King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht has fired a veteran detective and SWAT team member after concluding his aggressive and poorly considered actions led to the death of a Black Diamond man wanted for the theft of a pickup and pet poodle.
Former Detective George Alvarez, a 21-year veteran deputy with a troubled history — including five shootings and once being charged criminally for roughing up an informant — was one of two undercover deputies who confronted and fatally shot 36-year-old Anthony “Tony” Chilcott on Nov. 25, 2019, just outside Black Diamond, after ramming the stolen Ford Raptor he was driving.
Johanknecht, in a termination letter dated March 25, said Alvarez made a series of questionable tactical decisions unacceptable for a deputy with his experience. His flawed tactics during the attempted arrest escalated the situation, endangered the public and his partner, and led to them having to resort to deadly force to regain control, the sheriff said.
While the sheriff found the shooting itself was justified, she said it only became necessary because Alvarez and his partner, Detective Josh Lerum — both in plainclothes and driving an unmarked, undercover vehicle — cornered and confronted Chilcott and created an emergency where none existed before.
Lerum was not disciplined for the tactical decisions made by Alvarez that led to the shooting; Lerum remains a deputy. He received a letter of reprimand for not wearing his ballistic vest or clothing that identified him as law enforcement when trying to arrest Chilcott, said sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Meyer.
Chilcott was wanted for theft, a nonviolent crime, and a sheriff’s supervisor that morning had already refused to authorize a pursuit because the crimes weren’t serious enough to warrant the risk to the public, according to documents obtained by The Seattle Times.
“When you made the decision to contact the subject, there was no imminent risk,” the sheriff wrote.
Chilcott had been driving fast and recklessly when spotted earlier — at one point fleeing a Washington State Patrol trooper who couldn’t catch up to the hot-rod Raptor, according to records. However, when Alvarez and Lerum came across him later, they said he was parked and smoking a cigarette. Despite a bulletin warning that Chilcott was hostile to law enforcement and that he was driving a high-performance truck that would easily outrun their undercover SUV, Alvarez pulled up alongside him, according to the sheriff’s letter.
Witnesses say Alvarez rammed the Raptor, pushing it across a wide intersection and onto some roadside boulders, where it became high-centered and was disabled.
According to the sheriff’s letter and an investigation conducted by the Seattle Police Department’s Force Investigation Team — which includes statements from 10 eyewitnesses — the detectives used a hammer and their handguns to break out glass in the truck as the unarmed Chilcott vainly tried to drive off the boulder, his wheels spinning and smoking in the mud.
The FIT report noted the deputies suffered minor cuts struggling with Chilcott through the window before they both shot him at close range in the head, saying they feared for their lives if Chilcott succeeded in freeing the truck.
“You did not use the opportunity you had to slow things down,” the sheriff wrote. “The urgency here was created by your actions, not the actions of the suspect.”
Chilcott was stuck and backup was seconds away, the letter said. Physically confronting him at that point was dangerous, the sheriff said.
The sheriff disciplined both men for violating policy that requires plainclothes detectives to wear protective vests and a “raid jacket” with sheriff’s markings when making arrests, to ensure the deputies are immediately identifiable as law enforcement officers.
Several of the witnesses and at least one Washington State Patrol trooper told investigators they did not recognize either man — both carrying handguns — as police at first.
“You made a series of decisions that were not tactically sound, were inconsistent with training and policy [and] placed your partner and you at severe risk,” Johanknecht concluded.
Chilcott had stolen the 2018 hot-rod truck from a Black Diamond service station three days earlier, driving off with the owner’s pet poodle, Monkey, and drawing the attention of the media, which covered the theft of the truck and dog, and the ensuing manhunt.
Chilcott had an extensive history of arrests for misdemeanor offenses, including resisting arrest and malicious mischief, but no felony convictions and no history of violent crime.
Cooper Offenbecher, a Seattle attorney representing Alvarez, said the deputy will challenge his termination.
“Detective Alvarez’s actions that day were necessary and justified in light of the clear and present danger that the suspect posed to the community,” he said, including children at a nearby bus stop who saw the incident.
Offenbecher said that the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has reviewed the FIT investigation into Chilcott’s shooting and declined, at this point, to file criminal charges against either deputy.
Casey McNerthney, a spokesman for Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, said no final charging decision will be made until the evidence is presented to a coroner’s inquest jury — a process currently in limbo due to court challenges.
In 2003, Alvarez, another deputy and a Des Moines police officer were charged with assault by King County prosecutors after purportedly roughing up an informant and threatening to kill him. The trial resulted in a hung jury, and Alvarez received a 20-day suspension.
Amanda Castro, Chilcott’s sister, who lives in Dickinson, Texas, welcomed the detective’s termination, but said it does little to salve the family’s grief and sense of injustice.
“It doesn’t bring him back, does it?” she said.
Correction: Due to a production error, an initial version of this story briefly included a photo that misidentified the deputy who was fired.