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News / Northwest

Documents show ex-YPD officer Elias Huizar was investigated in Yakima

By Donald W. Meyers, , Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash. (TNS),
Published: May 7, 2024, 1:03pm

Angelica Santos was not the first teen with whom ex-Yakima police Officer Elias Huizar is accused of having an illegal sexual relationship.

While conducting an internal investigation into Huizar, Yakima police uncovered information that Huizar had a sexual relationship with the woman he would subsequently marry when she was 17 and he was 24, before he joined the police force.

While the name has been redacted from Union Gap report, other information in the report, combined with other news reports, show that the woman in question was Amber Marie Rodriguez, whom Huizar was accused of shooting to death last month.

Huizar, 34, was charged in February with raping a 16-year-old girl in West Richland, as well as rape for getting Santos pregnant when she was 15.

On April 22, police say, he stabbed Santos at their home and shot his ex-wife, Rodriguez, as she was picking up a child at school, killing them both. He then fled with the 1-year-old child he and Santos had.

Huizar killed himself when Oregon State Patrol officers stopped him near Eugene on April 23. The 1-year-old was not injured.

Time in Yakima area

Huizar was a Yakima police officer from 2013 to 2021, and worked as substitute teacher and coach at Richland High School in 2022 and 2023.

Yakima police conducted an internal investigation into Huizar in 2021. After learning of “conduct that occurred off-duty involving a family household member,” according to a report filed by Yakima police Lt. Chad Janis in late December 2021

Huizar was on a non-disciplinary leave separate from the investigation as police looked into the allegations, according to Janis’ report.

YPD turned the criminal investigation over to Union Gap police to avoid a potential conflict of having information obtained in the administrative investigation contaminating the criminal probe.

Unlike a criminal investigation, where someone can refuse to answer a question on grounds of self-incrimination, officers in an administrative investigation are ordered to answer all questions, with the understanding that their answers will not be used against them in a criminal case.

In a Jan. 14, 2022, letter to Janis, UGPD Detective Curtis Santucci said that Huizar and Rodriguez met in the fall of 2009, when Huizar was 24 years old and was still involved with Sunnyside High School’s wrestling program.

Huizar was an alumni and wrestler at the school, and two of his brothers were on the wrestling team at the time.

Sunnyside school officials told Santucci that Huizar was not employed by the school, nor was he a formal volunteer.

Santucci said Rodriguez was not cooperative. She told the investigator that she willingly had a relationship with Huizar and that she was concerned about him being arrested and worried for her own safety.

“She mentioned often that Huizar is not of sound mind, had told her he hears voices, was short-tempered and controlling of her actions,” Santucci wrote in his letter to Janis.

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Because they had a seven-year age difference, Huizar could have been charged with first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor, but Santucci said he could not establish probable cause, the standard of evidence where a suspect is more likely than not to have committed a crime.

Santucci also looked into an allegation that Huizar may have had sexual relations with another teen he knew when he was in college in North Dakota. In that case, Santucci found that there was a two-year age difference between them, while there has to be at least a four-year difference to sustain a charge of third-degree child rape.

Santucci said the second allegation was “unfounded.”

School resource officer

The 2021 investigation wasn’t the first. Huizar joined the YPD in 2013, and had been working as a school resource officer at Washington Middle School for about 18 months when, in March 2019, students said that Santos was posting on the social media app Snapchat that she and Huizar were dating.

Two months later, other students said that Santos was having sex with Huizar, which the state Attorney General’s Office looked into. Santos denied making the statements, claiming that her account had been hacked, while Washington Middle School Principal William Hilton and then-Assistant Principal Sara Cordova vouched for Huizar, the report said.

Yakima School District refused to allow the Yakima Herald-Republic to conduct in-person interviews with Hilton and Cordova, who is now the district’s safety director, “to ensure consistency and clarity in our message.”

In an email response to questions, spokesperson Kirsten Fitterer said the district contracted with YPD for school resource officers until the current school year, and that the officers were under the direct supervision of the department.

As of this school year, the district changed to using its own school safety officers, using former police officers instead of contracting with YPD.

A presentation to the school board in 2022 said the switch would save the district $250,000 a year, as well as allowing for more flexibility in investigating school violations and communicating with parents before getting police involved in a school incident.

When asked about safeguards to prevent sexual misconduct by security personnel, Fitterer said the district would take “immediate action” such as placing the accused on administrative leave while the allegation is investigated.

Huizar resigned from the YPD in 2021 and was hired as a substitute with the Richland School District during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. In a notice sent to the state Criminal Justice Training Commission, YPD Chief Matt Murray said Huizar resigned following the internal affairs investigation.

While the findings did not constitute a firing offense, Murray said that Huizar was ineligible to be hired back with YPD.

In a news release after the killings, Richland School District said Huizar received positive references from the principal and vice principal at Franklin Middle School. He worked as a resource officer at Franklin after he was at Washington Middle School.

Fitterer said the district “does not control the individual references provided by staff members. References are based on the direct experiences and observations of the person giving the reference.”

The YPD disciplinary report, Union Gap police report and the state Attorney General’s Office reports cited in this story were first reported by the website Tumbleweird.