EVERETT — A calm, eight-minute conversation with a suspect preceded the fatal shooting of Everett police officer Dan Rocha in March, newly released body camera footage shows.
The footage from Rocha’s body-worn camera, obtained by The Daily Herald this week via public records request, starts inside a Starbucks near Everett Community College. It cuts off four seconds before Richard Rotter fires the shots that killed the officer March 25, according to police.
Citing state public records law and privacy concerns for Rocha’s family, Everett police declined to release footage of the shooting itself, as well as over five hours of other body camera video recorded that day.
Rocha was the first Everett police officer to die in the line of duty in over 20 years. Body cameras are new here. The city approved funding for the equipment in late 2020.
The 8½-minute video still leaves some unanswered questions.
For example, how did the suspect, 50, retrieve his Glock to kill Rocha?
And how far away was police backup when Rocha, 41, was killed?
VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED: This is body camera video from Everett police officer Dan Rocha of his encounter with Richard Rotter, who was detained for investigation of being a felon in possession of a firearm on March 25, 2022, in Everett, Washington. The video was released after a public records request. The video is redacted. It does not show the moment Rotter allegedly fatally shot officer Rocha, which happened seconds after this version of the video ends.
Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman declined to comment. A department spokesperson couldn’t answer specific questions, citing an ongoing investigation by the Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team, the group tasked with investigating use-of-force cases involving police. A SMART spokesperson didn’t respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
While Rocha waits for coffee, the footage begins by showing two cars in the Starbucks parking lot. A man, later identified as Rotter, moves between the two cars. One, a blue Mini Cooper, has its doors open. The other, a silver Ford Fusion, has its trunk open.
Twenty seconds in, Rocha appears to tell a dispatcher he sees something “suspicious,” exits the coffee shop and walks past an Everett patrol car parked in front of the Starbucks. He appears to call for backup, saying into his radio, “I’ll take a second, please.”
Rocha reads out the Mini Cooper’s license plate over the radio before greeting Rotter.
“Hey, how’s it going?” he asks. “Do me a favor, bud. Leave the guns alone.”
What follows is an extended, cordial exchange between the officer and the man now accused of killing him.
Rotter takes a cigarette out of his mouth and says, “Excuse me?”
“What’s going on with the guns?” Rocha inquires.
The Tri-Cities man, who pleaded not guilty to Rocha’s murder in April, explains he just bought the Ford and somebody who works at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett is letting him park the Mini Cooper nearby. The Ford is going to his wife. Wearing a gray hat and glasses, Rotter points with his tattooed hand as he tells the story.
“So,” Rocha replies, “you took your guns out of this car to that car, is what you’re saying?”
“No,” Rotter says, walking back to the open trunk of the silver sedan.
“So where are the guns coming from?” Rocha asks as he steps between the cars, glancing inside.
“It looked like you were grabbing guns,” the officer says, pointing inside the Ford. “There’s a gun right there. You can’t tell me there’s no gun. I see a gun.”
Rocha gets a phone call.
“Do me a favor and just hang tight,” Rocha tells Rotter, who shrugs.
Rocha tells the caller, who appears to be a police dispatcher or fellow officer, “I saw a guy moving a gun from one car to another car.” Rotter, appearing frustrated, puts his arms in the air and responds, “It’s nothing.”
“I see this door open,” Rocha says, referring to one of the cars before moving to the other. “You then open this door to conceal what you’re doing. Don’t say you weren’t, because it’s what it is.”
Rotter explains he “didn’t want nobody freaking out.” He approaches the Ford’s open trunk. Rocha tells him to step away.
“I don’t know what’s in your trunk yet,” Rocha says. Rotter again raises his hands in frustration.
Rocha tells him, “You can’t tell me it doesn’t look suspicious.” Rotter seems to agree.
Over two minutes into the video, Rocha asks if Rotter has ID, then asks if Rotter has any guns on him.
Rotter says no. Rocha spends less than 10 seconds patting the suspect down. Rotter, who is wearing layers, lifts his puffy green Carhartt jacket, showing Rocha his waist. The officer touches around his waist, his lower back and the pockets of the jacket. After the shooting, police found Rotter wearing an empty brown shoulder holster. In the video, Rocha doesn’t touch the suspect’s upper body.
“Hey man, I gotta be cautious, right?” Rocha says to Rotter during the pat-down. “It doesn’t look right when I see a person grabbing something that looks like a gun, going from one car to another car.”
Rotter says he doesn’t understand.
“I don’t know if it’s yours, right?” Rocha explains. “I don’t know and I see you going in two cars and I only see one person, right? In a parking lot. It’s not your home. You’re in a public parking lot.”
