed to heed … a substantial risk that death would occur when he placed and left his loaded, unsecured revolver in an enclosed van with four children inside,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Lisa Paul wrote in charging papers.
“Though the undeniable tragedy and grief that has stricken the defendant and his family is staggering, compassion must be balanced with accountability for the acts which caused it,” she wrote.
The shooting occurred March 10 while the van was parked at a store in Stanwood. Carlile and his wife were outside the van when the 3-year-old, who had a fascination with guns, got out of his booster seat, grabbed the weapon and shot his sister Jenna in the torso, investigators said. The safety of the gun was off, they said.
Carlile’s attorney, David Allen, said the family was disappointed in the charging decision. Carlile takes full responsibility for his daughter’s death, but his actions weren’t criminal, Allen said.
“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,” Allen wrote in a news release.
The charging papers say the 31-year-old Carlile, a police officer since 2009, had worked until 2 a.m. then woke up that morning to go antique shopping with a friend. He was late returning from the shopping trip, and he and his family had to rush to get ready to attend a wedding reception.
When he got into the van, he placed his personal .38-caliber revolver — not his service weapon — in a bin on the floor between the driver’s and front passenger’s seats, a space typically reserved for cups and keys, the deputy prosecutor wrote.
His wife asked what he was doing because he usually wore the gun or placed it in a locking compartment on the driver-side door. She later told investigators that she assumed he moved the gun after she brought it to his attention.
On the way to the wedding, the family stopped at the art studio and store in Stanwood. Carlile’s wife, Forrest, went inside, and Carlile spoke with the owner, the same friend with whom he had gone antique shopping that morning.
Carlile heard the gunshot, and another daughter, age 5, got out of the van, saying something about the boy, Jenna and the gun. Carlile ran to the van, opened the sliding door, and saw Jenna slumped over, still wearing her seatbelt. He tried to save her life, but she died at a hospital.
Carlile later refused to let detectives speak with his other children, and prosecutors used a special court proceeding to compel the testimony of the 5-year-old. She told them she and her older sister remained in their seats while the 3-year-old ran up and grabbed the gun, the documents state.
“She said she heard a boom, and saw smoke coming from the victim,” Paul wrote.
Detectives did not interview the 3-year-old because of his age. The other child in the car was a 1-year-old.
Allen said his client typically carried his personal weapon when he was off-duty because police officers are expected to enforce the law at all times.