Police: Bellingham man chasing cars with hatchet cited, not taken to jail

A Bellingham man chasing cars with a hatchet was cited and released on misdemeanor charges Monday morning, Aug. 1, due to booking restrictions at the local jail, police said.

Frightened witnesses called police at 11:40 a.m. to report a man on the sidewalk chasing cars as he brandished a hatchet with a 4-inch blade near Bellingham Cold Storage, 2825 Roeder Ave.

Moments later officers found James Dean Rittel, 48, who goes by the mononym Geronimo, holding a small ax and a 3-foot walking stick down the street, said Lt. Mike Johnston. He dropped the stick and hatchet, and police detained him.

No one reported a direct assault, Johnston said. Police arrested Rittel on suspicion of misdemeanors, brandishing a weapon and disorderly conduct.

Usually police would book someone into jail to face those charges. However, as part of a dispute between the city and the county, Bellingham police have been restricted from making some misdemeanor bookings as the local county jail nears its capacity of 212 inmates.

As of Monday morning, the jail housed 210 inmates, according to the Whatcom Sheriff’s Office.

So police impounded the hatchet and stick as evidence, handed a citation to Rittel, then gave him a ride to the Lighthouse Mission. Johnston said Rittel was intoxicated; he did not receive a mental health evaluation.

Over the years, Bellingham police have made 343 reports related to Rittel. He is listed as a defendant in 246 cases in the courts of Washington state.

Court records show he has been convicted of five felonies: harassment, third-degree assault, first-degree theft, second-degree theft and trying to sell $40 of fake methamphetamine – what looked like a clear bag of sugar, advertised as meth – to an undercover officer in 2013. For that crime, he served a year in prison and remained on probation until three months ago.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb