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News / Northwest

Livid parent accuses police of using kids as ‘bait’ to catch sex offender near Tri-Cities middle school

By Cory McCoy, Tri-City Herald
Published: March 6, 2024, 7:40am

KENNEWICK — A convicted sex offender is accused of driving by a Tri-Cities middle school more than two dozen times over the course of a week and allegedly exposing himself to at least two children.

And parents are furious that they weren’t notified until after he was arrested.

Javier Ayala-Colin, 29, of Benton City, was arrested by the Benton County Sheriff’s Office last week and charged with indecent exposure and failure to register as a sex offender.

On Feb. 22, a detective with a unit that specializes in violent crime prevention was called to Enterprise Middle School regarding an open West Richland police investigation.

The incident involved a student who reported a naked man in a black Subaru Impreza tried to lure her close to his car by asking for directions.

West Richland police were notified by the school and increased patrols in the area after the first report was made to them on Feb. 20. At one point they found the car and attempted to pull Ayala-Colin over, but he fled and they were unable to chase him because of state law restrictions on pursuits, according to a news release from the West Richland Police Department.

A student first reported the man asking for directions more than a week before, but it appears the school did not make a report about the initial encounter to WRPD, according to information released by the department.

After the sheriff’s detective got involved, the man was quickly arrested and only then did the school notify other parents of what had happened.

When detectives searched his car they reported finding a plastic grocery bag with stuffed animals, a plastic dinosaur, cameras and rope.

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Now parents are demanding answers from the school district on why officials remained silent for a week before West Richland police were asked to investigated.

Parents outraged

Kristen Chapin, blasted the board Tuesday night for not warning parents sooner that a sex offender was trying to lure children and exposing himself. She questioned how the district could stay silent when children were at risk.

“Are you kidding me? Your job is to protect our students and I really don’t care if the police department says, ‘Hey, can you just keep this under the rug? We don’t want to mess up our investigation.’ Screw your investigation,” Chapin said.

She told the board she allowed her daughter to ride her bike home for the first time that week.

“You need to put our students first, every single time,” Chapin said. “Everyone in here has got an idea of what health and safety means for our kids. Not a one of them is going to say ‘health and safety means you find out about an unregistered sex offender in the area and you don’t mention it to parents, so they send their kids home on their bikes for sometimes a mile where any kind of skeevy perv (police are) trying to find can just grab our kids. (They were) using our kids as bait and you signed off on it.”

Chapin said she wanted to know who made the decision and whether they informed district leaders.

“At this point it looks to me like you all were in cahoots with the (police). You’re not Barney Fife. You’re here for one reason, and that’s to protect our kids,” Chapin continued. “That is irresponsible and if something happened, you can be sure you would be liable for it.”

Superintendent Shelley Redinger said she was not aware of the investigation until just before the message was sent to parents. She apologized and told the meeting’s attendees that she would ensure it does not happen again.

Benton County Prosecutor Eric Eisinger later told the Herald that as soon as his office was informed of what was happening, they worked with the sheriff’s office to quickly to get a warrant and file charges.

“When we were made aware of this, I assigned a deputy prosecutor right away and thankfully action was taken before anything worse happened,” he said.

Luring investigation

When the sheriff’s detective contacted the school, Enterprise Principal Sheldon Weddle told him that the man had first approached a student on the south side of the school on Feb. 13, according to court documents.

They were able to identify the man as Ayala-Colin and found an address for him in Benton City and one for his mother between West Richland and Benton City. They also found that he was a sex offender who had failed to register as required by Washington state law.

Ayala-Colin was required to register as a sex offender after a 2014 Benton County conviction for fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation, Kennewick Police Community Relations Officer Roman Trujillo told the Herald.

The first student reported that she was followed by a Hispanic man in a black car while walking to school. The man approached the girl at 7:35 a.m. asking for directions to Yoke’s Fresh Market.

She said he was wearing sunglasses but otherwise was completely naked. The girl was able to identify the car in a photo when interviewed by the detective nine days later. The student told police she thought the man was high, because he was slouched down in the seat and his eyes looked ‘sleepy and droopy,’ according to court documents.

She immediately called her mother after Ayala-Colin sped off.

The school resource officer attempted to locate the vehicle, but did not find it. Security camera footage showed Ayala-Colin’s car driving by the school four times between 7 and 8 a.m. on Feb. 13, according to court documents. This does not appear to have been reported to WRPD at the time.

The car also was shown driving by the school five times between 7 and 8 a.m. on Feb. 14 and again 17 times on Feb 20 during the same hours.

Officers were notified of the second incident on Feb. 20 and began increased patrols in the area that day, and Ayala-Colin ran when they attempted to pull him over, according to WRPD.

A week later, Ayala-Colin exposed himself to at least one other student before he was arrested.

A school employee, who the first student told about the the man asking directions, made the connection that this was likely the same person, according to the detective’s statement.

The second student was approached on Feb. 20, but the student described a similar driver and vehicle. She said the man was wearing a hoodie and asked for directions to Yoke’s. She began to call her mother and he sped off.

The department showed the victims Ayala-Colin’s driver’s license photo, but they were unable to identify him that way, according to the department.

West Richland police then reached out to the sheriff’s department for help identifying the man.

West Richland Police said in a Facebook post last Friday that they determined that the information could not be shared with the community in order to protect the investigation.

“Yesterday Benton County Sheriffs Office in collaboration with West Richland Police Department apprehended an individual who was attempting to lure students near Enterprise Middle School,” the department said in the post.

“This was initially reported earlier in the week and was continually investigated until the arrest had been made. It was determined that information could not be shared in an effort to ensure the investigation was not hindered. Efforts were made during school hours to ensure safety of the students.”

West Richland police later clarified that while Ayala-Colin did allegedly stop the girls to talk to them and exposed himself, he did not try to lure the victims into the vehicle or touch them.

After the sheriff’s detective interviewed the victims Feb. 22, arrest warrants were obtained that day.

Ayala-Colin was found at his mother’s home in the 31000 block of East Kennedy Road N.E. Police saw movement in the house and ordered him to come out, but he refused to. Dispatchers received a call from his mother, who told them that Ayala-Colin had called her and said he was “scared to come out because he didn’t know the charges.”

He came out of the house about 30 minutes later and was arrested.

Later that day the victims were asked to identify Ayala-Colin and both believed he was the same person.

The first victim thought it was, and became more sure when she was shown the sunglasses he had been wearing when arrested.

The second victim thought it was him, but said he might have been skinnier. The detective noted that Ayala-Colin had on three jackets at the time.

Richland School District has referred all questions about the incidents to West Richland police.

Ayala-Colin remains in the Benton County jail in lieu of $10,000 bail and is due back in court this week.