A Kennewick man involved in a five-hour standoff with police while holed up in a Kennewick apartment is charged with threatening to kill nine of the first officers to arrive.
Ronald Joseph Vailencour, 48, is accused of breaking into his ex-wife's apartment Jan. 2 and threatening Kennewick police officers who responded to investigate the burglary.
After police found a shattered sliding glass door and saw the blinds moving on a second-story window, they surrounded the apartment and made an announcement to the suspectthat they were outside.
That's when Vailencour allegedly yelled back, "I have a gun and I'm going to shoot you, just let me finish this cigarette!"
Officers took cover and the Tri-City Regional SWAT team was called.
Because of that threat, Vailencour is facing a March 5 trial on nine counts of felony harassment, with aggravating circumstances that the victims are law enforcement officers.
"The cops took it as a threat to kill them. The officers I chose to include as victims ... were on the front line," Deputy Prosecutor Megan Whitmire told the Herald. "Those are the ones who could have taken the threat most serious because they were in shooting range ... and were in direct jeopardy of being shot."
Officers evacuated people near the Hood Avenue apartment and SWAT officers eventually entered the apartment after throwing tear gas through a window.
Vailencour allegedly fought with police and was shocked with a Taser. He then was arrested with the help of a police dog unit.
In court documents, Whitmire wrote that while all of the responding officers were concerned about the threat made by Vailencour, "The initial front line officers were very much in fear of their lives and prepared to take lethal action."
The nine officers identified as victims who experienced "the greatest fear that the defendant's threat of death would be carried out" were: Officers Mario Martinez Jr., Aaron Hamel, Drew Sneyd, Rebecca Jones, Tim Harris, Dale Kuehny, Miguel Ayala, Cpl. Todd Dronen and Sgt. Ken Lattin.
Vailencour also is charged with residential burglary and second-degree malicious mischief, and both were filed with domestic violence allegations.
Vailencour pleaded innocent Thursday in Benton County Superior Court and is being held in the Benton County jail on $200,000 bail. Defense attorney Scott Johnson was appointed to represent him.
Whitmire didn't charge Vailencour under the new law that makes it a felony to threaten police, but she said she is looking into the possibility of amending the charges to do that. If she makes the change, the aggravating factors included now that could result in a longer sentence if Vailencour is convicted, likely wouldn't be included, she said.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller and Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg testified in Olympia last year and advocated for the change in the law to give criminal justice participants -- police officers, prosecutors, corrections officers and defense attorneys -- the same protection as judges.
An incident involving a Kennewick police detective who was threatened by a hostile DUI suspect in 2009 prompted Miller and Hohenberg to seek the change. The law took effect in July.
"We are threatened all the time. It's part of our job ...," said Kennewick police Capt. Trevor White. "We go to work every day knowing that it could be our last day on Earth and we could be shot ... but at the same time, it doesn't make it right for someone to threaten a police officer with a crime of violence and create unease for us."
Critics might say that a police officer's job is inherently dangerous and they should be prepared to deal with threats, but Whitmire said the fact that legislators felt it was important to make the change shows that officers deserve the same protections as citizens.
"It's just getting worse. These law enforcement officers are placed with people who really aren't afraid to shoot them," Whitmire said. "We've been lucky in this area ... but why wouldn't they be afforded the same protection of any other citizen just because of their job. ... They're also more likely to have the threat carried out than an average citizen who doesn't have to respond to a situation like that."
The law includes an explanation that the fear from the threat has to be a fear that a reasonable criminal justice participant would have and it doesn't count as harassment unless it is apparent the person had the ability to carry out the threat. It was added to make the distinction between an actual threat and a threat from someone who is drunk or agitated while in the back of a patrol car.
Whitmire said that although the first responding officers didn't know whether Vailencour was armed when he allegedly threatened to shoot them, they had information that Vailencour reportedly had once pulled a gun out in court and has severe mental issues.
White also explained that the situation with Vailencour is different than other situations when SWAT is called out because a suspect barricaded himself in a home and threatened to shoot himself.
In this incident, Vailencour already allegedly committed a felony by breaking into an apartment, and then said he was armed and was going to shoot them, White said.
"It's infrequent when someone actually challenges us and threatens us," he said. "You will get the barricaded subject and people who say, 'Don't come in or I'm gong to hurt myself.' But it's not often we're challenged (by a suspect who says) 'You stay at bay or I'm going to come at you.' This guy is trying to take the fight to us."
White said officers also had information that Vailencour had a history of being assaultive toward officers and the severity of the circumstances has to be taken into account.
"Had we had more information and documentation that this guy wasn't armed and he wasn't just in the house or being a dork or under the influence" the circumstances could had been different, he said.
"We have thick skin. You're not going to last as a police officer if you don't. ... But (in this incident) the officers had a heightened awareness because of the type of crime and the officers took the threat very seriously."