WENATCHEE — Herminia Torres says she lost her soulmate on Oct. 5, when a Wenatchee police officer returned fire in an armed confrontation with Jeffery Sutherland, fatally wounding the 24-year-old man.
Her one-month-old son, Wessely Escobar Sutherland-Torres, lost his father.
After Sutherland died, the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office investigated the shooting, and in a preliminary synopsis of events, said that when two Wenatchee police officers tried to arrest Sutherland on a warrant, he pulled out a gun and shot at Officer Jordan Orrell. Officer Justin Kissel shot back, killing Sutherland. Neither officer was injured.
Sutherland worked as a model in Seattle, and an antique broker. He also fixed computers and sold knives. He and Torres, 23, a student at Wenatchee Valley College, met two years ago, and have been together since then. He wrote her love letters, opened doors for her, and promised to teach their son to speak Spanish.
“He was so smart. He had so much going for him,” she said. “He would give the shirt off his back for anyone.”
The last time she saw him, she was sitting in the passenger seat of an ambulance in front of their apartment at 801 Kittitas St.
Their baby had stopped breathing and turned blue, and an ambulance crew was giving him oxygen. Sutherland was talking to police. She asked him to lock the apartment and meet them at the hospital.
“I honestly can’t remember if we said we loved each other, but I think we must have,” she said. They always did when they parted. “He gave me a kiss,” she said.
An hour later, at the hospital, she was upset with him. Why hadn’t he come? And why did he fall asleep leaving Wessely on his stomach? They had both gone to all 12 parenting classes together, so he knew not to let him sleep on his belly.
But he also learned the importance of “tummy time,” so Torres thinks he must have been giving Wessely time on his stomach, and fell asleep because he was so tired.
The night before he died, Sutherland stayed up to watch Wessely while Torres slept. “He didn’t like to sleep while Wessely was sleeping and I was sleeping. He always wanted to be up, to keep an eye on him,” she said.
Torres remembers hearing Wessely wake up at 3 a.m., and listening as Sutherland changed him and fed him and got him back to sleep. Their baby woke again at 6:30 a.m., and when Sutherland came in their bedroom to care for him, Torres slipped out to the couch. She hadn’t slept well, and was hoping for a few more hours.
When she woke up at 1 p.m., she went into their room. Sutherland was asleep on the bed, and Wessely was in his bassinet, on his stomach. She picked him up and he wasn’t breathing.
She spent a frantic 5 minutes waking up Sutherland, trying to find the phone, and going to the neighbors to ask them to call 911. In the meantime, Sutherland found the phone and was also calling for help.
When police told her at the hospital that they had shot and killed him, she was in shock. Her mother, sister and cousin all cried. She broke down about an hour later, she said.
But now was the time to focus on her son. Wessely was transferred to Seattle Children’s, where he had numerous tests, and after three days, recovered. Torres said doctors examined him and did not find any signs of trauma or abuse. She said they believe he stopped breathing because of his sleeping position.
Chelan County Undersheriff John Wisemore said, along with the shooting, his office is investigating why the baby stopped breathing. No determinations have yet been made.
The agency reported Friday that the officer’s use of lethal force appears justified.
Torres said she’s having a hard time imagining Sutherland pulling a gun on police, but if he did, she believes he was planning to kill himself because he just saw his son stop breathing.
“Jeff was the only other witness there, and he’s gone so we’ll never know,” she said. “But I know deep down in my heart that Jeff would never shoot at an officer. Never.”
She said she doesn’t understand why police didn’t use pepper spray, or a taser, or shoot him in the arm or leg.
Police told her that in a threatening situation, they have to protect themselves first.
Torres said Sutherland was abused as a child, and troubled as a teenager, and he carried a gun due to fear of his abuser.
She doesn’t know why he didn’t go back to King County to complete the three months of chemical dependency counseling for his marijuana use that the courts required. But she suspects it’s because his abuser lived in the same town.
Sutherland moved to Wenatchee two years ago, and met Torres in November 2011.
“We fell in love instantly. There were so many signs that we were meant to be together,” she said.
From a prayer she made a few months before Sutherland came into her life, to an electronic game of Scrabble in which Sutherland drew every letter in Herminia’s name except one, Torres said she fully believes they were made for each other.
She said having a son changed his life. “Jeff loved him so much. He told me, ‘I’m going to be the father that my dad never was.’ And he was. He was such a good dad.”