Trial approaches for man accused of assaulting island teens

The trial of the Poulsbo man who was jailed last year after allegedly sexually assaulting two 16-year-old girls and spying on another 15-year-old girl in a restroom at Bainbridge High School is set to begin on Monday,

Feb. 25, according to a Kitsap County Superior Court order signed by Judge William C Houser.

William Christopher Merritt, 33, was also charged with first-degree burglary and two counts of second-degree assault after police said he struck two Bainbridge officers while trying to flee from police who had been alerted to an intruder at the high school Feb. 28. The assaults of the three high school students set off a frenzied police search for the culprit, focused primarily in downtown Winslow, right after BHS officials reported an intruder on campus.

BHS and other schools were put on lockdown, and authorities later alleged that Merritt had entered the gymnasium building at the high school and was looking in a trophy case when a 15-year-old girl went into a nearby restroom and entered a stall.

The teen told a teacher that a man, later identified as Merritt, also came into the girls restroom and went into the stall next to her, then ducked his head under the divider wall and looked into her stall before leaving.

Another student who was walking down the hallway of the adjacent 300 Building said a man matching Merritt’s description approached her in the hallway and grabbed her chest. He then walked away without saying anything.

That student immediately reported the assault to a teacher, who tried to stop Merritt while he was still inside the 300 Building.

Merritt refused to stop and answer the teacher’s questions. BHS Principal Kristin Haizlip caught up with the teacher, and they gave chase as Merritt fled the 300 Building.

Haizlip pointed out the intruder to a Bainbridge police officer who had responded to the high school campus, but Merritt eluded capture and jumped into a Honda Fit. He locked his car doors and struck the Bainbridge officer as he drove away.

Multiple law enforcement agencies from off-island were called in to search for Merritt, who then allegedly assaulted a third victim, a 16-year-old girl, as she walked away from school along Grow Avenue.

Police arrested Merritt after he was boxed in on Wyatt Way, about six blocks from the high school, and an officer in a patrol car rammed Merritt’s Honda as he tried again to get away.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to the felony charges last March, and he remains incarcerated in Kitsap County Jail.

Merritt’s trial has been repeatedly delay after he was arrested and charged. Previously, his trial was set to begin on Jan. 22.

But while in custody, Merritt’s legal troubles worsened as his case came under review by the Washington State Department of Health.

Merritt was certified by the state as a nursing assistant in March 2017, and the state Department of Health filed charges against Merritt in late September 2018 accusing him of unprofessional conduct in light of the multiple felony charges against him, which include first-degree burglary, indecent liberties, second-degree assault, voyeurism and attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle.

Merritt’s nursing assistant credentials were suspended by a review judge before a hearing was held on his Department of Health case because Merritt posed an “immediate danger,” according to Department of Health records.

His credentials were suspended “for at least 20 years” in November after Merritt failed to respond to the statement of charges filed by the Department of Health.

Merritt’s trial was at first postponed until he could be declared fit to stand trial.

A Kitsap County Superior Court judge determined last September that Merritt was competent for trial, however, and the new date for a jury trial was then set for late January.

The three teens who were assaulted last February reportedly all subsequently obtained sexual assault protection orders against Merritt.

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