A mentally ill man who tried to run over a Bellingham police officer was sentenced to 18 months in prison this week.
A Bellingham policeman, James Walker, was driving a marked patrol car east on West Holly Street around 2:30 a.m. Jan. 9 when the driver of a westbound maroon ’96 Acura Integra started flashing the car’s lights and blaring the horn at him.
Thinking the driver might need help, Walker pulled over and got out of his patrol car and the red Acura parked behind him. As Walker stood by his driver’s side door, the Acura suddenly backed up about 30 feet and “accelerated as quickly as possible aiming the middle of his vehicle right toward the officer,” according to charging papers filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Walker, a three-year veteran of the police department, jumped out of the way, got back in his cruiser and chased down the Acura. After a wild two-mile chase, sometimes going the wrong way on a one-way street, Walker bumped the front corner of his cruiser into the back corner of the car — known as a PIT maneuver in police jargon — to make it spin out on Squalicum Parkway.
No one was hurt.
The driver, Darrin James Rankin, 41, of Bellingham, was arrested on suspicion of assault in the first degree and attempting to elude police.
As Walker took him to jail, he asked Rankin why he’d tried to hit him.
According to charging papers, he replied: “I was trying to hit and kill you because that’s your job, right? To lay down your life and protect citizens?”
Rankin moved to Bellingham with his family in the ’90s. He earned an anthropology degree and minored in psychology at Western Washington University.
Over the years he’s had several mental breaks related to bipolar disorder, according to court records. At least four times he was involuntarily hospitalized for manic episodes, in 1995, 2006, 2007 and 2014. He was convicted of a misdemeanor for verbally and physically abusing a nurse at St. Joseph hospital in 2007, tearing at her shirt and talking about rape while she tried to restrain him. That same week he was contacted by police in public more than once for “yelling and acting bizarre,” “malicious mischief and assault” and “disorderly conduct.”
In the days and weeks before the January assault, he made several posts about police on his Facebook page.
“It is about time the police started treating us with some dignity and respect,” one of the longer posts began. “I have been harassed and badgered by them too many times.”
In another he wrote: “Hey, I just heard on CNN that all of the cops in the world just suddenly vanished.”
In jail Rankin’s mental health deteriorated to a “critical level,” according to mental health reports. He often refused his medications, asked for “copious amounts of water,” stripped off his clothes, and rambled incoherently. He had grandiose and hyper-religious delusions.
Twice he was shuttled from jail to Western State Hospital for treatment and monitoring by mental health professionals. By late May doctors wrote that he was in remission and competent enough to work with his public defender, Darrin Hall.
Rankin pleaded guilty Thursday, July 16, to a reduced charge of assault in the second degree with a deadly weapon enhancement. At his sentencing Rankin’s parents gave impassioned statements about the challenges their son has faced throughout his mental illness, said Deputy Prosecutor James Hulbert.
Judge Charles Snyder sentenced Rankin to 18 months behind bars. As part of his sentence he must also undergo a mental health evaluation and follow a treatment plan.