By Associated Press - Thursday, April 1, 2021

SEATTLE (AP) - King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht has fired a detective after finding his aggressive actions led to the death of a man wanted in the theft of a pickup truck and pet poodle.

Former detective George Alvarez, a 21-year deputy with a history including five shootings, was one of two undercover deputies who fatally shot 37-year-old Anthony “Tony” Chilcott on Nov. 25, 2019, The Seattle Times reported. Chilcott was shot just outside Black Diamond after the deputies rammed the stolen Ford Raptor Chilcott was driving.

In a March 25 termination letter, Johanknecht, said Alvarez made questionable tactical decisions unacceptable to 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 Johanknecht found the shooting justified, she said it only became necessary because Alvarez and his partner, detective Josh Lerum cornered and confronted Chilcott and created an emergency.

Lerum was not disciplined for the tactical decisions made by Alvarez and he 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 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.

Alvarez and Lerum said they came upon Chilcott while he was parked and smoking a cigarette. Despite a bulletin that Chilcott was hostile to law enforcement and driving a truck that would easily outrun their undercover SUV, Alvarez drove up to him, according to the sheriff’s letter.

Witnesses say Alvarez rammed the Raptor, pushing it onto some roadside boulders, where it became high-centered and disabled.

According to the sheriff’s letter and an investigation done by the Seattle Police Department’s Force Investigation Team, the detectives then used a hammer and their handguns to break out glass in the truck as Chilcott, who was unarmed, tried unsuccessfully to drive away.

The police investigation report noted the deputies were left with minor cuts from struggling with Chilcott before they both shot him in the head, saying they feared for their lives if Chilcott succeeded in freeing the truck.

Chilcott’s truck was stuck and backup was seconds away, the sheriff’s letter said. Physically confronting him at that point was dangerous, she wrote.

In 2003, Alvarez, another deputy and a 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.

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.

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