Bellingham police officer enters plea in Whatcom County Superior Court
A Bellingham Police officer facing a total of 16 charges, most of the them felonies related to domestic violence, pleaded not guilty Friday in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Cpl. Brooks Owen Laughlin, 33, of Everson is accused of repeatedly abusing a woman since September 2016. He is facing multiple counts of second-degree assault, tampering with a witness, felony harassment, violation of a no-contact order and one count each of felony stalking, criminal trespass and harassment.
The Bellingham Police Department has known about Laughlin's alleged history of domestic violence since at least January 2017, but some sheriff's deputies and the woman's family have had concerns about Laughlin's conduct since 2015, according to records obtained by The Bellingham Herald.
His trial has been tentatively set for June 4. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
He remains in Skagit County Jail on $200,000 bail.
Two new harassment and domestic violence no-contact orders were also signed Friday.
A bail review hearing will likely be scheduled some time in the future. Whatcom County Prosecutor David McEachran argued March 28 to increase Laughlin’s bail to $1 million, but Laughlin’s attorney at the time, Doug Hyldahl, objected, saying a five-day notice wasn’t given, according to court records.
No action was taken and until a new bail review hearing is held, Laughlin will remain in jail.
Additional charging documents filed in Laughlin’s case Wednesday say he became increasingly physically aggressive toward a woman known to him and would beat her on the head, face and body and call her obscene names.
The woman told investigators the abuse was daily and there wasn’t a week that went by where there wasn’t physical violence directed toward her, records state.
Several violent incidents were reported, including one where Laughlin slammed the woman’s head into a wall so hard it dented the sheetrock, and another where she fled his home in the 1000 block of Ridge Lane naked and screaming for help, records state.
The woman took photos of her injuries sustained during the incidents, including extensive bruising on her buttocks, knees, back and face, and provided them to the Everson Police Department.
Laughlin’s children from a previous marriage also disclosed the abuse of the woman to school counselors, records state.
In addition to the physical abuse, Laughlin also began isolating the woman from friends and family and would put her under camera surveillance, as well as track her through a GPS app on her phone, records state.
During search warrants served on Laughlin’s home, 31 firearms were found, including three he kept after being arrested the first time on Feb. 10.
Laughlin was arrested a second time a month later, on March 27, after the woman disclosed violations of a no-contact order and the abuse to police officers.
Laughlin is the third Bellingham Police officer in as many years to be arrested for alleged assaultive behavior. Another officer, Sukhdev Singh Dhaliwal, 31, is still on leave after he and his brother allegedly beat two men — ages 19 and 20 — fracturing one's face and making threats to kill outside a Blaine business in October, according to papers filed in the case. Dhaliwal is facing felony charges of second-degree assault, harassment and fourth-degree assault.
In fall 2016, officer Jacob Esparza was fired after he was arrested on domestic violence charges. He was already on the brink of losing his job before that, records show. Esparza, 35, of Lynden pleaded guilty June 2017 to one count of harassment (domestic violence) and was sentenced to serve 364 days in jail, with 362 suspended.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation into the incidents, and an outside independent person identified by the city’s legal office will also conduct an assessment of the department’s specific policies that would deal with the arrests of Laughlin and Dhaliwal, and the firing of Esparza.
Laughlin will remain on paid administrative leave, per the Bellingham Police Guild’s collective bargaining agreement, with the department.