Tait Swanson figured it wasn’t a question of whether his fraternity house would be broken into over the spring break, only when.
He caught one prowler last semester and let him go, only to have another prowler make off with his stereo over the winter holidays.
This time, he kept a powerful Smith & Wesson handgun nearby.
Wednesday morning, he fired three warning shots as he chased and caught a 21-year-old Washington State University student suspected of breaking into the house with plans to vandalize it.
A slightly shaken Swanson afterwards acknowledged it helped more that he recognized the suspect and told him to stop by name.
Police, meanwhile, questioned whether it was appropriate for a citizen to use a deadly weapon to catch someone for an offense that probably would bring only a few months of jail time.
“We’re always concerned about what could have happened and the fact that here he is chasing a suspect under less-than-ideal conditions,” said Pullman Sgt. Chris Tennant. “He could have tripped and fallen and shot the guy. Somebody could have been seriously injured or killed.”
Pullman police considered that Swanson violated a city ordinance against discharging a firearm, but declined to press charges after concluding his actions were reasonable and lawful under the circumstances, Tennant said.
Police arrested on residential burglary charges Colin Hammett of Vancouver, Wash., and Brian Shadrick, 22, of Ellicott City, Md. Questioned near the scene, Shadrick admitted to breaking into the house with Hammett, Tennant said.
The two told police they were planning some sort of vandalism, but Tennant declined to say what that was.
Swanson said the two were members of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity until recently, when they moved out of the house.
“They’re not a part of this house at all,” he stressed, worried that their alleged actions would reflect poorly on the chapter.
Swanson, a graduate adviser sleeping alone in the house during spring break, said he was awakened by a sound shortly before 2 a.m. and went out of his bedroom to find someone standing in the hallway.
Wearing only boxer shorts, he chased the person out a back door and around the front of the house, firing two warning shots into the ground as he went. Swanson at one point grabbed hold of the suspect with one hand while holding his gun, a .40-caliber semi-automatic, in the other. But the man broke free and ran down the street.
“Once he started running, you’re scared and mad at the same time,” said Swanson, 23, of Lakewood. “You can’t help but be scared when somebody is breaking into your house. When something like that happens, the adrenaline just takes over a little bit.”
Swanson said he fired a third warning shot into the parking lot of another fraternity. But when he recognized the suspect and shouted, “Colin, stop,” Hammett stopped running, he said.
“Once he realized that I knew who he was, I think that pretty much ended it right there,” said Swanson.
Fraternity rules do not allow handguns in the house, he said, but he fetched it from a friend’s house before the break because he was going to be alone in the house.
Swanson said he was careful not to point the gun at Hammett and held it away from him during their brief tussle.
Still, he said he understands he walked a fine line between personal protection and the danger of hurting himself or someone else.
“I’d rather have the extra protection myself,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s a false sense of protection or what.”