A King County District Court judge on Monday found probable cause to hold a 31-year-old Seattle man on investigation of first-degree assault in connection with Sunday night’s shooting of a protester on Capitol Hill, according to King County prosecutors.
Prosecutors had requested that Nikolas Fernandez be held on $350,000 bail, but the judge, instead, set bail at $200,000, then lowered it to $150,000 after Fernandez’s family addressed the court and spoke of Fernandez’s ties to the community and his inability to pay, said Casey McNerthney, a spokesman for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. As of Monday evening, Fernandez remained jailed, jail records show.
According to the statement of probable cause outlining the police case against him, Fernandez claimed he was about to get carjacked and feared for his life. He told police protesters yelled at him, kicked his car and attempted to grab him through his open, driver’s side window — and that the man he shot had reached into his car and grabbed the steering wheel, the statement says.
A video posted on social media showed people running to get out of the way of a black sedan that appeared to speed north on 11th Avenue from Pike Street, to where protesters have gathered at 11th and Pine Street repeatedly in the past week to protest police killings of Black people, including George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
Protesters have asked why the man was able to walk up to officers after the shooting, when officers had used dispersal tactics like tear gas on protesters earlier. At a media conference Monday, Police Chief Carmen Best said she did not have any detail about police officers’ handling of the arrest, but she would look into the tactics used.
According to the probable-cause statement:
A large demonstration with at least 1,000 people had gathered in the intersection along with hundreds of Seattle police officers and members of the National Guard. At 8:20 p.m., an officer working the event broadcast over his police radio that a car had driven into the crowd, and officers quickly learned that the driver had shot someone.
The 27-year-old man who was shot was taken to 11th Avenue and Pike Street, where Seattle Fire Department medics transported him to Harborview Medical Center.
Nearly simultaneously, “a male aggressively approached the barrier that was keeping people away from the East Precinct building,” breached the barrier and yelled to officers, “I just had to shoot somebody, they tried to jack my car,” the statement says.
Police say Fernandez said he was driving around the area of the protest and thought he could get through, so he continued driving on 11th Avenue, then grabbed an unholstered gun from his front passenger seat and shot the man who reached in his window and grabbed the steering wheel.
When asked why he shot the man, Fernandez told an officer he “was getting barricaded by everybody and was fearing for his life,” the statement says. Fernandez also told police his brother works at the East Precinct and he “does not want to do anything to shame it,” according to the statement. The statement does not indicate if Fernandez’s brother is a police officer or a civilian employee or whether police confirmed that claim.
Police interviewed the injured 27-year-old, whose arm was broken by the gunshot to his upper right arm. He told detectives he saw a black car turn the corner and drive past him, picking up speed. He described the driving as “insane” and said he dropped his hot dog and grabbed the steering wheel through the open window, according to the statement. The 27-year-old considered yanking the wheel but worried it would cause the car to veer into people, so he let go and punched the driver in the face. He told police the car stopped and that’s when he was shot.
According to social media posts, the man underwent surgery Monday morning. Efforts to contact him for an interview were unsuccessful.
KOMO TV reported that Fernandez, who was seen wearing a black sweatshirt in photos and videos from the shooting scene, is a member of Ironworkers Local 86.
Warning: Video below contains strong language.
Seattle Times reporter Sydney Brownstone and researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.