King County prosecutors on Wednesday charged a 31-year-old Seattle man with first-degree assault, accusing him of shooting a protester who was apparently trying to stop him from driving into a large crowd on Capitol Hill on Sunday evening.
Nikolas Fernandez immediately surrendered to police at a barricade outside the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, where police recovered a 9-mm Glock handgun, loaded with an extended magazine and with a second magazine taped to it, say the charges, which also include a firearms enhancement.
Fernandez, who was booked into the King County Jail just after 12:20 a.m. Monday, remains jailed in lieu of $150,000 bail, jail records show. He has previous convictions for driving under the influence and fourth-degree assault, court records show.
Police say Fernandez claimed he feared for his life and fired in self-defense at a 27-year-old protester who had reached into the driver’s window of Fernandez’s black sedan, according to charging papers. The protester suffered a gunshot wound to his upper right arm, fracturing bone, the charges say.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, Casey McNerthney, a spokesman for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, indicated that prosecutors believe Fernandez provoked the injured protester’s response:
“Although Mr. Fernandez claims to have acted in self-defense, our laws distinguish a person protecting himself from an attack from a person who provoked the attack in the first place. Given the evidence uncovered in the past three days, there is probable cause to believe Mr. Fernandez falls in the latter category,” McNerthney wrote. “The Seattle Police Department continues to investigate this matter, and the King County Prosecutor’s Office will continuously and independently re-evaluate the case as more information comes in.”
He asked that anyone with information or video related to the incident, including the time before the shooting, contact Seattle police. The shooting was investigated by the Seattle Police Department’s homicide unit, and the unit’s tip line is 206-233-5000.
Though it was previously reported that Fernandez is a member of Iron Workers Local Union #86, the charges say he currently works security at Nike Town in downtown Seattle, and was on his way there at the time of the shooting.
“In this case, the defendant drove to the Capitol Hill protests to see ‘how bad’ the protests were. As he turned on to 11th Avenue, he sped up, heading straight for a crowd of protesters,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Karissa Taylor wrote in charging documents. “It is apparent from the reaction of the crowd that the defendant was driving at an excessive speed given the crowd and conditions. As protesters yelled at him to stop, and even put a metal barrier in his path, he continued to drive forward.”
That’s when the victim reached into the car and grabbed the steering wheel, then punched Fernandez in an effort to stop him from plowing into the crowd, Taylor wrote. Fernandez grabbed his gun from his front passenger seat and shot the victim in the shoulder, she wrote in the charges.
According to the charges:
A demonstration with at least 1,000 people had gathered Sunday on East Pine Street between 10th and 12th avenues along with hundreds of Seattle police officers and members of the National Guard.
Around 8:20 p.m., police officers working the event saw a car heading north on 11th Avenue toward the crowd on Pine Street and quickly began receiving reports of a shooting involving the vehicle’s driver. The wounded man was taken a block south to Pike Street, where he was treated by “citizen medics” before Seattle Fire Department medics transported him to Harborview Medical Center.
Nearly simultaneously, a man ran up to a police barricade, breached the line and ran toward officers, telling them he had just shot someone. The man, later identified as Fernandez, surrendered to officers, who recovered a loaded handgun from the pocket of Fernandez’s sweatshirt, which was ripped down the front.
During a later interview with police, Fernandez described driving west on Pike Street, then north on 11th Avenue, and encountering the crowd. Police say Fernandez claimed his car stalled and he shot the protester who had reached through his window. After he got out of his car, Fernandez said “he might have pointed his firearm at several people” as he made his way to the police barricade, say the charges.
Police interviewed the victim at Harborview and reviewed videos of the incident posted to Twitter, according to the charges.
Though the charges say Fernandez told officers his brother works at East Precinct, there is no further mention of a possible relationship to a Seattle police officer.
Based on Fernandez’s last known address, King County property records, a database of city employees and other public records, it appears Fernandez is the second cousin of a Seattle police officer hired by the department in 2018. Fernandez either lived or lives with the officer and the officer’s parents and younger brother, the records show.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.