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News / Northwest

Troubled former Yakima officer coached and taught in Richland schools before killings

By Cory McCoy, Tri-City Herald
Published: April 24, 2024, 7:40am

The former Yakima police officer accused of killing his ex-wife at William Wiley Elementary School was a former Richland School District employee with a lengthy history of inappropriate behavior toward female students.

Elias Huizar, 39, of West Richland, killed his ex-wife Amber Marie Rodriguez, 31, outside the school where she worked as a paraeducator, in front of their 9-year-old son.

He was not a stranger to the district, having been employed as a substitute teacher with the district and a volunteer wrestling coach at Richland High School in 2022 and 2023.

The district said his last day substituting or working as a volunteer was in June 2023, but as recently as February 2024 the school district’s attorney told police he remained in the system as a possible substitute.

He was removed from their rolls and trespassed from Richland school properties after the district obtained more information about the rape allegations on Feb. 14, 2024. The district maintains that he had not volunteered or taught since June 2023.

Huizar also allegedly killed a 17-year-old, identified by court documents as his girlfriend, at his home just down the street from the school, and then fled with their 1-year-old son, Roman, after shooting his ex-wife.

West Richland Police have not said whether he killed Angelica M. Santos, 17, before or after the shooting at the school.

Police have been investigating this relationship for several years, according to court documents.

In February, a Benton County judge ordered Huizar to stay away from the teen and he was charged with third-degree rape. He was also charged with raping her 16-year-old friend after allegedly getting both drunk at his home.

Court documents show his ex-wife told the court she was afraid for the safety of herself and their two sons, ages 6 and 9.

After he was charged with rape, Rodriguez filed for a protection order, which was granted Feb. 22. She also filed last week for a change in the custody of their boys.

She said Huizar has harassed her since their 2020 divorce and believed he is mentally and emotionally unstable, according to her statements in the request for the order.

She also wrote that Huizar owns firearms. Several guns were taken from Huizar’s house after his February 2022 arrest, according to police reports.

In an interview with Union Gap, Wash., investigators, who were looking into the misconduct allegations for Yakima police, Rodriguez said that Huizar was “not of sound mind, has told her he hears voices, was short tempered and controlling of her actions.”

In statements included in her request for a protective order, Rodriguez wrote that Huizar had been diagnosed with PTSD, major depressive disorder, insomnia, alcohol use disorder and an unspecified personality disorder.

“I believe we would try to cause harm to my children and I,” she wrote.

“Throughout our marriage Mr. Huizar was verbally, mentally and emotionally abusive to me …. He has continued to harass me about any and everything. He has continued to affect mine and my children’s quality of life due to his mental health issues.”

Yakima school resource officer

Court records indicate Huizar had inappropriate contact with the 17-year-old victim several years earlier when he was working at a Yakima middle school as a school resource officer. He was ultimately pulled out of that school and terminated after a lengthy investigation.

There was at least one other young woman mentioned in that report as a potential victim while Huizar was a student in college, but investigators wrote that their age gap was not as significant as had been reported to authorities.

That investigation was ultimately closed in January 2022 because Union Gap investigators could not establish probable cause to charge Huizar with child rape at the time.

A week before his termination from the Yakima Police Department, Richland hired Huizar as an emergency substitute teacher. At the time, the state of Washington was allowing districts desperate for teachers to hire temporary teachers if they had a certain level of college education.

Yakima Police Chief Matthew Murray told the monthly alternative Tri-City publication Tumbleweird that he was not aware that Huizar had applied for a job with the district.

“The tragedies we are learning about in West Richland are heartbreaking. Words cannot express the deep sympathy we feel for all affected by these terrible acts of violence,” Murray said in a news release Tuesday. “We remain ready to assist in any way we are able.”

On Tuesday, the Richland School District released a timeline of Huizar’s involvement with the district.

Richland schools said Huizar first applied in November 2021. He had been on administrative leave from Yakima police for more than a year before his termination, according to his Notice of Separation from the department. He was not eligible to be rehired.

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The district received references from the principal and vice principal at Franklin Middle School in Yakima, but from not the police department.

They also said Huizar did not disclose any details of an investigation involving his alleged misconduct with the girl, who later became pregnant and moved into his home in West Richland.

At the time she was in middle school and he was a Yakima school resource officer.

During that investigation, his ex-wife was interviewed and officials learned that they had met while she was a student.

Rodriguez was a 17-year-old student at Sunnyside High when she met Huizar, who was volunteering as a coach for the wrestling team, according to documents included in the public records posted online by Tumbleweird.

The later police investigation did not determine if they had a sexual relationship at that time.

Huizar is a Sunnyside graduate. He attended Yakima Valley Community College from 2004 to 2006 then transferred credits to Dickinson State University in North Dakota, according to a transcript included in his application to work for the Richland School District.

Huizar was on the university’s wrestling team, according to a news report from the Dickinson Times after he was arrested in 2008 for involvement in an altercation.

Huizar graduated from Dickinson in 2009 with a bachelor’s in exercise science. He returned to the Yakima Valley and became a police officer, while volunteering as a wrestling coach. He was hired by the Yakima Police Department in June 2013.

When Huizar was arrested on the rape charge in February 2024, a Richland School District attorney asked the West Richland Police Department for more information.

“The District is requesting the arrest report and any other investigatory reports regarding the alleged rape so that it can determine whether or not Mr. Huizar should continue as a substitute employee,” the attorney wrote in a Feb. 8 email.

The district said he was removed and trespassed a week later when they received the information. At least one document lists Huizar as substitute who taught at one point at Jefferson Elementary School in central Richland.

Rape allegations

On Feb. 3 he was arrested and accused of raping a 16-year-old teenager in his West Richland home.

Investigators said he sexually assaulted the unconscious house guest after a night of drinking with his 17-year-old girlfriend, Santos, and the teen, according to court documents.

Huizar worked for the Yakima Police Department between 2014 and 2022 but it’s not clear where he’d been working since he left the department. He was arrested after Santos allegedly caught him assaulting the teen.

The two teens left in Huizar’s truck and drove west until they found a Benton County sheriff’s deputy parked in Benton City.

Santos also took her and Huizar’s then-9-month-old baby. When West Richland police went to his home on South Highlands Boulevard, he refused to open the door and they had to force their way into the house.

Detectives found Santos was not of legal age when she became pregnant, according to court documents.

Huizar posted bail that evening and was released from the Benton County jail.

He was ordered to surrender his passport, not to drink alcohol and not to contact Santos or the other teen.