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Would-be defender turns detective

Fri., July 4, 2008

Since his arrest last month for third-degree assault on an officer, Scott E. Hughes had been on a mission to find the shoplifting suspect he mistook for an assault victim.

The 33-year-old father of three says he stepped between the woman and two people – plainclothed Wal-Mart security guards – after he repeatedly asked the two who they were and why they were grabbing a screaming woman.

Police blamed Hughes for the woman’s escape and the skull fracture suffered by the security guard she knocked to the ground with her car.

Now, in a twist Spokane Valley police spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan called “somewhat ironic,” they have him to credit for her capture.

“I’m a man of my word,” said Hughes, of Liberty Lake. “I was going to make finding the young lady a special project of mine, and that’s what we did.”

Hughes and his wife, Sadie, were on the lookout for the woman when Sadie spotted her getaway car as it cut her off in traffic Tuesday. “I almost honked, but then I saw the license plate and said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s too easy,’ ” she said.

Sadie called her husband and then 911. She followed the car to a home on Hutchinson Road in Spokane Valley as Scott Hughes rushed to meet her.

The couple watched from across the street as police spoke with the woman who owned the car. Police determined that the woman’s daughter matched the description of the shoplifter – and that the daughter borrowed the 2002 Daewoo Nubia around the time of the Wal-Mart incident. The Nubia showed door and fender damage; the Wal-Mart suspect hit a parked car as it peeled out of the parking lot.

Police arrested 18-year-old Michelle L. McGlynn-Bell at her Sharp Avenue apartment Thursday morning. She was booked into the Spokane County Jail on a first-degree robbery charge.

“We feel really good about that,” Hughes said. “I don’t know how you couldn’t feel good about it.”

Still, he’s not out of trouble. Police likely will forward their investigation to the prosecutor’s office next week, Reagan said. “The facts of this case are going to bear out,” he said.

The Hugheses and their 4-year-old daughter were headed into the Broadway Avenue Wal-Mart in Spokane Valley on June 6 when they spotted the woman tangling with James Biehl and Theresa Jones. All three looked young and were dressed in regular clothes, Scott Hughes said. It wasn’t until after he separated Biehl from the woman that Biehl revealed his Wal-Mart security ID and said he was trying to detain the woman for stealing cosmetics, Hughes said.

By that point, the woman had gotten in her car and was backing out. Police arrived and jailed Hughes on an assault charge. He spent a night in jail before being released on bond.

Hughes said he feels terrible about his mistake and wanted to make it right by tracking down the suspect.

The Hugheses alerted high school kids they knew to keep their eyes open, and the couple scoured high school parking lots, apartment complexes and heavily populated Spokane Valley areas looking for the car.

A description of the suspect police gave to news media didn’t match what Scott and Sadie Hughes saw. Crime Stoppers described the woman as in her early 20s and the car as a dark blue Subaru. Scott Hughes said the woman was no older than 18 and the hatchback was light blue.

The couple had searched areas near East Valley and Central Valley high schools. Sadie was headed to an apartment complex near University High when she spotted the light blue Nubia with a license plate matching the one she had jotted down at the scene.

“We’re not vigilantes, we’re just people looking out for other people,” Scott Hughes said. “It was just a terrible situation, and I was trying to make it as right as I could.”


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