Yakima sheriff and jail acknowledge slips in the release from jail of a man who went on to kill a 20-year-old Tieton missionary student in 2016. Public records show lapses.
Months before Saul Llamas Rios killed 20-year-old Tieton missionary student Trae Oyler, Yakima County sheriff’s deputies had him in their grasp.
But a series of miscues — such as failing to connect Rios to felony warrants seeking him in California — set in motion a chain of events that saw the felon and Oyler cross paths on a fateful October evening in 2016.
That initial August 2016 arrest — two months before the slaying — and subsequent court appearance came to light after Oyler’s death. Deputies at the time said there was nothing in August to link the 29-year-old Rios to an alias he was using in California. And the Yakima County jail said it wasn’t notified of any warrants.
But that wasn’t the case.
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Records from state and federal databases and the Butte County, California, sheriff’s office obtained by the Yakima Herald-Republic show both agencies were provided with access to that information. Rather, it was lapses in procedures and communication that allowed Rios to quickly return to the streets months before Oyler’s slaying.
Oyler, 20, was returning from youth-ministry services at Yakima’s Sun Valley Church with three other students on Oct. 26, 2016, when a passing motorist fired three shots into his car. A bullet struck Trae in the neck, killing him. His three friends were unharmed.
Rios pleaded guilty last week to first-degree murder in the homicide and is awaiting an April 17 sentencing.
The findings reveal flawed systems at the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office and Yakima County jail when it comes to checking the criminal history of arrestees and communicating the results to others in law enforcement — a failure that could result in dangerous criminals mistakenly being freed to potentially commit new violent crimes.
In light of the newspaper’s findings, Yakima County Department of Corrections Chief Scott Himes said the jail would adopt a strategy to better communicate with the sheriff’s office when it comes to warrant information received about offenders already released from the facility.
But it’s not clear how — or if — the sheriff’s office intends to address concerns about checking the criminal background of people arrested by deputies.
For Oyler’s family, though, any changes wouldn’t impact the life they live now.
“It’s definitely aggravating, but there’s nothing that would change for me,” said Ken Oyler, Trae’s father. “It’s not going to do anything for me or Trae.”
Had deputies reviewed Rios’ criminal history, using information provided by the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), he may not have been on the streets the night he killed Oyler. Because deputies didn’t access that information, Rios only faced misdemeanor charges in the August arrest and was back on the streets two days later after posting bail.
“I don’t know why it was missed,” said Yakima County Sheriff’s Chief Civil Deputy Ed Levesque, who was on duty the night Trae Oyler died. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it. I just don’t know why.”
Initially, the sheriff’s office, through its then-spokesman Sgt. Mike Russell, said deputies had no way of linking Rios to an alias — Jose Cabrera — when they arrested him Aug. 4, 2016, for crashing into a mailbox, driving with a suspended license and concealing a handgun without a permit. Deputies said they couldn’t find any serious criminal convictions in Rios’ past or warrants for his arrest.
It wasn’t until the night of Oyler’s slaying that a dispatcher linked the Rios and Cabrera names and discovered the warrants, Russell said.
According to the FBI, deputies had access to information about his felony conviction for possessing an illegal weapon in Butte County, California, where he also was wanted on two extraditable felony warrants — under the Cabrera name — involving violent crimes.
When deputies ran Rios’ name in the state’s criminal-history database during the Aug. 4 arrest, nonextraditable misdemeanor warrants from Lewis County popped up as well as a report from NCIC exposing his alias, different birth dates he’d used, and criminal identification numbers from the states of Washington and California as well as the FBI.
Those identification numbers are codes to be entered into criminal databases to reveal a suspect’s criminal history and warrants.
Rios’ warrants in California would have been revealed if deputies had entered the codes into the system that Aug. 4 night, the FBI said.
Rios was arrested that night after deputies found him passed out in a Naches church parking lot, reeking of alcohol behind the wheel of a minivan with a loaded .38 revolver in his waistband.
Stories also conflict about which agency the Butte County Sheriff’s Office contacted after learning that Rios was being held in the Yakima County jail. Rios was wanted in Butte County for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition and assault likely to produce great bodily harm — all felony charges.
Butte County Sheriff Kori Honea said his warrants clerk contacted the jail on Aug. 8, 2016, and was told Rios had bailed out two days earlier.
The upshot is that the warrant and felony conviction information wasn’t forwarded to prosecutors as Rios’ misdemeanor case made its way through Yakima County District Court.
Levesque offered several reasons why deputies may not have entered Rios’ criminal identification numbers into the database during the August arrest.
First, he said deputies usually don’t run those numbers on suspects involved in misdemeanor crimes.
Then he said deputies don’t have time to run criminal histories on multiple aliases and may have been too occupied dealing with Rios at the scene to run the numbers.
“The dynamics out in the field, you got this guy belligerent with a gun, and officers couldn’t just dig and dig,” he said.
Carrying a concealed weapon without a permit is a misdemeanor, unless you’re a felon.
Craig Hemmens, criminal-justice professor at Washington State University, said the common practice is to run criminal histories on suspects when a gun is involved and there is no proof of ownership or a valid permit to carry it.
“When you’re arrested with a gun and it’s not licensed, I think a criminal history would be run more often than not,” he said.