Eastern Washington rape suspect disappears after he was released because of an attorney shortage


Tri-Cities is already seeing the consequences of a serious defense attorney shortage after an accused rapist disappeared last week after recently being released from jail.

Another suspect whose charges were dropped was arrested Thursday for allegedly robbing a Kennewick bank.

And two other suspects were rearrested after an accused kidnapper allegedly violated a court order and a property crime suspect was caught with drugs, say police.

As of last week, six criminal suspects had their bail eliminated and were released from jail. Eight others had felony charges dropped altogether because of the shortage of qualified attorneys available to defend them within the legal deadlines.

Some of them had been jailed for up to a month without being assigned an attorney.

Jose Chamorro-Castillo, a 42-year-old tattoo artist charged with attacking a female customer, was released from jail on June 6 and ordered to check in with the court a week later. But he was a no show on Wednesday.

Now, he's wanted on a $200,000 nationwide warrant.

Tri-Cities Judge Diana Ruff ruled in Chamorro-Castillo's case that she couldn't ignore the potential violation of his Sixth Amendment rights.

Suspects accused of crimes are constitutionally guaranteed an attorney if they can't afford one. In addition, once they enter a plea, there is a deadline to have a trial — within 60 days if they are in jail or 90 days if they are not in custody.

But the shortage of qualified defense attorneys has left county officials scrambling to fill the gap.

The shortage doesn't seem to be abating, though at least one private Tri-Cities attorney, Scott Johnson, has agreed to accept some cases to help ease the immediate crunch.

Recruiting public defense attorneys has been a statewide issue for years. A similar shortage in Franklin County in 2023 led to cases being dismissed, and several people being left in jail without an attorney for months.

Benton County officials say their problem with recruiting new defense attorneys are new guidelines put in place by the Washington State Bar Association.

The guidelines cut the number of cases a public defense lawyer can handle now — down a third from the current maximum. The changes start going into effect next year and will be fully implemented by 2027.

But it's unclear what the Benton County Office of Public Defense is doing at the moment.

Charles Dow, the department's manager, has said he is assigning attorneys to suspects when lawyers become available to take on another case, no matter the seriousness of their charge

Criminal charges dropped

Instead of leaving it up to local judges to decide what suspects should be let go, Benton County Prosecutor Eric Eisinger said he is prioritizing what charges should be filed first.

"It's the last thing I want to happen," Eisinger told the Tri-City Herald. "I am not happy with the situation."

The move came after Eisinger learned that Benton County public defenders could only accept seven more cases this month. He wanted to focus those assignments on cases where they are needed the most.

Eisinger promised that the cases will not go away permanently. Charges will be refiled once there are enough attorneys to defend them, he said.

At that time, prosecutors planned to dropped nine felony charges against eight suspects.

One of those cases involved Keith Foster, 72. The Kennewick man was accused of breaking into the Harley Davidson lot early May 28.

Foster had been released on bail and already had waited about a week to get an attorney when the prosecutor's office decided to drop the charge and prosecute him at a later time.

The day after the charge was dismissed, Foster allegedly robbed the Chase Bank on Vista Way. He is accused of handing the teller a note demanding cash and walking away with $11,000.

Police said he was easily identifiable by his walk and stooped posture, according to court documents. Police were able to use security cameras to find footage of him after he had removed some clothing.

He was arrested later that day on suspicion of first-degree robbery. His bail is set at $20,000.

Initial releases

Eisinger's decision came on the heels of a U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that supported a lower court injunction aimed at Oregon's troubled public defense system.

While prosecutors have argued the case shouldn't apply to Washington state, Judge Ruff, defense attorneys and others disagree. Ruff cited the case in her reasoning to cut bail for some suspects.

One was Chamorro Castillo, who had been jailed for about five weeks. He was accused to luring a woman to his house with the promise of a free tattoo, then attacking her.

While he isn't charged in other attacks, at least three women on social media claimed he had attacked them as well, court documents say.

When Chamorro Castillo didn't make it back to court last week, the nationwide $200,000 warrant was issued.

He owns Badder Ink tattoo shops, which locations in Brooklyn, N.Y., Hermiston, Ore., as well as Kennewick. He was ordered to stop giving tattoos while his case is pending.

The two other suspects rearrested were Roel Guzman, 30, who had been accused of kidnapping, for allegedly violating a court order in Kennewick and Frantz Snyder Douglass, 38, booked on Monday for misdemeanor drug charges, according to jail records.


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