Documents detail fatal police shooting in North Bend park

Investigation clears Snoqualmie officer of wrongdoing, reveals mental health history of man who was killed in 2021.

Around 11 p.m. Nov. 16, 2021, Snoqualmie Police Officer James Aguirre was pulling off East North Bend Way into Torguson Park.

Aguirre was the only officer patrolling North Bend that night, and he was checking the city’s parks for after-hours stragglers. Inside the park, standing next to his 2001 Chevy Suburban, was 33-year-old Cody Rebischke.

Less than 20 minutes after their first meeting, following an alleged altercation, Aguirre shot and killed Rebischke.

A subsequent investigation cleared Aguirre of wrongdoing just over two months later. As a result, the King County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file criminal charges.

But beyond clearing Aguirre, the nearly 300-page investigation — obtained by the Valley Record through a public disclosure request — provides a detailed account of what happened that night and the evidence gathered by police.

First encounter

Officer Aguirre had been hired by the Snoqualmie Police in June. At the time of the shooting, he had been with the department a little over five months.

He had spent the first three years of his career with the police in Clarkston, a town of 7,000 people in southeast Washington along the Idaho border. Aguirre had no disciplinary record at either department, according to documents.

On the night of the shooting, Aguirre was one of three officers on duty. All three clocked in just before 5 p.m. Nov. 16 and were scheduled to work a 12-hour, overnight shift.

Aguirre agreed to patrol North Bend, while another officer patrolled Snoqualmie, according to documents. A third officer acted as on-duty supervisor. In a statement to investigators, Aguirre said the department typically has more than one officer on patrol, but the department was suffering from staffing shortages.

At the time, Snoqualmie Police had at least four vacancies, three of which were for uniformed officers, according to prior Valley Record reporting. Snoqualmie Police Chief Perry Phipps told the Valley Record a week before the shooting that officers were working overtime to cover all shifts, but noted response times to critical calls had been the “same as it always had.”

In an email this week, Phipps told the Valley Record it was unlikely additional staffing would have prevented the shooting. During a typical shift, Snoqualmie officers patrol both Snoqualmie and North Bend together, he said. When fully staffed, the department typically has between four to five officers per shift, working just over 10 hours each.

“It is unlikely that, even with additional officers patrolling within North Bend, another officer could have responded within the short time that the incident occurred,” he said.

Part of Aguirre’s shift included checking if parks were empty. North Bend’s parks close at dusk, and violators could face a misdemeanor offense, according to city code.

Around 11 p.m. on the night of the shooting, Aguirre drove his patrol car into the parking lot on the south side of Torguson Park off of East North Bend Way. According to documents, no calls were made asking police to check the area.

In a written statement given to investigators, Aguirre wrote that when he pulled into the lot, he saw Rebischke standing outside his vehicle with the hood raised and tools nearby. Aguirre wrote that he “did not see anyone else in the park.”

According to documents, there were two other cars parked in the same lot at the time. Each had a single occupant, who would later be interviewed by investigators.

Aguirre said he started to advise dispatch he was out with a subject, but stopped because it appeared Rebischke was fixing an issue with his vehicle and as a new officer, Aguirre was “unable to remember the name of the park.”

Aguirre said he pulled up next to Rebischke, rolled down his window without exiting his patrol car, and offered assistance. Then, Aguirre wrote, Rebischke told him he was putting a vinyl wrap on the hood of his car. Aguirre noted in his account that it was “strange.”

Aguirre said he informed Rebischke the park was closed and asked him to leave. Aguirre then left for roughly 10 minutes.

Mental health issues

Cody Rebischke, 33, was originally from Wisconsin, but had lived in several states since 2015, according to documents. He had spent the past seven years living in his car, documents said.

In an interview with investigators, Rebischke’s parents said their son attended college on hockey and academic scholarships and would later go on to graduate. According to documents, his parents described him as an outstanding son who had no problems until he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The diagnosis came during his sophomore year of college while under a mental health hold. Rebischke was being held after becoming paranoid that his roommate was trying to poison him, according to documents.

Rebischke was initially receptive to treatment medication, according to documents, but later rejected it, saying the medication made him feel “dumbed down.” He had been court ordered on multiple occasions to take blood tests ensuring he was taking medications, his parents told investigators, but he would go off the medication when those orders ended.

Since his diagnosis, Rebischke has had a history of mental health holds, interactions with police and arrests, according to documents. Charges against Rebischke would often end up being dismissed.

According to investigators, Rebischke had previously been arrested for attempting to take an officer’s Taser while under a mental health hold. He also threatened a family member with a knife, investigators wrote. Both charges were later dropped, documents say.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), those diagnosed with bipolar disorder often experience unusual shifts in mood or energy, making it difficult to carry out daily tasks. People with bipolar disorder often experience manic episodes or a prolonged period of elevated or irritable moods that impair functioning, according to the APA.

