Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies have two men in custody, both suspected of killing a man near Acme last month, Sheriff Bill Elfo said Saturday.
Deputies booked Richard K.V. Zapata-George, 20, into the Whatcom County jail just before 5:30 p.m. Friday on suspicion of first-degree murder, unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen firearm, according to jail records.
Authorities also plan to charge Dale Anthony Williams, 18, with first-degree murder, Elfo said. Williams, a person of interest since the night of the shooting in early December, was booked into jail on a warrant hours after the killing, according to court papers.
Zapata-George is from Deming; Williams is from Ferndale, according to court records.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Bellingham Herald
The arrest stems from the Dec. 6 killing of David J. Palagruti, 27, of Mount Vernon.
Palagruti, according to the Sheriff’s Office, had been sitting in the passenger’s seat of a vehicle parked outside a home in the 6000 block of Saxon Road about 8 p.m. His girlfriend was sitting behind the wheel.
The shooter walked up to the car, made brief contact with Palagruti, shot him twice in the head and then ran from the scene, the Sheriff’s Office said at the time. Palagruti’s girlfriend was unharmed.
Neither bullet passed through glass, and Palagruti did not have any “combative or defensive injuries,” Dr. Gary Goldfogel, Whatcom County medical examiner, said in an email Dec. 8. Initial toxicology tests showed Palagruti had drugs in his system, Goldfogel said.
Investigators believed Palagruti had been deliberately targeted, Elfo said after the incident. The Sheriff’s Office, he added, narrowed its suspects down to Williams and Zapata-George after talking with other suspects and witnesses, including Williams, and through other evidence.
The Sheriff’s Office worked closely with David McEachran, the Whatcom County prosecuting attorney, on the investigation, as it often does in murder cases, Elfo said.
“We feel we have a very solid probable cause,” he added.
Williams arrested hours after killing
After clearing the scene hours after the shooting, detectives searched for a red Jeep Cherokee believed registered to a person of interest, charging papers for Williams say. Detectives found the Jeep along Valley Highway and stopped it.
Inside it were a driver and three passengers, none of whom had identification, according to charging papers. Williams, who was in the front passenger’s seat, identified himself as Darren Williams, a name that returned no warrants or driver’s license record.
A Nooksack Tribal Police officer who had arrived on the scene told detectives that Dale Williams, Darren Williams’ younger brother, had a warrant for obstructing a public servant, charging papers say. The Nooksack officer then identified the man in the front passenger’s seat as Dale Williams.
Williams was booked on the warrant just before 4 a.m. Dec. 7, jail records show. He was charged two days later with first-degree criminal impersonation for giving his older brother’s name to police.
He has been in custody since then, and later became a suspect in the shooting death of Palagruti, Elfo said.
Suspects’ short criminal records include assault
Both Zapata-George and Williams have single felonies on their records, each involving second-degree assault. Zapata-George was convicted and sentenced in 2014; Williams has been charged in an April 2016 incident.
In June 2014, Zapata-George got into a fight with another man during a party at an old gravel pit off North Fork Road, court records say.
He pistol-whipped the man, causing the gun to go off, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office said at the time. The victim had a cut to his head when an ambulance met him at the Nooksack River Casino in Deming, but EMTs determined the injury was from blunt force, not a bullet.
Zapata-George pleaded guilty in October 2014 and was sentenced to three months in jail, with 18 months’ probation, court records show.
In April, charging papers say, Williams used brass knuckles to punch another teen in the head while Williams’ friend held the boy in a headlock.
In that case, Williams also identified himself during questioning using his older brother’s name, Darren, charging papers say. The actual Darren Williams later admitted to deputies his younger brother Dale told him he had used his name after “he had gotten into some trouble,” charging papers say.
Dale Williams was not formally charged in the April incident until deputies arrested him in December. He is awaiting trial in that case.
Updated 7:18 p.m., Jan. 7: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that Dale Williams had not entered a plea in his assault case. He is awaiting trial in that case.