WSP Trooper forgives men for firing 33 shots at him in 2017 shootout

YAKIMA, Wash. - It's been almost two years since Washington State Patrol Trooper Nathaniel Dawson crouched behind his patrol car, fearing for his life as bullets fired by two men with rifles flew around him. 

Dawson would later learn that the men had fired at least 33 rounds, with two hitting the driver's seat where he'd been seconds prior to the shootout and a third striking his computer screen.

As the men were sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison for his attempted murder, Dawson gave him his forgiveness. 

"I forgive these individuals for their attempt on my life," Dawson said. "With a little bit of empathy I can put myself in their shoes and understand, to an extent, the reasons for the decisions they made that night."

On Oct. 23, 2017, Dawson was in his patrol vehicle near Grandview when he noticed a speeding car traveling on State Route 241 — doing 69 mph in a 55 mph zone.

The vehicle was driven by 20-year-old Manuel Aviles, with 41-year-old Felipe Cortez-Barajas and another passenger inside. Dawson turned on his lights and sirens, but the car refused to stop. 

Instead, Aviles led Dawson on a six-minute pursuit, going more than 100 mph, passing other vehicles on the road and running multiple stop signs. 

Shortly before pulling into a driveway in Grandview, an unidentified rear-seat passenger got out and fled the scene.

When the car stopped, Cortez-Barajas and Aviles reportedly each grabbed a rifle, exited the car and began firing at Dawson's patrol vehicle. 

Dawson was able to take cover behind his car and return fire, which struck Aviles in the arm.

"I just relied on my training and that's ultimately what allowed me to survive the situation," Dawson said. 

Aviles and Barajas-Cortez fled the scene and were arrested three days later in Royal City.

Police found a stolen shotgun and a handgun in the car in addition to the two rifles reportedly used in the shootout. They also found 20 pounds of marijuana in the trunk.

About a half-dozen uniformed law enforcement officers filed into a courtroom in the basement of the Yakima County jail Tuesday afternoon to watch the sentencing in addition to more than a dozen family members of the defendants.

Dawson sat among his peers, rising to testify before the court. 

"Despite whatever reasons they had that lead to the actions they took, we all, each and every one of us, must face the consequences for our decisions," Dawson said. "Today they face the consequences for theirs."

Aviles and Cortez-Barajas entered Alford pleas, meaning that while they pleaded guilty to the crimes they were accused of, they maintained that they were innocent. 

Both men pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree murder, possesion of marijuana with intent to deliver and posession of a stolen firearm. Aviles also pleaded guilty to attempting to elude, and Cortez-Barajas, to second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. 

Dawson said he hopes Aviles and Cortez-Barajas will learn from their time in prison.

"I want them to … reflect on the serious life choices that put them in a position to open fire on a fellow human being, and upon their eventual release, utilize those reflections to live a better life," Dawson said. 

Prior to sentencing the men, Yakima County Superior Court Judge Richard Bartheld asked if they had anything to say. Aviles said no. 

Cortez-Barajas, through an interpreter, said two words: "Forgive me." 

Bartheld sentenced them both to two decades behind bars, the sentence recommended by the prosecutor. In speaking to his decision, Bartheld said the incident was "extremely disturbing" to the court.

"This was a real-life enactment of some of the scenes we sometimes see in movies that are make-believe," Bartheld said. "And yet, in this particular circumstance, individuals decided to stop a fleeing vehicle, jump out with rifles and open fire on a trooper who was simply trying to do his job."

The judge acknowledged that it was a snap decision, but that both good and poor decisions can be made in a snap, and that the defendants chose the poor decision. He told the two men that they are now at a crossroads. 

Bartheld said they have two choices: to decide to make something of their time in prison and come out with the skills to be productive citizens, or to continue on the same path and face the same consequences all over again. 

"I would suggest, gentlemen, that you take the advice of Trooper Dawson and make something of your time in prison over the next 240 months," Bartheld said. 

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