While there is research suggesting those with serious mental illness are more prone to commit acts of violence, the situation is more nuanced, experts say. A diagnosis alone does not predetermine aggression, and additional factors such as environment, past trauma or substance abuse are also at play, according to the APA.

After frequent moving, Rebischke eventually settled in the Seattle area and spent five months working at a truck stop in North Bend. He was fired in October 2021, according to documents.

In an interview with investigators, Rebischke’s former boss alleged he made several threatening remarks at work, including that he would “shoot the place up” if he were laid off. The boss also told investigators Rebischke had a distaste for police.

Rebischke’s parents also told investigators he had a problem with law enforcement, noting that police were always involved in his mental health crisis and “he felt he was being targeted.”

Rebischke had at least one run-in with Snoqualmie Police. According to documents, he was approached by a Snoqualmie officer for an unsecured vehicle load at Les Schwab in North Bend — which is next to Torguson Park — and proceeded to elude police on a chase to Seattle. The Washington State Patrol reported in May 2021 that troopers used a PIT maneuver to crash Rebischke’s car in Seattle’s Stadium District.

Courtesy photo.
Rebischke’s Chevy Suburban in Torguson Park on Nov. 16, 2021.

Courtesy photo. Rebischke’s Chevy Suburban in Torguson Park on Nov. 16, 2021.

‘I had no choice but to fire my weapon’

Officer Aguirre estimated he had waited outside Torguson Park for 10 minutes and had yet to see Rebischke’s car leave.

When he drove back in, Aguirre noticed Rebischke had not moved and his tools appeared to be in the same spot, Aguirre wrote. Aguirre then said he notified dispatch that he was out with a subject and began approaching Rebischke.

When asked why he had not left yet, Rebischke said he thought he could finish what he was doing before he left, according to Aguirre. Aguirre wrote that Rebischke was committing a misdemeanor offense by being in the park after hours, and the officer began asking for his name.

Aguirre wrote Rebischke was acting evasive, moving to the other side of the vehicle, and would not answer him. Rebischke said he would pack his things, according to Aguirre, but continued to work on his car, he wrote.

Based on the refusal to provide his name, Aguirre wrote he was concerned Rebischke had an outstanding warrant for arrest or was trying to conceal a more serious offense in his car. According to investigators, Rebischke had no contraband in his car and had no warrants for his arrest.

Aguirre wrote that Rebischke became more agitated and said he wanted to leave because he was late for a “date.” At that point, not seeing a license plate on the car, Aguirre called for backup and told Rebischke to stay put, but Rebischke continued not to comply, Aguirre wrote.

According to documents, at the time Aguirre called for backup, the other Snoqualmie officers on duty were together near the Snoqualmie Parkway/Railroad Avenue Intersection — more than four miles from Torguson Park.

A King County Sheriff’s Office deputy was less than a quarter-mile away at the North Bend Ranger Station, according to documents. However, the deputy did not catch Aguirre’s original location over the radio and did not respond immediately because Aguirre had assigned backup, documents said.

About a minute after he initially called for backup, around 11:13 p.m., Aguirre asked for second units to “step it up,” according to documents. Backup would not arrive until after Aguirre had fired his gun.

Aguirre said he adopted a stricter tone with Rebischke, at that point, telling him to stand in front of his vehicle. Rebischke refused, Aguirre claimed.

Aguirre wrote that Rebischke then began backtracking to a restroom building, where Aguirre said he believes Rebischke unplugged objects from electrical outlets.

“At this point I had been calm and friendly while interacting with the subject and I made all efforts to de-escalate, while still doing my duty,” Aguirre wrote.

As Rebischke began walking back from the bathroom, Aguirre said he then reached out and tried to grab Rebischke by his left sleeve to guide him into his patrol vehicle. Rebischke tried to pull away, Aguirre said.

Then, Aguirre wrote, a fight broke out. Aguirre wrote that during the fight, Rebischke said he had dealt with “you guys” before and said they had “rolled his car.”

Aguirre claimed Rebischke pushed him and got away from his grip and began running away. Aguirre then chased him through the parking lot, he said, and attempted to pull down Rebischke. In his written statement, Aguirre said: “I was chasing a fleeing felon, as the subject had just assaulted a uniformed police officer.”

As Aguirre and Rebischke continued fighting, Rebischke began allegedly pulling on Aguirre’s pistol holster and saying, “This is because you’re a pussy,” according to Aguirre. Rebischke then pushed him down, Aguirre said, and got on top of him.

“As soon as he started trying to take my firearm, I knew he was trying to kill me,” Aguirre wrote. “It was the most frightening experience of my life.”

At some point, Aguirre said his radio had been knocked away from him and he was unsure how far away backup officers were.

Aguirre wrote he was pinned down, but Rebischke briefly lost a grip on his gun, allowing him to break free and draw. Aguirre wrote he was unable to reach his Taser and was unsure if it would work, given how close the two were. Efforts to physically pin Rebischke were also unsuccessful, Aguirre wrote.

