A 36-year-old Auburn man was charged Thursday with second-degree murder domestic violence, accused of fatally beating and strangling his girlfriend in a Kent hotel room on Monday as staff and other guests unsuccessfully tried to break down the door due to a delayed police response, according to King County prosecutors.
Phillip Jonathan Lopez, who also called 911 but claimed his girlfriend of seven years had overdosed on drugs, was arrested at the scene and booked into the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC), where he remains in custody in lieu of $3 million bail, court and jail records show.
Killed was 33-year-old Amber Keith, according to the murder charges. Though the King County Medical Examiner’s Office determined she did not die of natural causes, her official cause of death is pending toxicology tests.
Initial testing on her blood was positive for a variety of narcotics and opiates, the charges say. She also had several injuries, including bruising on her face and bleeding in her throat consistent with strangulation, according to the charges.
But the charges show there was a 52-minute delay between the time a security officer at the Ramada Inn, located at 22318 84th Ave. S., first called 911 at 10:56 a.m. Monday and the arrival of medics and police around 11:48 a.m. Keith was pronounced dead at the scene at 12:07 p.m., say the charges.
In his first call to 911, the Ramada security officer reported hearing a violent disturbance and told the call taker, “We have someone being murdered in (Room) 214!” according to the charges. He called 911 a second time 30 minutes later, at 11:26 a.m., and expressed imminent concern for the safety of the woman inside the room, saying “a man was beating her really bad.”
Lopez called 911 at 11:43 a.m. and a call taker coached him on performing CPR, but Kent police detectives who later listened to a recording noted it appeared he stopped CPR and moved away from his phone before police arrived, the charges say.
Kent police Commander Robert Hollis said Thursday that information about the urgent nature of the security officer’s 911 calls was not relayed to police, who were only told that there were “sounds of domestic violence in a hotel room with transients,” a common call police respond to.
At around the same time, Kent police received a call about a suicidal person armed with a weapon, and so officers were diverted to what police thought at the time was a higher priority call, he said.
“Had we had that additional information, we would’ve been going to the Ramada,” said Hollis, who listened to a recording of the 911 calls Thursday morning.
The Kent Police Department is one of nine South King County police agencies that partner with the Valley Communications Center — more commonly known as “Valley Comm” — for 911 dispatch services.
“It weighs heavy on them as well. They’re aware of it,” Hollis said of the delayed police response apparently caused by the lack of information police had from the 911 call-taker.
Angee Bunk, the call center’s operations manager, said Kent police asked her agency to look into the delay and Bunk initiated an internal investigation on Wednesday, which she hopes to complete by the end of the month.
By the time police and medics arrived, Keith had been unconscious on the floor for several minutes. Arresting officers noticed Lopez had blood on his face and fresh scratches on both of his forearms, the charges say.
Court records do not yet indicate which defense attorney is representing Lopez.
In interviews with detectives, the charges say hotel staff and guests described hearing the woman’s sobs and cries for help and their attempts to enter the room, including with a master key card, but they couldn’t get past the room’s internal security swing-latch.
Detectives obtained a search warrant for the room and found blood on the walls, floor and bed sheets, $30,000 in cash, a handgun stuffed under the mattress, along with a pound of crystal meth, 1,000 suspected fentanyl pills, heroin and other drugs with an approximate combined street value of $6,000, the charges say.
Lopez, who has prior criminal convictions and is not legally allowed to possess firearms, has a pending felony drug charge from January 2020, court records show. In that case, he and another man, then both locked up inside the MRJC, are accused of directing accomplices in a plot to smuggle heroin into the jail, according to the records.
Kent police intercepted the men’s phone calls and located heroin that had been wadded up into the arms of a pair of eyeglasses after the glasses had been delivered to the jail but before they were given to the men, the records show.
Of the 25 murder charges filed by King County prosecutors so far this year, five involve domestic violence, according to spokesperson Casey McNerthney. A sixth domestic-violence homicide committed this year involved a mother who killed her child and herself, he said. Two of the charged murder cases in 2021 were allegedly committed by an intimate partner, including the case against Lopez, said McNerthney.