MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — One of the teenagers accused in the shooting that critically injured a Mount Vernon police officer appeared in front of a judge for the first time on Wednesday.
Austin Gonzalez, 16, is accused of shooting and wounding a rival gang member last Thursday that prompted Mount Vernon police officers to later respond to the scene, where officer Mike McClaughry was shot in the head and critically injured.
A Skagit County judge told Gonzales the court would automatically decline to prosecute him as a juvenile because of the severity of the crime.
Investigators say Gonzales and a 15-year-old accomplice shot a rival gang member in the neck last Thursday while witnesses say Ernesto Lee Rivas Sr., 44, encouraged the teens to pull the trigger.
When police came looking for the suspects at Rivas’ home, prosecutors say, Rivas opened fire from inside his home, hitting officer McClaughry in the head. Police say the suspects then barricaded themselves in Rivas’ home for hours, shooting countless bullets into the neighborhood.
“We don`t support what went on, we don`t support that in any way,” said Rivas’ cousin Selena Evans.
Evans said she doesn`t know the details of what happened but she showed up to court on Wednesday to support her cousin.
“We are the Rivas family, we are not all monsters, we support the police officer who was shot. We all knew him, we all grew up here,” Evans said.
At times Rivas smiled during his court hearing on Wednesday. Court records say he is in the same gang as the two teenage suspects.
Investigators say after Rivas shot the officer, he called dispatch and insulted police officers and asked them where he had shot McClaughry. Court documents also state that dispatchers heard the two teenagers involved in the standoff in the background having fun and joking around.
Rivas is already charged in Skagit County District Court but a judge gave prosecutors 30 days to file charges in Superior Court to continue the case.
“It does allow law enforcement to do their investigation, to talk to witnesses,” prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula said.
Witnesses and neighbors who had to dodge bullets that Thursday night described what it was like.
“We heard a thunk,” Mount Vernon resident Jordan Pullen said.
Pullen said he lost count of how many gunshots he heard coming from the Rivas home
He says one stray bullet hit his house while his neighbor Laura Ibarra counted 10.
Ibarra and Pullen both say it’s a miracle that no one else got hit by the bullets. Pullen says his neighborhood used to be family-friendly but not anymore.
“When innocent people are getting hurt, it makes it so much worse and way more tragic,” Pullen said.
He said he wanted to thank McClaughry for his service, and Ibarra said she is praying for his recovery.
McClaughry is still listed in critical but stable condition at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.
Ibarra said she is also praying for Gonzales. She said she is related to the 16-year-old.
“I know him, from the bottom of my heart I’ve talked to him many, many times,” Ibarra said.
She said she kept an eye on Gonzales ever since his mom died two years ago. She said she is shocked by the events, adding that she thought he was going to go to school. But now he is behind bars and could spend years in prison if convicted.
The 15-year-old suspect did not appear in court Wednesday; he is expected to appear in Juvenile Court next week. Prosecutors say the law bars them from prosecuting the 15-year-old as an adult.