Officials Search For Calif. Student After Missing 20 Years

By Phil Ferolito

Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA, Wash. — A week after Saul Llamas Rios was sentenced to 27 years in prison for killing a Tieton missionary student, officials approved a new policy requiring the Yakima County jail to report warrant information it receives on suspects who have been released.

Previously, the jail lacked such a policy and would disregard warrant information it received on suspects who had been released after posting bail. That created the possibility dangerous suspects wanted elsewhere could allowed back onto the streets — a scenario that played out in Rios’ case.

Yakima County sheriff’s deputies arrested Rios on Aug. 4, 2016, for suspicion of hit-and-run property damage and being in possession of a concealed weapon without a permit, both misdemeanors. His case moved through Yakima County District Court while warrants seeking him in Butte County, Calif., for felony assault and weapons charges went undetected.

Then on Oct. 26, 2016, Rios — enraged after a dispute with his girlfriend — pulled alongside Trae Oyler’s car on Rozenkranz Road, midway between Naches and Tieton, and fired three shots. Oyler, returning from a youth Bible study, was killed when a bullet struck him in the neck. He was 20.

If the warrants for Rios had been discovered by the sheriff’s department, he possibly wouldn’t have been free that night.

The night of his August arrest, Yakima County sheriff’s deputies overlooked the felony warrants in a criminal background check and jail corrections officers — who were notified of the warrants after Rios was released on bail — didn’t forward the information to the courts.

On April 4, a week after Rios was sentenced, jail officials approved the new policy that requires corrections officers to forward to the county prosecuting attorney warrant information they receive on suspects who have been released, the law enforcement agency that made the arrest and the court handling the case.

Since initiating the new policy, the jail has learned of one suspect who was released before his warrant surfaced, said Department of Corrections Chief Scott Himes.

“It’s a good tool to have in place, but I don’t know how much of a difference it’s going to make,” he said. “I don’t know how many times they show up for court in a situation like this, when they have an outstanding warrant.”

But Rios did return to court to face the August 2016 misdemeanor charges. In September, a month before killing Oyler, he was convicted of hit-and-run property damage and sentenced to 90 days in jail with 89 days suspended. His weapons permit charge was dismissed.

Multiple problems

The jail’s failure to pass along the warrant information wasn’t the only problem in the Rios case. The night of his August arrest, Yakima County deputies accessed Rios’ criminal history, which included an alias he used in California — Jose Cabrera — as well as different birthdates he provided and the California warrants that were entered into the National Criminal Information Center.

When initially asked about the case, deputies said they couldn’t link Rios to the Cabrera name the night of the August arrest and that no warrants for him appeared in their search.

But records from the state criminal database requested by the Yakima Herald-Republic showed deputies were provided information that night linking Rios to the Cabrera name, as well as federal criminal codes that would have revealed the felony warrants if deputies would have entered them into the database.

But that wasn’t all the information deputies received that night, according to records from the state criminal database, operated by the Washington State Patrol.

Three days after the Herald-Republic published a story about the case, a clerk from the state database provided additional information, saying the newspaper didn’t receive all the records it requested. The additional records showed deputies were provided the California warrants the night of Aug. 4, 2016.

That night, deputies found Rios reeking of alcohol and passed out behind the wheel of a parked minivan with a loaded .38 in his waistband. Rios reached for his gun when deputies ordered him to exit the minivan, but backed off after being warned by a deputy who had drawn his gun.

Accessing information difficult

Chief Criminal Deputy Bob Udell doesn’t fault deputies for missing the warrants, saying they received 65 pages of criminal records they had to scroll though from a computer in their patrol car.

“It’s a lot of information,” he said. “Deputies just don’t have time to go through records. I struggle to find the information on these things. It’s the case of information overload at times.”

CarriAnn Ross, records manager with the sheriff’s office, said it’s easy to miss information when searching that volume of records from a patrol car. She said the information connecting Rios to the Cabrera name and warrants wasn’t easily discerned.

“People make mistakes,” she said. “We believe they missed the correlation.”

The last three pages of the document provide both names and birthdates Rios had used as well as his state and criminal codes and felony warrants.

Udell doesn’t see the case warranting any policy changes in his office.

“They made the arrest,” he said. “I don’t see what we could do. The whole thing is unfortunate, that’s for sure.”

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