Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Police

Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla. COURTESY PHOTO, Kent Police

Kent Police chief explains Meridian Elementary School incident

Padilla says state law, courts have made it difficult to take man who had gun into custody

Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla said officers are continuing their efforts to take a man into custody who had a gun in a house next to Meridian Elementary School.

“I want the community to know that we are doing what we can, within the scope of the law to keep everyone safe,” Padilla said in a Nov. 16 email to the Kent Reporter. “There have been accusations that the police are ‘refusing’ to arrest the male. That is flatly false. We have deployed several officers to this incident, who have contributed dozens of hours trying to resolve this matter.”

Kent School District officials have closed Meridian Elementary, 25621 140th Ave. SE, on Tuesday and Wednesday based on police information about the man, 26, who lives at a house in the 25800 block of 140th Avenue SE, next to the school’s playfields.

Officers responded on Monday, Nov. 13 to the house after reports that the man had a gun inside the home and aimed it at a family member. The school went into lockdown that day because of the incident.

“On Monday, when this incident started, the male involved had access to a rifle and was making statements regarding the school that caused concern, and was acting erratically,” Padilla said. “Since that time, we have taken possession of the firearm and we have been working to take him into custody. It is impossible to know conclusively if the male continues to be a threat to the school, but we do have concerns regarding his mental health.”

Padilla said police shared information with the school district staff but let them make a decision about closing the school.

“Obviously, we work closely and have been in direct communication with school officials throughout this event,” Padilla said. “We did not recommend closing the schools, but I think you can understand that school officials are taking every precaution to keep their students and staff safe.”

The school district released the following statement on Wednesday.

“After monitoring the situation and speaking with Kent Police, out of an abundance of caution, it has been decided school will be canceled today, Wednesday, Nov. 16,” according to a post on the Meridian Elementary website.

Padilla said the department has ongoing efforts to take the man into custody and even attempted to pull over his vehicle.

“Our efforts include the unsuccessful attempt to obtain an warrant for the male, requesting the assistance of mental health professionals, negotiating for his surrender for hours, and as recently as yesterday (Tuesday, Nov. 15) attempting to stop him in his vehicle,” Padilla said. “It should be noted that the male would not pull over when the officer attempted to stop him. State law does not allow officers to pursue for this situation and we had to let him drive away.”

Police Assistant Chief Jarod Kasner explained the attempted stop.

“We had two reasons to take him into custody, one for probable cause for misdemeanor crime and the other was for mental health commitment,” Kasner said in an email. “Neither of which can we pursue for.”

Padilla said they want the man off the streets.

“We want to get the male in custody for two primary reasons,” he said. “First, once he is in custody we can engage resources to evaluate his mental competency and leverage treatment resources. Second, we also know that having the male in custody will alleviate the concerns that he poses a threat to the school or others.”

Officers are familiar with the man and the address.

“Our records indicate that we have had five prior incidents that involved the male since 2016,” said Padilla, who did not detail what the incidents were about.

The chief added it was the first response to the house this year.

Padilla summarized that the incident is an example of the divide among police efforts, judges and state laws to combat crime.

“We understand the concern and frustration of the parents and community members impacted by this incident,” Padilla said. “Unfortunately, this is yet another example of how the community expectations in terms of what the police should do to keep them safe, do not align with state law and court decisions.”

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