The day after catching a suspected mass murderer and making international news, Lt. Mike Hawley was back at work on North Whidbey, investigating a burglary in which a suspect left behind a prescription bottle with her name on it.
Just a typical day at work, he said.
Hawley has been with Island County Sheriff’s Office for nearly 30 years and takes just about everything in stride. He was on the phone with Sheriff Mark Brown Saturday afternoon after learning that the suspect in the deadly Cascade Mall shooting had Oak Harbor connections.
An hour later, Hawley called the sheriff back and calmly remarked, “I got him.”
“It was pretty surreal,” Brown said.
ALTHOUGH HE says the capture of Oak Harbor resident Arcan Cetin was largely a matter of “being in the right place at the right time,” it’s fitting that Hawley was the one who got the suspect.
Hawley, the former sheriff and a published novelist, runs the North Whidbey precinct and makes it a priority to find individuals wanted on warrants. He has developed a particular set of skills when it comes to tracking them down.
Chris Garden, the new Coupeville marshal, said Hawley is known in the sheriff’s department for his ability to find people.
“Put him on it and he’ll go find it,” he said.
During his three decades in the sheriff’s department, Hawley has served in just about every position but jail cook. He was elected sheriff but decided not to run again in 2008 after his wife’s quilting business was taking off and they wanted to dedicate their time to it. He went back to being a lieutenant.
While tracking down wanted people is a small part of the job, Hawley thinks it’s vital.
“Enforcing arrest warrants is a very effective way of reducing crime,” he said, explaining that it keeps criminals off the street and holds them responsible.
THERE ARE about 3,000 to 4,000 outstanding arrest warrants in the county at any given time, he said. They can range from fishing license violations to homicide. Hawley is especially concerned about cases involving domestic violence.
As new warrants are issued each week, Hawley picks out the most important and assigns deputies to try to find them.
“The best day to hunt warrants is Mother’s Day and Super Bowl Sunday,” he said.
“Even bad guys go home to their mothers.”
The former sheriff also does sleuthing of his own and has developed “a system.” The key to his success, Hawley said, is getting to know the underbelly of the community.
Hawley remains calm during interactions and tries to stay on a friendly basis with everyone he encounters, even those he arrests. Each time he takes someone into custody he makes a habit of talking to that person about his or her family and friends. He hangs out and talks with homeless people.
He figures out associations and connections between people.
“It’s about social talk,” Hawley said. “I deal in doper gossip all the time,” he added with a laugh.
HAWLEY SAID he learned about the shooting at the Cascade Mall while watching television at home last Friday night. Four women were killed and a seriously injured man would later die in what appears to be a completely random act of violence. The shooter was at large.
Security camera footage of the murderer was quickly disseminated to the media, including the Whidbey News-Times. Hawley said he made a mental note but realized the grainy image looked like “a hundred different people” he has come across.
“One thing I would ask is for store owners to buy some decent cameras,” he said, adding that about 80 percent of security video is unusable, and high-definition video is affordable nowadays.
At about 2 p.m. the next day, Hawley received information from the task force in Skagit County that was set up to investigate the case. Investigators thought the suspect might be from Oak Harbor, but they weren’t sure if he was in the city.
By 4 o’clock, the task force identified the shooter as Oak Harbor resident Arcan Cetin, 20, and sent out information about him.
Hawley knew Cetin from a medical call last year.
WITH CETIN’S photo displayed on his monitor at the north precinct office, Hawley heard over the radio that Oak Harbor police located the shooting suspect’s vehicle on North Oak Harbor Road in Oak Harbor. Hawley jumped up and told Deputy David Dennis and Reserve Deputy Eric Gronbach to go to the call.
Dennis, the youngest, was out the door and driving away with Hawley and Gronbach following him.
While he was driving south on Oak Harbor Road, Hawley said he saw a man he instantly recognized as Cetin walking north on the sidewalk near the intersection at Seventh Avenue.
“That’s when training kicks in automatically,” he said.
HAWLEY GOT on the radio to report that he could see the suspect. He then flipped a U-turn, hit the lights, drew his weapon and leapt from his car. In the back of his mind, Hawley said he was thinking about possible cover if shooting starts and where bystanders might be, he said.
Cetin just froze, Hawley said, and barely even turned to look at him. Hawley kept Cetin at gunpoint as he followed orders and dropped a leather computer bag he was carrying. Gronbach grabbed the suspect and the search for the alleged killer was over.
“I said ‘Hi Arcan’ with a smile,” he said.
A few seconds later, a dozen police cars from various agencies came raising up the road and Skagit County officers took Cetin into custody.
HAWLEY CALMLY returned to his precinct office, but his night wasn’t over. Brown brought him to a press conference that was being held in Skagit County. There, Hawley stood before a throng of media and explained what happened. Hawley described Cetin as “zombie like,” a description that was quickly reported across the world.
“He had that 1,000-yard stare,” Hawley recalled.
The next morning, Hawley was shocked to find he had received emails from people across the world who heard about his role in the case.
“It took awhile for it to sink in,” he said. “The entire incident was all of a minute and a half.”