A Marysville police officer whose daughter was fatally shot by his 3-year-old son with a loaded handgun left in the family van was charged Tuesday with second-degree manslaughter.
A Marysville police officer whose 7-year-old daughter was fatally shot by her younger brother with a handgun left in the family van was charged Tuesday with second-degree manslaughter.
The officer, Derek Carlile, knew that his son was fascinated with firearms but nevertheless “failed to heed or be aware of 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 prosecutors wrote in charging documents.
His daughter Jenna died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
The shooting happened March 10 in Stanwood while the off-duty Carlile and his wife stepped out of their minivan, leaving their four children, ages 1 to 7, inside with the loaded handgun. Their 3-year-old son crawled into the front seat and shot his sister, prosecutors allege.
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Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe defended the charge, saying it was filed because Carlile’s criminal negligence resulted in a death. He said the charge “best fit the facts.”
Roe said Carlile could have taken one of several steps to prevent the tragedy, including using the handgun’s safety, placing the firearm in a locked box in the door, wearing it on his ankle, or moving it as his wife had instructed moments earlier.
“Any number of simple acts could have prevented this,” Roe said.
Carlile is scheduled to be arraigned on June 5. If convicted as charged, he faces a standard sentence range of one year and nine months to two years and three months in prison.
The Camano Island resident, who has been a Marysville police officer since 2009, could not be reached for comment. However, his attorney, David Allen, issued a statement in which he expressed disappointment with the criminal charge.
“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,” Allen wrote in an email statement. “While he takes full responsibility for this tragic accident, his actions were not criminal and he intends to vigorously defend this charge.”
Left in an open bin
Charging documents allege that Carlile, 30, his wife and children were on their way to a wedding on March 10 when they stopped in Stanwood.
Carlile was in a hurry and did not strap his off-duty firearm to his ankle, nor did he place it in a locking compartment in their Volkswagen van, the charges allege.
Instead, he placed the Smith and Wesson .38-caliber revolver in the van’s open bin, which is designed to hold cups and keys, court documents allege.
Prosecutors say the handgun was fully loaded and that the safety was not on.
Carlile’s wife, Forrest, noticed the handgun, charging documents allege, and asked her husband “what he was doing.” She assumed that he then moved the handgun, she later told investigators.
Both adults got out of the van, and after a couple of minutes Derek Carlile and his friend heard a thud, or pop. They then saw the Carliles’ 5-year-old daughter get out of the van and say something about a gun, according to the charges.
Carlile ran to the van, saw that Jenna had been shot and began performing CPR. She died the next day at Harborview Medical Center.
Fascinated by guns
During interviews with Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives, Carlile and his wife both said that their 3-year-old son was fascinated by guns. Prosecutors say the boy owned several toy guns and was constantly trying to get into his father’s home gun safe.
According to court documents, the 5-year-old daughter told investigators that once her parents got out of the van, her brother climbed out of his booster seat, then went to the front of the van and got the gun. She heard a boom and saw “smoke coming from the victim,” court documents allege.
According to the court documents, the girl said that when her brother played with toy guns, he “pretends to shoot us.”
Prosecutors said they decided not to charge the boy’s mother because “she did not own the gun, bring it into the van or possess it at the time it was left in the van.”
Further, prosecutors said, she “pointedly brought the defendant’s attention to the gun by asking him what he was doing when he put the gun in the open container … and believed that he had moved the gun to a safer location.”
Carlile initially did not want his children interviewed by investigators. A court, however, ordered the family to allow the 5-year-old girl to discuss what happened.
Investigators said in charging documents that Carlile seemed to acknowledge his role in his child’s death.
The boy “was very fascinated with guns, and that’s why I’m beatin’ myself up,” Carlile is alleged to have said to investigators. “Because I left my damn gun for 40 seconds in the center … it’s like, what the hell?”
Carlile has been on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into the shooting, according to Marysville police. The assistant to the police chief said Tuesday the department would not be answering any questions about Carlile, or his status, until Wednesday.
In the affidavit of probable cause, Deputy Prosecutor Lisa Paul acknowledged the difficult nuances of the case. “Though the undeniable tragedy and grief that has stricken the defendant and his family is staggering,” she wrote, “compassion must be balanced with accountability for the acts which caused it.”
Four children shot
Jenna, a student at Utsalady Elementary School on Camano Island, was the second of four children shot within seven weeks in Washington state and one of two involving the child of a law-enforcement officer.
In three of the four cases, including Carlile’s, prosecutors have criminally charged an adult in connection with the shootings.
Kitsap County prosecutors filed charges of assault and unlawful weapon possession against the mother of a 9-year-old old boy who brought a gun to school in February that discharged and wounded classmate Amina Kocer-Bowman. Charging documents allege the mother, and her boyfriend, were negligent in leaving loaded weapons where the boy could find them.
In a plea deal, the boy’s mother, Jamie Lee Chaffin, 34, pleaded guilty this month to two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm.
In Pierce County, prosecutors filed second-degree-manslaughter charges against another mother and her boyfriend after the woman’s 3-year-old son found a loaded weapon in a car and shot himself March 14 at a Tacoma gas station.
On April 10, the 10-year-old daughter of a Spokane police officer was shot in the leg with her father’s duty weapon. Officer Barry O’Connell, an 18-year police-department veteran, is on paid leave while police investigate.
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.