Yakima police say crowd encouraged man with machete to attack officers

Police captain says it was an 'absolute community failure'

YAKIMA, Wash. — A 32-year-old man accused of attacking a bicyclist with a machete outside Home Depot in Yakima was taken into custody Wednesday after a four-hour-long standoff with police officers.

Yakima Police Capt. Jay Seely said the man was in crisis due to substance abuse issues and officers were able to use de-escalation techniques to calm the situation down, despite onlookers’ attempts to provoke the suspect into attacking police.

“The public standing behind the police, trying to make [the suspect] make a bad decision and trying to accelerate the situation is so disappointing,” Seely said. “This is an absolute community failure.”

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Police were called to the parking lot of Home Depot about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to reports that a man with a machete had attacked a passing bicyclist, who was attempting to fend off the attack with his bicycle.

When police arrived on scene, the victim was gone, but the suspect was standing in the parking lot with his machete still in hand. Seely said officers tried to use “less lethal beanbag rounds” to get the man to drop the knife, but while he was hit by the rounds, he kept his hold on the weapon.

Seely said a crowd of about 100 people  — including young children — were gathered outside the ring of law enforcement officers encircling the suspect. He said some of them yelled at the man, provoking him and trying to get him to run at the police with his machete still in hand.

“They were taunting the guy behind the police, who were doing everything they could to slow the situation down and not provoke him to make a bad decision,” Seely said. “When we had our backs turned, fire personnel witnessed people in the crowd going up and trying to vandalize the police cars.”

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After four long hours of negotiation between the suspect, police officers and a designated crisis responder trained to handle suspects in crisis situations, they were able to take the man into custody without further incident.

“I’m very proud of the officers, the way they handled themselves from all of the agencies involved; they did exactly what they’re trained to do,” Seely said. “We had a designated crisis responder and mental health professional there on scene, we got him up to the hospital, we got him evaluated.”

The 32-year-old was booked into the Yakima City Jail on suspicion of displaying a dangerous weapon and obstructing a law enforcement officer, which are both gross misdemeanors.

Over the past few years, the Yakima community has asked the police department to find ways to calm down high-stress situations and prevent them from getting to the point where an officer may have to make the decision to use force.

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In response, YPD has reexamined its use of force policies, encouraged community involvement and feedback in making changes to those policies and put everyone in the department — including civilian employees and jail staff — through de-escalation training.

Seely said the community has asked police to de-escalate crisis situations without using force, but yet when officers tried to do that during the incident Wednesday, the public did the opposite.

“We’re supposed to be working together to better this community and that definitely didn’t feel like we were working together,” Seely said. 

Seely said had the crowd succeeded in provoking the man into running at the police with his machete in hand, it may have turned into an officer-involved shooting where people were injured or killed.

“When they stand behind us and try to accelerate it, to try to see if we will use force — and want us to use force — it’s really confusing, it’s unfortunate, it’s disappointing and again, it’s just a community failure in the worst way,” Seely said.