PORT TOWNSEND — A Bonney Lake man has been charged with second-degree perjury after he was accused of being a co-conspirator in an active-duty soldier’s attempt to fake his own death.
Ryen Ethan Bell, 20, was charged Friday in Jefferson County Superior Court after more than 100 people searched for his cousin, Devin Mitchell Schmidt, the day before at Fort Worden State Park.
Schmidt, an Army soldier stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was found safe at McDonald’s in Port Townsend about 6 p.m. Thursday and was turned over to military officials, law enforcement officials said.
Bell appeared from the Jefferson County Jail by video monitor Friday before Judge Keith Harper, who agreed with Prosecutor James Kennedy and set bail at $25,000.
Second-degree perjury is a Class C felony, punishable by a maximum of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
Bell also was charged with making false or misleading statements to a public servant and false reporting, both gross misdemeanors.
Bell called the Port Townsend Police Department at about 5 p.m. Wednesday, saying he was concerned about Schmidt, who had sent him a video via Facebook Messenger with suicidal threats, according to the probable cause statement filed by Port Townsend Detective Ash Moore.
“Based on the physical backdrop in the video, the location the video was filmed was determined to be at Fort Worden near a bluff over the beach,” Moore wrote in the report.
Bell said he drove to Port Townsend after he watched the video and started to search for Schmidt at about 1:50 p.m. Wednesday, according to the report.
He went to the location he thought the video was made and reportedly found Schmidt’s wallet, cellphone, a phone charger and Schmidt’s dog tags.
Bell said Schmidt’s father called him at about 5 p.m. and urged him to call police, and that sparked the search-and-rescue response that began at 8 a.m. Thursday.
A total of 114 people from 10 different agencies that encompassed city, county, state and federal resources were involved in the search, according to the police report.
Rescuers looked on the ground and in the air and water, both with aircraft and marine resources, the report said.
Thirty people involved were friends or family members, Moore wrote.
Bell helped with ground crews and maintained the story he wrote in his sworn statement, according to the report.
When the search for Schmidt was called off at 4 p.m. Thursday, Port Townsend Police Sgt. Troy Surber held a debriefing with Schmidt’s family.
Police told Bell’s mother that Schmidt had been picked up by an Uber driver at her address in Bonney Lake, and she became “immediately upset” because Bell had told her Schmidt had been picked up from another friend’s house.
“Bell’s mother perceived her son to be lying or falsifying information,” Moore wrote in the statement.
Police said they learned Bell had been communicating with Schmidt with Facebook Messenger after Schmidt created a fake profile, and one message indicated they were to meet at McDonald’s.
Officers who were conducting surveillance at the restaurant at 6 p.m. spotted a male who matched Schmidt’s description, according to the report.
“After being called by name, Schmidt removed his hat and revealed his identity to officers,” Moore wrote in the statement.
Schmidt later admitted to detectives that he created the fake Facebook account, police said.
Moore said in the report he interviewed Bell at the jail after Bell asked to speak to a detective.
“During the interview, Bell admitted he had prior knowledge of Schmidt’s plan to fake his own death and ‘disappear,’” Moore wrote.
Bell said he tried to deter Schmidt from acting on his plan, but he said “he knew that Schmidt was going to do it with or without him,” Moore wrote.
Police said Bell admitted he continued to help search for Schmidt, knowing he likely would not be found.
Bell also said he “believed that the two successfully completed Schmidt’s mission until his mother called him out about lying during the briefing,” Moore wrote.
Bell said that’s when he knew the investigation would show what he had been hiding, but he didn’t admit to it until after he had been arrested, according to the report.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].