By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Race was no longer considered a motivating factor in the weekend stabbing death of a white U.S. Army serviceman in Washington state, police said on Monday as they announced the arrest of three fellow soldiers connected with the incident.
Police reported on Sunday that the victim, 20-year-old Tevin Geike, had been walking with two fellow soldiers on Saturday in a Tacoma suburb when a car drove by and, according to witness statements, its occupants yelled "something about being white."
One of the soldiers who was with Geike - all of whom were white and stationed at the nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord - expressed displeasure about those in the car "treating combat soldiers with disrespect," Lakewood Police said in a weekend statement.
The car stopped, and a verbal confrontation ensued between Geike's group and a group of black men from the car. Geike was stabbed after tensions had initially appeared to defuse once the driver learned that the soldiers were combat veterans, police said at the time.
On Monday, police said the three arrested U.S. soldiers, all African American, were also serving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. They said interviews conducted with some of those who may have been involved led police to conclude the stabbing was not racially motivated.
Lakewood Police Department spokesman Lieutenant Chris Lawler said that Jeremiah Hill, 23, was believed to have stabbed Geike, but gave no further details on what may have motivated the stabbing.
"It appears from interviewing everyone involved that race was not a motivating factor in this homicide," Lawler said in a statement on Monday. He did not clarify whether the initial reports of a racially charged verbal exchange were corroborated by subsequent interviews.
"The main suspect, Jeremiah Hill, did not make statement; so it's unknown exactly why he did this," Lawler said.
Geike was from Summerville, South Carolina, and held the rank of specialist, a base spokesman said. He entered the Army in 2010 and arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in 2011 after training to be an aviation operations specialist.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Richard Chang)