EVERETT — In the weeks before he shot an Everett police officer to death, Richard Rotter told at least two people that he never wanted to go back to prison, according to new charging papers.
“They’re not gonna take me alive,” he reportedly told a longtime friend about a month before the shooting.
Rotter, 50, was formally charged Friday afternoon with aggravated first-degree murder in the death of Everett police officer Dan Rocha. The Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office also charged Rotter with unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or deliver.
In the two vehicles Rotter used that day, police reported finding a rifle, two kinds of ammunition and 1,950 pills “consistent with fentanyl,” as well as what appeared to be heroin and methamphetamine.
Around 2 p.m. March 25, Rocha was working his patrol shift in uniform when he went into the Starbucks at 10th Street and North Broadway, according to the new documents signed by deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson. While waiting for his coffee, Rocha noticed a man, later identified as Rotter, furtively moving guns and items from a blue Mini Cooper into a silver Ford Fusion.
Rocha, 41, turned on his body-worn camera, telling dispatch he was checking on “suspicious” circumstances. He asked for a backup officer, and an Everett police sergeant radioed that he would be there shortly from downtown Everett. In the meantime, Rocha approached Rotter. The full interaction was caught on camera, Matheson wrote.
The officer reportedly said: “Do me a favor, bud, and leave the guns alone, OK?”
“Excuse me?” Rotter reportedly responded.
Rocha asked about the guns again, the charges say. Rotter claimed he’d just bought the Ford Fusion.
“There’s a gun right there. Can’t tell me there’s no gun. I see a gun,” Rocha reportedly said.
“Maybe,” Rotter reportedly responded.
When asked, Rotter gave Rocha his ID. The dispatcher told Rocha there was a domestic violence assault warrant for Rotter’s arrest and that he had a prior felony conviction, the charges say. Rocha reportedly told Rotter he was not free to leave, as he was now under investigation for suspicion of unlawful possession of a firearm. Rotter became agitated, Matheson wrote.
Rotter reportedly moved toward the Ford. The officer told him to put his hands behind his back, the charges say, and tried to put him in handcuffs.
Footage shows the two wrestled, then fell to the pavement.
“Five distinct ‘pops’ can be heard until Officer Rocha’s body camera ends up facing upwards, motionless, and you can see (Rotter) stand up and go towards the Mini Cooper,” Matheson wrote. “The car starts, backs over Rocha, obstructing the view momentarily, and then speeds off.”
The officer was pronounced dead at the scene. At his feet in the Starbucks parking lot lay a Glock 19 9 mm pistol with an after-market barrel, the charges say — the weapon used in the killing.
An Everett police lieutenant heard the call on the radio: “Shots fired.” En route to the scene, he spotted a dark blue Mini Cooper race past him, with the bumper hanging off and smoke coming from the vehicle. According to the charges, the Mini Cooper ran a red light, nearly hit a police SUV, swerved onto the sidewalk, ran another red light — and then crashed into two other vehicles about 2½ miles south of the shooting scene.
Police arrested Rotter. He was wearing an empty brown shoulder holster. His hands were empty. He had suffered no injuries “whatsoever,” Matheson wrote.
“They’re chasing me,” he kept repeating. “They’re after me.”
Police later searched the Mini Cooper and found a counterfeit U.S. Marshal badge inside.
Inside the Ford were a knife with a sheath; a hard plastic empty pistol holster; four Glock magazines with either 17 or 31 rounds of ammunition; an unfired 9 mm Luger cartridge; a .22-caliber rifle with a scope; two boxes of .22-caliber ammunition; a bag of assorted ammo; and a black camera bag loaded with a golf ball-sized wad of heroin, about 10 grams of meth and five sandwich baggies of what appeared to be fentanyl.
One witness at the Starbucks took a cellphone video of the shooting. He reported he was there to purchase a Ford Fusion and was surprised to see Rotter, whom he did not know, loading stuff into the car.
Court records show Rotter has an extensive criminal history in the state — including 12 prior felony convictions — from the 1980s to 2019, mostly in Benton and Franklin counties. Many of those cases were related to drugs. His only felony conviction in Snohomish County was for a controlled substance violation in 1992.
He was also found guilty of attempting to elude police three times in the past decade: in 2013, 2016 and 2019. The 2019 incident was Rotter’s most recent conviction, Matheson wrote.
In the 2013 and 2019 cases, Rotter drove into patrol cars as he escaped. No injuries were reported in those incidents.
Department of Corrections records indicate he was released from prison in late 2019, the charges say.
The Everett police report noted Rotter’s license was suspended or revoked. He was no longer under state supervision at the time of the shooting. His last known address was in Kennewick.
“Detectives spent a large part of the investigation trying to determine why the defendant, whose previous criminal history and familial ties were all in Eastern Washington, had come to be in Everett on the day of the murder,” Matheson wrote.
They tracked down one woman who considered Rotter to be a friend for about 12 years. She once was in the car with Rotter when he decided to flee police. She reported she had seen him four weeks before the shooting, and she suspected he was a main supplier of fentanyl in the Tri-Cities. She figured he’d gone to Everett to buy more guns and make drug deals.
“It was not unusual for the defendant to have as many as thirteen vehicles at one time placed in several locations,” according to her account in the charging papers.
Rotter had also started carrying guns, the woman told police, because he had been robbed “quite a few times recently” and wanted to protect himself.
“When he is being pursued by police officers, he will run and not stop for nothing,” she told a sheriff’s detective, according to the charges. “He will run over anything and anyone. He will, anybody that’s in the car, he won’t let us out. He’s got one thing on his mind and that’s getting the frick away from you guys.”
One of Rotter’s family members separately corroborated much of her account — and reported Rotter had told him, too, that he was “not going back to prison.” That comment came about a week before the killing.
Under state guidelines, Rotter faces one possible sentence if convicted: life in prison without parole.
An outpouring of community support flooded the Everett Police Department in the days following Rocha’s death. On April 5, hundreds attended a public memorial service for the fallen officer at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett.
An official memorial fund was set up to support Rocha’s widow and two sons.
Rotter remained in custody Friday afternoon at the Snohomish County Jail with bail set at $5 million.
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterellen.