Moses Lake Man, Patrick Elliott Pearson Sentenced to 35 Years for Shooting at ATF Agents in Connection With Widespread Drug Distribution Scheme
Spokane, WN (STL.News) On December 13, 2021, Senior United States District Judge W. Fremming Nielsen sentenced Patrick Elliott Pearson, 49, of Moses Lake, Washington, to 35 years in prison for shooting at four ATF agents with a shotgun in connection with a wide-ranging conspiracy to distribute heroin and methamphetamine. Earlier this year, a jury convicted Pearson of assaulting the agents, engaging in a drug conspiracy, discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The United States Probation Office calculated Pearson’s advisory range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines at 30 years to life, with a mandatory 10-year sentence for discharging the shotgun, consecutive to all other counts. Judge Nielsen determined that Pearson’s criminal history was in Category VI, the highest category under the federal guidelines.
The evidence at trial showed that Pearson, along with co-defendant Luis Manuel Farias-Cardenas, controlled and facilitated a methamphetamine and heroin distribution ring in the greater Grant County and Yakima areas from 2015 to 2019. The jury considered extensive evidence at trial that demonstrated that Pearson was responsible for the distribution of hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of heroin and methamphetamine into the Grant County community. As part of his role in this endeavor, Pearson lived in a trailer on a compound in Mae Valley, Washington, outside Moses Lake. At that compound, the conspirators received, stored, and dealt methamphetamine and heroin to customers. Judge Nielsen concluded that the compound was a drug “stash house” and imposed an enhancement for Pearson’s maintenance of a premise for the purpose of drug trafficking.
On the morning of July 16, 2019, numerous ATF agents, Grant County deputies, and local officers went to Pearson’s Mae Valley compound to serve search and arrest warrants authorized by a federal magistrate judge. Specially trained agents from ATF’s Special Response Team (“SRT”) approached Pearson’s trailer to arrest him. As they approached, Pearson aimed his shotgun at the ATF agents and repeatedly pulled the trigger, blasting lead slugs and buckshot rounds at them through the trailer’s fiberglass walls. He then reloaded the shotgun and continued to shoot at the agents. Grant County Sheriff’s Office took the lead on the shooting investigation. The evidence at trial showed that Pearson knew where he needed to aim to hit the ATF agents, because he had installed numerous high-definition security cameras on the property that live-streamed what was happening outside his trailer onto a large, high-definition television screen inside the trailer.
The ATF agents did not shoot back at Pearson, because they were not able to see if anyone else was inside the trailer. With the aid of a trained law-enforcement canine, the ATF agents were eventually able to arrest Pearson. When he finally came out of the trailer, law enforcement officers learned that after shooting at the officers, he had tried to take his own life with the shotgun. He was unsuccessful, and the ATF agents immediately arranged for Pearson to be life-flighted to Spokane for medical treatment.
During his sentencing hearing, Pearson claimed that he was not trying to hurt anyone, and that he was just trying to buy time by scaring the ATF agents. Judge Nielsen rejected this contention and told Pearson that the only conclusion that could be reached about his conduct that morning was that he was trying to hurt or kill the agents. Judge Nielsen specifically noted that Pearson was not “shooting blind,” based on the video surveillance system that was live-streaming the locations of the ATF agents. Judge Nielsen also found that the evidence of Pearson reloading the shotgun supported the conclusion that Pearson’s intent was not merely to scare the officers. Judge Nielsen also commented on the serious impact Pearson’s drug trafficking had on the community, noting that because of Pearson’s choice to distribute drugs, he was feeding the addiction of current addicts and making drugs available to others who might become addicts.
United States Attorney Vanessa Waldref commended the joint efforts of law enforcement and emphasized the need to keep Eastern Washington safe and strong from both drugs and drug-related violence. “No one can be allowed to shoot at law enforcement. Numerous brave ATF agents went to Mr. Pearson’s trailer that morning to do their jobs by executing a lawful court order and serving a valid arrest warrant. Thanks to Mr. Pearson’s poor aim, this community has not had to endure the potential tragedy of fallen ATF officers. Today’s sentence sends a clear warning to anyone who thinks they can shoot their way out of an arrest and get away with it – they cannot. If they try, the United States Attorney’s Office will work with its federal, state, and local partners to investigate and prosecute them to the fullest extent provided by law. When Mr. Pearson saw on his video screens that ATF was present with a warrant, he simply had to surrender to avoid the most serious charges in this case. Instead, with reckless disregard for human life, he tried to hurt or kill a number of agents.”
United States Attorney Waldref continued: “I am both grateful for, and inspired by, the professionalism shown by the ATF agents who risked their lives that morning. They relied on their training to keep themselves and Mr. Pearson safe, and no ATF officer even returned fire into the trailer despite being shot at multiple times. I thank and commend the ATF SRT team, their ATF, DEA, and Grant County colleagues, and the hundreds of law enforcement officers and professionals who executed dozens of other warrants that very same morning. No other execution of a warrant that morning involved anyone pulling a trigger—only Mr. Pearson shot at law enforcement that day, and it is appropriate that he will spend 35 years in federal prison for doing so.”
Jonathan T. McPherson, the ATF Seattle Field Division Special Agent in Charge, echoed the U.S. Attorney, stating: “The actions of the ATF Special Agents and officers from our partner agencies that day are truly commendable. They acted with high regard not only for the safety of the surrounding community, but also for Mr. Pearson, despite the fact that he was shooting at our Special Response Team. We are thankful none of our Special Agents were injured and that Mr. Pearson will serve a significant sentence.”
Frank A. Tarentino III, the Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Seattle Field Division joined that sentiment, noting: “This brazen attack on law enforcement illustrates the direct correlation between drug trafficking and violence. We have long known that drug trafficking organizations use violence and fear to further their criminal enterprises. With the help of our partners, we strive to drive down drug-related violence that endangers our communities. We will continue to do so through enforcement actions, community engagement, education, and awareness.”
This investigation was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”) investigation. The OCDETF program provides supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved in the investigation of drug-related crimes. This OCDETF investigation was conducted by DEA and ATF, with significant assistance from the Grant County Sheriff’s Department. The case was prosecuted and tried to a jury by Assistant United States Attorneys Caitlin A. Baunsgard and David M. Herzog.