Everett, WA – The career criminal accused of shooting Everett Police Officer Dan Rocha in the head and running over his body made a last-minute decision to plead not guilty to the charges against him after previously telling the court he would be pleading guilty.
Richard James Rotter, 50, appeared before Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Janice Ellis on April 25 and pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated first-degree murder with a firearm, possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture, and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, KING reported.
Rotter’s not guilty plea came as a surprise to the court due to the fact that he had expressed his intent to plead guilty just days prior.
It is unclear why he changed his mind, KING reported.
Rotter further told the court he needed an “incompetency hearing, mental health, and medical eval,” KOMO video footage from the hearing showed.
The Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said it will “continue to prepare for trial and we will prosecute this horrific crime professionally, responsibly and with vigor,” according to KING.
Rotter, who has at least 18 felonies and 43 misdemeanors on his record, is now scheduled to go to trial May 27.
He faces the possibility of life in prison without parole if he is convicted on all counts, KING reported.
According to court documents, the interaction between Rotter and 41-year-old Officer Rocha began when the officer spotted Rotter “moving guns from one car to another” in a Starbucks parking lot located in the 1000-block of Broadway Avenue at approximately 2 p.m. on March 25.
Officer Rocha made contact with Rotter and was soon advised by police dispatch that Rotter was a convicted felon with outstanding warrants for his arrest for offenses including hit-and-run and domestic violence, KING reported.
Cell phone footage showed Officer Rocha attempting to take the suspect into custody when Rotter suddenly began to “wrestle” with him, according to court documents.
Police said the officer and the suspect fell to the ground, at which point Rotter pulled out a handgun and fired at least two rounds at Officer Rocha’s head, KING reported.
Rotter then allegedly jumped behind the wheel of his Mini Cooper and backed over the mortally-wounded officer before speeding away, another clip showed.
Additional officers responded to the area and spotted the fleeing suspect blowing through traffic lights, KING reported.
They chased Rotter briefly before he crashed into multiple vehicles near Rucker Avenue and 35th Street, KOMO reported.
A white van was flipped onto its side in the collision.
Police said the suspect emerged from the crash with minor injuries and simply “rolled his eyes” when he was placed under arrest, KING reported.
Rotter was taken to the hospital for treatment before being booked into the Snohomish County Jail, according to KOMO.
Officer Rocha joined the Everett Police Department (EPD) in 2017 and worked in parking enforcement before becoming a fully-commissioned police officer the following year.
He spent most of his career working in the North Everett area.
The EPD said Officer Rocha “was well respected by both the community and his fellow officers.”
“His loss will forever leave a void in our agency and our community,” the police department said.
Officer Rocha leaves behind his wife, two sons, and a large extended family.
“Please keep them in your thoughts during this extremely difficult time,” the EPD said.
Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman said the agency has established a memorial fund and is planning a ceremony to honor Officer Rocha, KOMO reported.
“He was a great man, a great father (and) a great husband,” Chief Templeman told KOMO. “His crew members loved working with him (and) he loved his job.”
Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin released a statement in the wake of the beloved officer’s murder, according to KOMO.
“I am devastated by the loss of our Officer Dan Rocha, a valued member of our Everett Police Department who was killed today in the line of duty,” Franklin wrote. “My heart goes out to his family and loved ones, as well as our entire Everett Police Department grieving this senseless loss.