County prosecutor says police shooting of sailboat gunman justified

Robert D. Yeiser died after a four-hour standoff in Eagle Harbor last July.

County prosecutor says police shooting of sailboat gunman justified

The fatal police shooting of a gunman on a sailboat last summer in Eagle Harbor was “absolutely lawful and justified,” according to a memorandum issued by the Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office on the incident.

Robert D. Yeiser, 34, died at the end of a four-hour standoff in Eagle Harbor last July after he was shot seven times by officers from a police SWAT team.

Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney Tina Robinson, in a May 23 memorandum to local police agencies, said police officers were shooting in self-defense when they fired upon Yeiser as he stood on the deck of his sailboat, the Flying Gull, at the close of a confrontation that began when Yeiser started firing a rifle at random at the shoreline and homes along the harbor.

“The use of force upon another is not unlawful whenever used by a party about to be injured or by another lawfully abiding party about to be injured,” Robinson wrote in the memo, which was sent to Bainbridge Police Chief Matthew Hamner, Kitsap County Sheriff Gary Simpson, Bremerton Police Chief James Burchett, and detectives with the Washington State Patrol who investigated the police shooting. Eight officers opened fire on Yeiser after he pointed a rifle at a SWAT team in a police boat that was approaching the Flying Gull, and the SWAT team included officers from the Bainbridge, Bremerton and Kitsap County departments.

The end to the standoff in Eagle Harbor — which began after emergency dispatchers started getting reports of a man shooting from a sailboat in the middle of the harbor just after 8:30 p.m. July 8 — came to an end early the next morning with King County’s Guardian 1 police helicopter hovering above Yeiser’s sailboat, shining a spotlight onto the deck of the Flying Gull.

An officer aboard the helicopter had earlier dropped a flash-bang explosive onto the deck of the boat to get Yeiser to reemerge and surrender, but authorities finally resorted to a SWAT team smashing out a cabin window on the Flying Gull with a pike pole and shooting a canister of tear gas inside.

Yeiser finally came out of the sailboat’s cabin and onto the boat’s deck, covered in a sleeping bag. He then dropped the blanket and stood naked, and officers ordered him into one of the Zodiak-style rafts tied off the stern of the Flying Gull.

Yeiser got into the middle dingy and sat down, but moments later, pulled himself back up onto the Flying Gull and disappeared into the tear gas that was still fogging the deck.

When he came back out of the boat’s cabin, Yeiser had a rifle in his hand that was loaded with a “banana clip.” One witness said he aimed it upward, then leveled it at SWAT officers in Marine 1, one of two police boats that was approaching the Flying Gull.

Eight officers, including some aboard a police boat and others on a moored civilian vessel nearby, started shooting at Yeiser and he fell to the deck, mortally wounded.

In the memo from the prosecutor’s office, Robinson also said that the use of deadly force by police is justified when used by an officer to arrest someone who has committed a felony “if the officer has probable cause to believe that if not apprehended, the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or a threat of serious physical harm to others.”

“On this long night, law enforcement was faced with the task of extricating an armed and angry man from a solitary boat in the middle of a harbor, which, by all appearances, he did not wish to leave,” Robinson wrote. “For hours, the man fired multiple rounds from multiple weapons off the deck of his boat, then disregarded a helicopter hovering over his boat, ignored commands broadcast over a public-announcement system, paid no heed to two police boats approaching his floating home, and withstood close to 10 minutes of CS gas in the cabin of his boat before exiting the cabin naked.”

Robinson said the officers were shooting in self-defense.

“Disregarding both the guns trained on him and the commands given to him, Yeiser exited the dinghy, walked back into the cabin, retrieved a rifle, returned to the deck of his boat and pointed the rifle at a boat carrying a team of law enforcement officers on it. His actions clearly showed his intent to communicate a deadly threat to the officers on Marine 1 at whom he pointed his gun,” Robinson wrote.

“Their response of firing at him was in self-defense … The use of force by all was absolutely lawful and justified,” she concluded.

Bainbridge Chief Hamner agreed with the prosecutor’s assessment.

“I think that’s an appropriate finding. I think the officers acted appropriately. I think that’s clear,” Hamner said.

Yeiser had fired in the direction of people on the water not far from his sailboat, Hamner said, and recalled that bullets had struck at least one shoreside home.

Hamner stressed that officers tried time and again to get Yeiser to surrender peacefully; a police negotiator was on-scene and officers spent hours trying to persuade Yeiser to step off his boat.

“This is not the outcome we had hoped for; this is not the outcome we worked so hard to get,” Hamner said.

“We attempted every alternative to resolve it peacefully, and it was not to be,” he said.

_______

This story was first published in the Bainbridge Island Review.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Northwest

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterburg (File Photo)
King County Prosecuting Attorney vows to protect reproductive freedom

Dan Satterberg joins over 80 prosecutors from around the country in their pledge.

Fedor Osipov, 15, flips into Steel Lake in Federal Way during last year's heatwave on June 28, 2021. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Heatwave expected to hit King County

Temperatures will likely reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, June 26, and Monday, June 27.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII: Examining Auburn police officer’s grim tattoos

Episode 5 in special podcast series that explores Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

t
Sound Transit Board approves Julie Timm as new CEO at $375,000 per year

She replaces Peter Rogoff who left in May after board voted to replace him

t
Statewide task force to tackle organized retail crime rings

Group brings law enforcement, prosecutors, retailers together to combat growing problem

t
Sound Transit committee recommends Julie Timm as next CEO

She is CEO of Greater Richmond Transit Company in Virginia

COURTESY PHOTO, Sound Transit
Courtesy of Hazardous Waste Management Program.
Study: Lead exposure linked to kitchen cookware from Afghan refugees in King County

The issue was first noticed in Afghan children in King County, but more communities may be at risk.

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, who is running for U.S. Congress in the 8th District, speaks to supporters in March. Photo courtesy of Dunn’s Facebook campaign page
Against the grain: Reagan Dunn holds the torch for King County conservatives

What it means to be the top Republican in a liberal King County government.

Assistant Secretary of Health Michele Roberts (left) and Health Secretary Umair Shah.
As COVID trends up again, state officials ‘strongly recommend’ masks

There are no new mandates in Washington. But “we really have an opportunity to get ahead of this.”

Screenshot of April 5 Edmonds City Council meeting. Inset (L-R): Mayor Mike Nelson and council members Kristiana Johnson, Will Chen, Neil Tibbott, Diane Buckshnis, Vivian Olson, Susan Paine and Laura Johnson. (City of Edmonds)
After long debate, Edmonds bans homeless people from living outside

The criminal law is unenforceable if no shelter is open within 35 miles. The City Council approved it over public outcry.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII (Episode 4): Foster mom wants accountability in Auburn cop’s upcoming murder trial

Special podcast series explores Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.