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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Man was reaching for seat belt, witness of police shooting says

By Dee Riggs Wenatchee World

EAST WENATCHEE – A key witness to the fatal shooting of Cameron Ayers by an East Wenatchee police officer Sept. 3 says Ayers was reaching to unbuckle his seat belt when he was shot.

“She shot twice through the window,” said Tasha Gray, of Wenatchee. “He was shot twice in the neck.”

Gray is the only person who witnessed the shooting to publicly say what they saw during the shooting. Officer Kaiti Wilkins, who fired the shots, had not given a statement to investigators as of Monday night.

Ayers, 25, of East Wenatchee, was shot as he sat in the back seat of a two-door Chevrolet Cavalier in the driveway of his stepmother’s house in the 200 block of Bellevue Street Northwest in East Wenatchee. A multiagency team is investigating the shooting. Lead investigator Dave Helvey said no gun was found on Ayers or in the Cavalier.

The shooting took place about 2 a.m. Gray said it was dark inside the Cavalier, even though a spotlight from Officer Wilkins’s patrol car was shining toward the car.

Helvey said investigators had interviewed Gray, a man who was sitting in the front passenger seat of the car, and Cassandra Sperle, a probation officer with the state Department of Corrections. Sperle was riding with Wilkins when the patrol car pulled up to the Bellevue Street driveway. Statements to investigators have not been released.

Helvey said investigators are waiting for the State Patrol Crime Lab to test Wilkins’s service weapon to see if it was working properly and to determine that the bullets and shell casings from the scene match the service weapon.

Once the Crime Lab is finished, the report will be forwarded to Douglas County Prosecutor Steve Clem, who will determine if charges should be filed.

Helvey said he also will compile a summary of what investigators think happened during the shooting.

At the time of the shooting, a warrant had been issued for Ayers, charging him with escape from community custody. That meant he had failed to check in with his probation officer.

Gray, 27, who said she had been dating Ayers for about a month when the shooting happened, said Wilkins’s patrol car had followed her car from Sunset Highway, west on 19th Street and onto Bellevue Street. When the Cavalier pulled into the driveway, the officer shined a spotlight on the car.

“When they came out of the vehicle, they were already guns drawn,” Gray said. Wilkins held a handgun and the DOC officer held a Taser, she said.

“They approached the vehicle and said ‘Cameron Ayers, get out of the vehicle,’ ” Gray said, noting that Wilkins was on the driver’s side of the car. “It was a two-door vehicle and Cameron couldn’t get out until we got out, but the officer said we needed to stay in the vehicle. Maybe she didn’t realize it was only a two-door car.”

Cameron, Gray said, told her, “Babe, I love you. I would rather be dead than go through this again. He’s been to prison three times and he’d barely just gotten out of prison.”

She said she had turned around in her seat to where Ayers was sitting, directly behind her, and was “actually looking right at him when he got shot. . He had one hand up and as he was reaching for his seat belt and she shot him.”

She said he was talking in a normal voice and was moving at a normal speed when he reached for his seat belt.

Gray said she thinks Ayers died almost immediately. She said she thinks Wilkins “got nervous and trigger happy. She jumped the gun, I guess.”

Gray said she began screaming after the shooting and, later, spent “five hours in the back of a cop car, crying.” Then an investigator took her statement and she was allowed to go home.

Wilkins attorney, Ulvar Klein of Yakima, said Monday that he expects a statement from Wilkins to be delivered to investigators “by the end of the week.” He declined to say what the statement would say.

Wilkins, 23, had worked for the East Wenatchee Police Department since June as a patrol officer. On April 21, Douglas County Sheriff Harvey Gjesdal had fired then-deputy Wilkins from the Sheriff’s Office for, what sheriff’s officials said were “issues of dereliction of duty, insubordination, lack of follow-up and poor attitude.”

The information was in a document, written by Chief Criminal Deputy Steve Groseclose, that was obtained through a public records request.

None of the issues raised by the officials related to excessive use of force or the use of weapons.

The document written by Groseclose did not specify what actions led to which area of concern but the five-page document noted a speeding incident that resulted in the death of a deer, excessive requests for back-up help, an incomplete investigation that resulted in no charges being filed against an assault suspect, and Wilkins not completing paperwork related to investigations after being ordered to do so.

Groseclose’s statement, written on the day Wilkins was terminated, stated that Wilkins was unreceptive to the guidance of another deputy when issues arose regarding “Deputy Wilkins’ demeanor when interacting with the public.” Wilkins asked for additional training, he said, to “help her with her interview and communication skills.”

Douglas County Sheriff Harvey Gjesdal said last Tuesday that he could not comment on Wilkins’ demeanor or her interview or communication skills.

On May 7, the day that Wilkins was scheduled to meet with Douglas County sheriff’s officials about their concerns about her work, Wilkins alleged that she had been sexually harassed by supervisors at the Sheriff’s Office, according to Groseclose. Gjesdal said last week that the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office found that the allegations were unfounded.

Wilkins had worked for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office for 11 months.

East Wenatchee Police Chief Randy Harrison declined to say whether he knew that Wilkins had been fired but he said, “We did do a thorough pre-employment, background investigation on this officer, as we do for any applicant. We found in this investigation some problems with report-writing and a positive attitude with supervisors with that other agency. We addressed those issues with her and she advised she had learned from those mistakes and intended to not repeat those mistakes.

”We did not find any issues that would disqualify her for employment with us. Her job performance with us has been good to this point.“

Wilkins has been on administrative leave since the shooting. She could not be reached for comment.