Rocha cracks his knuckles, as he does several times in the video, and asks for Rotter’s ID.
Rotter pulls out his wallet and obliges. Rocha thanks him. The officer gets on his police radio to check the name. Rocha then hands the ID back: “Here, Mr. Rotter.”
Rotter waits with his right hand in his jacket pocket. At one point, he says he’ll show Rocha the new car’s paperwork. Rocha tells him to hold on.
While he waits for dispatchers to look up Rotter’s history, Rocha asks more about the cars. Rotter says the Mini Cooper belongs to a buddy in the Tri-Cities. Rocha asks if he has paperwork. Rotter says he’ll get it. He reaches into his pocket, pulling out keys.
“Nope, just hang tight,” Rocha tells Rotter, trying to hear someone on his radio.
Rotter continues speaking inaudibly. The officer points at his police radio and says, “I’m talking to them, I’m sorry.” Rocha then gestures to Rotter and says he’s been advised Rotter has a warrant for domestic violence assault, “so I’m just letting you know.”
“So you’re not free to go,” the officer says.
Rotter shakes his head, saying it’s a mistake. He claims the case was dismissed because his son-in-law hit him in the head with a baseball bat. Rotter takes off his cap and leans forward to show the top of his head.
“Oh, you can see where it was, yeah,” Rocha responds.
“Well, I’m just telling you what they’re telling me, that you have a warrant,” Rocha says. “So right now, you’re not free to go, OK? If they tell me they don’t want you, you’ll be able to leave once we figure out what’s going on here with the gun.”
Six minutes into the video, Rocha appears to speak into his radio again, asking someone on the other end to verify Rotter is not a convicted felon.
“I am a convicted felon,” Rotter notes.
The officer asks, “And you’re saying that’s a BB gun, not a regular gun, is that correct?” Generally it’s illegal for someone convicted of a felony to have a firearm.
“It’s, uh,” Rotter pauses. “It’s an old gun, my buddy got it for me.”
Rocha asks why Rotter told him it was a BB gun.
“That’s basically what it is,” Rotter says.
Rocha interrupts: “Because you’re a convicted felon and you’re not supposed to have a firearm.”
Rotter throws his arms in apparent exasperation and sighs.
Rocha asks why Rotter has the gun if it’s not his.
“Because it was in the car,” Rotter responds.
Rocha tells Rotter he is “definitely not” free to go.
“Right now, you’re being investigated on suspicion of unlawful possession of a firearm,” the officer says. “OK, I’m going to be honest with you.”
“Oh, come on,” Rotter responds.
“Nope not at all,” Rocha says. “You’re a convicted felon, which you confirmed.”
“Come on, man,” Rotter says.
“I’m telling you, I’m being honest with you,” Rocha says. “You told me that it was a BB gun, now you just told me it wasn’t.”
Rotter shakes his head, gestures to his car and raises his voice: “It is a BB gun.”
Rocha again cracks his knuckles and asks if it’s a BB gun.
“You can look at it,” Rotter responds.
The officer says, “We’re going to hang tight until my partner gets here.” At this point, seven minutes have passed since Rocha asked over the radio for a “second.”
Rotter turns and walks toward the cars behind him.
“Hold on, hold on,” Rocha says. He reaches out and touches Rotter’s arm, trying to stop him. “Don’t go towards the car. Do you understand me?”
“I’m just saying,” Rotter says. “I’m just saying, I’m just saying.”
“You’re not listening,” Rocha says.
“I’m just saying,” Rotter repeats.
The officer grabs Rotter’s arms.
“Turn around, face away from me,” he says. “You’re being detained.”
The audio is muffled and the video obstructed as the two struggle.
“Put your hands behind your back,” Rocha commands, adding he’ll “throw” Rotter to the ground if he doesn’t comply.
Rotter pleads for the officer to “knock it off.”
The body camera footage shows Rocha holding Rotter’s left arm as he struggles to break free. Rotter’s right arm appears to be braced against the back of the Mini Cooper.
“Why are you doing this, man?” Rotter asks.
The last three seconds of footage show the officer throwing Rotter to the ground, trying to pin him.
Four seconds later, police said, Rotter shot Rocha five times. Rotter reportedly fled in the Mini Cooper — backing over Rocha and speeding away. The body-worn camera continued to run for hours. Rocha died at the scene.
After a pursuit that ended in a three-car crash, Rotter was arrested 2½ miles south. Police later found a .22-caliber rifle in the Ford.
Weeks later, prosecutors charged Rotter with aggravated first-degree murder, unlawful firearm possession and a drug-related offense. As of Wednesday he awaited trial in the Snohomish County Jail, where he was held on no bail.
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterellen.
Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; email@example.com; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.