“I felt I had no choice but to fire my weapon to stop him,” Aguirre wrote. “I had no choice but to defend myself. I didn’t have any other option but to use my firearm.”

Aguirre fired a single shot into the right side of Rebischke’s abdomen. According to documents, he called out “shots fired” at 11:15 p.m., about 3 minutes after calling for backup.

Interviews with witnesses

An aerial view of the Torguson Park parking lot showing where witnesses were located during the shooting.

An aerial view of the Torguson Park parking lot showing where witnesses were located during the shooting.

After some confusion about his location, documents say, all responding officers arrived at Aguirre’s location about 3 minutes later. According to documents, Aguirre was found applying pressure to Rebischke’s wound.

Medics from Bellevue would arrive on scene at 11:22 p.m., documents said. They pronounced Rebischke dead at the scene.

While being driven back to the police station, Snoqualmie Officer Austin Gutwein told investigators he recalled Aguirre saying he gave Rebischke “so many fucking chances” and could have shot sooner, but “didn’t fucking want to.” He also recalled Aguirre saying, “it was justified. I know that.”

Gutwein recalled Aguirre telling him he practiced jiu-jitsu, and that Rebischke was either “lucky” or knew jiu-jitsu because of their altercation. Gutwein said Aguirre pulled up the media release of the shooting on Twitter, and was upset, saying something along the lines of “it made him look like a ‘cowboy.’”

Aguirre was placed on paid-administrative leave for about a week after the shooting, before returning to work on Nov 25.

A 21-year-old man, who was inside his car at Torguson park the time of the shooting and later interviewed by police, said while he could not see the alleged fight, he did hear an altercation.

In a follow-up interview three days later, the 21-year-old witness told police he remembered an officer saying “put your hands behind your back,” followed by put “your hands behind your fucking back.’” The witness also alleged that Aguirre called Rebischke a “bitch” at one point. The 21-year-old also clarified that he could only hear Aguirre speaking.

The other witness of the event was a 64-year-old man, who was also inside his car during the shooting. The man attempted to flee the park during the event “to avoid the situation,” he said, but was stopped by police. During an interview 15 days later, the man told investigators Rebischke was aggressive and looked like he “wanted to fight the policeman.” He claimed Rebischke screamed a few times, but could not remember what was said, according to documents.

Police Chief Phipps said, in the city’s view, there was nothing more Aguirre could have done to prevent the shooting or de-escalate the situation, noting that Aguirre’s account was corroborated by a nearby witness, physical evidence, an autopsy report and radio recordings.

Under these circumstances, the person who could have prevented the shooting was Rebischke, Phipps said. “While the outcome was truly unfortunate, the [investigation] report and the prosecutor decision demonstrate the officer acted appropriately and used reasonable fore under the circumstance,” he said later.

Still no body-worn cameras for police

Under Washington state law, any use of force by any law enforcement officer involving bodily harm or death requires an independent investigation. Detectives with the Independent Force Investigation Team — King County (IFIT), a collective of 13 King County law enforcement agencies, were tasked with looking into Aguirre’s actions.

The investigation was handled by several law enforcement officers and headed by Kirkland Police Detective Adam Haas. All involved officers are required to have no relationship with Aguirre. IFIT’s investigation concluded near the end of January 2022, about 70 days after the shooting.

In a memo, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office wrote “[IFIT] has concluded that the evidence is insufficient to support criminal charges against Officer Aguirre” and we are “declining to file criminal charges in this matter based on the evidence presently available.”

Less than a month after the shooting, the Snoqualmie City Council held a meeting to discuss whether the city should implement body-worn cameras for its officers. Investigators had found limited video footage of the Nov. 16, 2021, shooting, according to documents.

Members of the city council said they had discussed the idea in prior years, and Snoqualmie Police Chief Perry Phipps said he had supported the idea since 2017. While there was no outright opposition, then-Mayor Matt Larson said he had concerns about the cost associated with storing the video footage and complying with large public records requests.

As of March 2023, Snoqualmie police officers are still without body cameras. Phipps said the idea has been researched for several years, but there are no current plans to implement cameras. Since the shooting in 2021, the department has hired a mental and behavioral health specialist. The city has also adopted a “Use of Force Policy” since the shooting, Phipps said.

Casey McNerthney, a prosecutor’s office spokesperson, told the Valley Record that Aguirre’s case had been forwarded to the executive’s office for an inquest. Inquests are administrative hearings designed to shed light on the facts surrounding a death at the hands of law enforcement. King County is the only county where this process is not strictly handled by a medical examiner. At the conclusion, a group of jurors are asked to answer a series of questions, rather than render a verdict. Questions include whether the involved officer complied with department training. Aguirre’s inquest has not been scheduled yet.