Former Bellingham police officer pleads guilty to domestic violence, gets suspended sentence

Former Bellingham Police officer Jacob C. Esparza
Former Bellingham Police officer Jacob C. Esparza Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The case involving a former Bellingham police officer, who was fired last fall over accusations of misconduct and later arrested on charges of domestic violence, has reached its conclusion.

Jacob C. Esparza, 35, of Lynden, pleaded guilty to one count of harassment with domestic violence, a gross misdemeanor, in Whatcom County District Court. He was sentenced to serve 364 days in jail, with 362 suspended.

Esparza was placed on two years of supervised probation – he has to undergo alcohol abuse treatment and a domestic violence evaluation, according to Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney David McEachran.

Esparza also is not allowed to own a gun or have any contact with the victim for the next five years, McEachran said.

The proceedings took place June 15.

Esparza was previously charged in Whatcom County Superior Court with one count of felony domestic violence harassment and one count of fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

McEachran said the case was moved from Superior Court because District Court has more of a robust supervision program to effectively monitor offenders after their release.

“We just don’t have the supervision. … We would be better off … to bring it in District Court so we can control the person; make sure they won’t fall off the boat; make sure they have no contact with the victim, and make sure they’re really processing back into the community, so it’s a strange thing,” McEachran said. “It’s contrary to what you think looking at a felony, but in the standpoint of cases, specifically domestic violence, it’s often much better in this mode. We look at that in every one of these cases.”

In early November 2016, Esparza’s ex-wife showed up to his Kok Road home to pick up their children. Esparza and his ex-wife got into an argument and Esparza pushed the woman against her van, yelled at her, choked her and told her several times he would kill her, according to court records. The two had signed final divorce papers months earlier.

The Bellingham Police Department put Esparza on paid administrative leave in early August 2016 after he got into a drunken fight at the Slo Pitch sports bar in March and then allegedly threatened his girlfriend with a gun in July.

She later recanted her story – police Chief Clifford Cook said he believes Esparza persuaded the woman to recant so he could save his job, according to records obtained by The Bellingham Herald.

Cook fired Esparza on Dec. 2. The Bellingham Police Guild filed a grievance and an appeal regarding Esparza’s termination.

Information on a possible ruling on that appeal was not immediately available.

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt

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