Army Ranger charged in fatal bludgeoning of female security guard caught on camera

TACOMA, Wash. — An active-duty U.S. Army Ranger was arrested last month after authorities in Washington state accused him of beating a female security guard to death in a 10-minute assault that left her unrecognizable.

Spc. Patrick Philip Byrne, 26, is charged with first-degree murder, burglary and kidnapping in the brutal July 18 killing of Denise Smith, 41, of Tacoma. Jail records show Byrne is being held at the Pierce County Jail in lieu of $2 million bond.

Byrne was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, located 9 miles outside of Tacoma, at the time of the homicide. The soldier is accused of going to the downtown office building where Smith worked after a drunken night out with friends.

“Witnesses reported that an altercation occurred between Byrne and his friends and another group at one of the bars,” reads a probable cause affidavit in the case. “During that altercation, Byrne was punched in the face.

“He ran out of the bar after being punched and began running in the direction of (the) building where the murder occurred.”

According to police, the entire crime was recorded by security cameras.

“During the defendant’s lengthy attack on the victim, she repeatedly tried to fight back, and she tried to get away, but the defendant grabbed her each time and prevented her from fleeing,” the document states. “He repeatedly overpowered her, assaulted her and threw her around by her hair braid.”

The building where Smith was slain houses several businesses, as well as the Washington State Court of Appeals Division II.

Detectives later found Byrne at a hospital, where he was being treated for a brain injury, including possible bleeding on his brain. Passersby called 911 around 2 a.m. to report a man covered in blood and screaming for help on A Street, less than 300 feet from where Smith died.

“(Byrne) told a witness that he had been stabbed, but no stab wounds were found on the defendant,” the affidavit states.

An apparently intoxicated Byrne was taken to the hospital, where he told a charge nurse that he’d been sexually assaulted. He refused a rape exam, however, and hospital personnel confirmed he had not been stabbed.

Byrne told investigators the last thing he remembered was drinking at a bar. He said he blacked out and did not remember anything about his alleged attack on Smith.

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Smith’s family spoke out on social media about her death.

“I want everyone to know just how special and loving my auntie was,” Alaina Mack of Seattle wrote on Facebook. “And some coward took her away from us.

“Yes, we are happy with the arrest but that brings us no peace. He can still see and talk to his family. He took ours from us.”

Prosecutors said during a July 23 court appearance that the Army planned to discharge Byrne.

“The actions described in reports are absolutely appalling,” Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette, head of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, said in a statement obtained by Task & Purpose. “The Tacoma Police Department has the full cooperation of the United States Army Special Operations Command. Our deepest condolences to the families affected by this tragedy.”

‘Like a rag doll’

Tacoma police officers were called just after 6 a.m. July 18 to the downtown court building, where a colleague reporting to work had found Smith bludgeoned to death on the lobby floor.

When the first officer arrived, he saw cellphones and a black face mask lying on the floor just inside the front door, which was propped open, the affidavit states.

Smith, who was new and had worked just three or four shifts at the court building, was lying face-down on the floor in a pool of blood, according to authorities. She was not breathing, and her body was cold to the touch.

She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The manager of the building told detectives there were multiple security cameras both inside and outside of the office building, which is closed on the weekends but accessible to tenants with access badges.

Editor’s note: The following story contains disturbing details of a violent crime.

What the cameras captured was horrific.

Lisa Wagner, deputy prosecuting attorney for Pierce County, wrote in the affidavit that the surveillance footage showed Smith monitoring the cameras from inside the building. Shortly before the fatal attack, Smith went outside to speak to a woman who was in the fountain in front of the building.

“Detectives advise that transients often clean themselves in the fountain,” Wagner wrote. “The victim walked out of the building, likely to tell the woman to leave the fountain.”

At that point, the video shows a man entering the area outside the court building. Authorities later identified the man in the video as Byrne.

After interacting with the woman at the fountain, Byrne climbed the stairs to the landing where the building’s entrance is located, the affidavit states. Smith had already gone back inside at that point.

Byrne apparently went to the door seeking to get inside.

“(Smith) motioned to (Byrne) to leave when she saw him at the door,” according to the document. “The defendant did not leave, so the victim walked toward the doors.”

When Smith opened the door to speak to Byrne, Byrne barged into the building. Smith grabbed his shirt to stop him.

“At that point, the defendant took the victim to the ground and began to beat her,” Wagner wrote.

For nearly 10 minutes, Byrne pummeled Smith with his fists, grabbed her by her braided hair and “dragged her around like a rag doll,” according to detectives. As he sat on top of her, he repeatedly punched her in the face.

“At one point, he grabbed a set of keys that the victim had in her possession and he began forcefully and repeatedly stabbing her in the face with the keys,” Wagner wrote. “It appeared to one detective that he was trying to stab or gouge her eyes out.”

Read the probable cause affidavit in the case below.

When Smith attempted to get to an elevator, Byrne, who stands about a foot taller than the diminutive Smith, dragged her away and continued the attack.

About eight minutes into the fatal assault, Byrne allegedly turned Smith over onto her stomach and began choking her, the prosecutor wrote.

“The victim was likely still alive at this point because she can be seen trying to kick out,” the affidavit states.

Byrne held the chokehold on Smith until her body went limp, then held it for another couple of minutes, authorities allege. After she’d stopped moving, he got up and walked into another part of the building.

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The soldier went into a nearby conference room, where he took a chair and tried to smash a window, detectives allege. Blood was found throughout the conference room, though the court documents did not say if it belonged to Smith or if it was Byrne’s own blood.

He returned to the lobby area and began throwing things, including furniture. He then exited the same way he had arrived. Byrne momentarily disappeared from view on the landing, which is about 14 feet off the ground.

Authorities said a separate security camera recorded footage of him lying on the concrete below the landing.

“It appeared that the defendant either fell or jumped from the landing above,” the affidavit states. “It is likely that the defendant’s brain injury is a result of the fall that he took.”

Byrne appeared to have passed out for some time. When he came to, he got up and walked away.

A short time later, he was found covered in blood nearby, Wagner wrote.

It was unclear why Byrne went to the court building after leaving the bar.

Special Operations Command officials said Byrne, who enlisted in the Army in March 2019, began his service as an infantry soldier, Task & Purpose reported. He completed Ranger training last summer.

Byrne is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. He was recently deployed to Afghanistan for about a month, returning to the U.S. less than two weeks before Smith was slain.