Prosecutor outlines charges against Bellingham police officer
A Bellingham Police officer who has a history of alleged domestic violence issues and was arrested for a second time in as many months used GPS to track a woman’s whereabouts, threatened suicide to manipulate others and unlawfully kept a firearm in his possession, according to charging documents read in Whatcom County Superior Court Wednesday afternoon.
Cpl. Brooks Owen Laughlin, 33, of Everson was arrested Tuesday afternoon and is facing domestic violence charges of felony stalking and violation of a no-contact order, a gross misdemeanor. If convicted, he could face up to five years in prison.
Eric Richey, chief criminal deputy prosecutor, said he will likely be pursuing additional charges of assault, felony harassment with a firearm and tampering.
During Laughlin’s first appearance, Richey argued for $250,000 bail, saying that while Laughlin did turn himself in, the court should balance that with the danger he poses.
Richey said the woman and her family are fearful of retaliation by Laughlin and the woman expressed concerns he “has nothing left to lose” and would commit "suicide by cop." Richey also noted Laughlin’s previous disregard for following court orders.
Defense attorney Doug Hyldahl argued for $50,000 bond or $5,000 cash bail. He said there had been no indications Laughlin wanted to harm himself and said he was not a danger to the public. Had Laughlin been suicidal and desperate, the events of his arrest would have taken a different turn, Hyldahl said.
“In spite of the fact that Mr. Laughlin did turn himself in, the fact that he violated directly the court’s order being a law enforcement agent, the court has serious concerns about protection in the community,” Superior Court Commissioner Angela Cuevas said.
Cuevas set bail at $200,000. Laughlin’s arraignment is scheduled for 9 a.m. on April 6.
The second arrest
Around 10:30 p.m. on Monday, a woman known to Laughlin went to the Everson Police Department to “come clean about the domestic abuse she was suffering at the hands of Laughlin,” according to records read in court.
She told officers she wanted to disclose details of past abuse, as well as numerous violations of a no-contact order. The woman told officers their relationship was often argumentative and would turn violent.
Laughlin would threaten suicide and the woman would have to reassure him she wouldn’t leave him to calm him down. She also told officers he blamed her family for his legal problems, and didn't want her spending time with them. She told officers Laughlin told her “Your family did this to me and my job is over,” the records state.
A no-contact order was put in place after Laughlin was arrested the first time Feb. 10 after he showed up at a residence in the 3700 block of Clearbrook Road looking for the woman and refused to leave. Laughlin had to be escorted from the house by an officer, according to records obtained by The Bellingham Herald.
The night before, Laughlin allegedly threatened to shoot the woman in the face, and then later responded while he was on duty to a welfare check that was called on her, the records state.
At the time, the woman told officers she didn’t think he was serious about shooting her in the face. However, the woman told the prosecutor Tuesday that she in fact did fear for her life and watched Laughlin’s hand on his gun while he threatened her, according to court records.
The woman also told Everson police officers the violations of the no-contact order started almost immediately after it was put in place about a month ago. She said they spoke several times a day and that she was supposed to check in with him to let him know where she was.
She said he used a phone app that was designed for parents to track their children’s whereabouts using text messages and GPS to find and track her location, according to the records. If she didn’t answer right away, Laughlin would call her and say “Bye, you killed me” and hang up, records state. She told police he kept calling her while on her way to the police department because she wasn’t where he thought she was supposed to be, records state.
The woman told officers she was afraid he would hurt her or her family, and said she had photo evidence of the marks left from the alleged assaults.
“Not only has Brooks threatened (the woman) in the recent past, but Brooks has assaulted (the woman) numerous times, leaving bruises all over her body, including finger marks on her arms, a blackened bottom, marks on her neck consistent with strangulation and a black eye,” Richey, the prosecutor, said. “(The woman) feels fearful. There’s a lot of fear Brooks is going to harm her, and would harm her, and that’s one of the reasons she went to Everson PD.”
Laughlin also had more than 20 firearms in his possession that were seized at the time of his February arrest. However, he kept at least one unlawfully, according to court records.
History of behavior
Laughlin is the third Bellingham Police officer in as many years to be arrested for alleged assaultive behavior. The records obtained by The Bellingham Herald show Bellingham Police were made aware of Laughlin’s history of behavior in January 2017, after Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of domestic violence involving Laughlin and the woman.
Everson Police officers also responded to Laughlin’s home in the 1000 block of Ridge Lane at least once in the last year on a report of domestic issues, records show. Some sheriff’s deputies, and the woman’s family however, have had concerns about Laughlin’s conduct since 2015, according to records.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation into the incidents. In addition, an outside independent person identified by the city’s legal office will also be conducting an assessment of the department’s specific policies that would deal with the arrests of two of its officers, and the firing of another. Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said the assessment will help her determine whether the department needs to look at changing its policies.
Bellingham Police Chief David Doll said Tuesday Laughlin’s recent arrest will be added to the current administrative investigation to determine what actions will be taken.
Laughlin will remain on paid administrative leave, per the Bellingham Police Guild’s collective bargaining agreement with the department.
Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County resources:
▪ 24 Hour Helpline - 360-715-1563
▪ Administrative Line - 360-671-5714
▪ Email: email@example.com