December 31, 2010 in City

Victim’s family questions shooting accounts

Uncharged shooter wants ‘closure’
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Staff photos by JESSE TINSLEY photo

Issa Al Hayek, left, listens to one of the 911 calls from the August night when his brother, George Al Hayek, a security guard, was shot to death during an altercation in a Spokane alley. Behind him is his father, Bassam Al Hayek.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Map of this story's location

The look on the man’s face is what Jason Hartell remembers the most.

He calls it an “Oh, I messed up” look. He saw it just after he shot security guard George Al Hayek three times in a confrontation in east Spokane last summer.

It’s been frozen in Hartell’s mind ever since.

“There’s not a night I don’t see his face. That poor guy. I feel so bad for his family,” said Hartell, fighting back tears last week as he recounted the deadly Aug. 24 confrontation outside an apartment at 4023 E. Pacific Ave. “My life’s just been hell.”

Spokane police sent the investigation to the Spokane County prosecutor’s office last week without recommending charges against Hartell, 35. Prosecutors will decide if Hartell, a married father of two, was justified in the fatal shooting, which police have said appears to be self-defense.

Meanwhile, there was no Christmas celebration for Al Hayek’s family, who moved to the United States from the Bethlehem area about eight years ago.

Their Palestinian Christian heritage calls for years of skipped celebrations after a tragic loss, and the loss of their youngest son is tragic beyond words.

“They kill him for no reason,” said Bassam Al Hayek, George Al Hayek’s father. “For two, maybe five years, we don’t celebrate. Even the birth of children, we don’t celebrate.”

George Al Hayek, the youngest of seven children, was shot and killed in an alley between the apartment complex and Pepsi property he was patrolling as a private security guard, a job he’d had since moving to Spokane in May.

Witnesses said Al Hayek was shot after displaying what appeared to be a handgun but was actually an Airsoft gun. Police found Al Hayek’s open cell phone just feet from his body; his family suspects he was trying to call police before he was shot.

The Al Hayek family has spent hours poring over the 700-page investigative report, reviewing crime scene photos and highlighting what they say are discrepancies in witness accounts.

Hartell told The Spokesman-Review that he’s positive he saw Al Hayek holding a gun, but according to the police report, he told detectives it may have been a cell phone.

“Jason said he saw something dark in the security guard’s hands and by the way the security guard was acting he assumed it was a gun,” according to the report. According to an interview transcript, Hartell told detectives hours after the shooting: “I still don’t know if he actually had a gun or not.”

A wallet and GPS belonging to Al Hayek still have not been located, his family said.

Al Hayek worked for Securitas Security Services patrolling the Pepsi plant and Premera building. His employers told police Al Hayek was well-liked and a great worker.

A chain fence and alley separate the Pepsi property from Hartell’s apartment complex. Hartell and his wife were outside drinking with neighbors when Al Hayek drove through the alley in his security uniform with his Honda’s headlights off, Hartell said. A neighbor yelled something about the car appearing suspicious.

“That’s what triggered him,” Hartell said.

Al Hayek got out of his car and began arguing with the neighbor, Hartell said. Witnesses said comments referenced Al Hayek’s ethnic heritage. Detectives said police experts concluded the racist comments did not qualify as hate crimes.

Hartell denied saying anything to Al Hayek and said he went inside to avoid the confrontation but heard yelling and screaming once inside. He grabbed his 9 mm and went outside, with the intention, he says, of ensuring his wife made it inside safely.

Hartell said he saw Al Hayek leaning over the fence trying to hit his neighbor. Al Hayek then returned to his car, pulled something from under a seat and spun around, Hartell said.

“People are telling him to leave and I’m telling him ‘drop it, drop it’ and he did not want to respond to any of it,” Hartell said.

Hartell heard people screaming “gun” and fired after his wife screamed and dropped to the ground.

“All I know is there was a man with a gun, and I didn’t want to die, and I didn’t want my wife to die,” Hartell said. “But the worst thing that could have happened, happened. I didn’t want him to die, I just wanted him to not shoot us.”

According to police reports, Spokane police Detective Theresa Ferguson expressed concern to Hartell in November that he armed himself with a 9 mm handgun after the argument began. Hartell – who passed a polygraph examination regarding the shooting – said he was carrying the handgun at his side when he saw Al Hayek grab what turned out to be an Airsoft gun.

Al Hayek’s family is dubious of the self-defense claim.

“He armed himself when he heard an argument. There was absolutely no threat,” said Issa Al Hayek, George’s older brother. “That’s an intent to kill somebody.”

George Al Hayek, who would have turned 27 in November, moved to Spokane from Washington, D.C., in May. He planned to move his wife and young daughter here soon.

His family says they never saw him with the Airsoft gun and question whether it may have been planted after he was shot. But state lab tests showed no traces of Hartell’s DNA on the gun and heavy traces of Al Hayek’s. Police also found BBs for the Airsoft gun in the center console of Al Hayek’s car.

Hartell, who has no serious criminal record, said he bought his handgun a couple years ago to use at a shooting range. He said he once had a permit for the gun but it expired.

Police arrived at the scene of the shooting to find Hartell performing CPR on Al Hayek. He thought he’d shot the man in his stomach, but an autopsy showed two bullet wounds to Al Hayek’s heart.

Issa Al Hayek said the family has hired a private investigator but is hopeful prosecutors will agree that murder or manslaughter charges are warranted.

“The main issue is he shot someone because he guessed he had a gun,” Issa said. “He relied on what his drunk buddies told him.”

Hartell said he was stunned when detectives told him after his first interview that he was free to leave the police station.

“I was like, ‘Why am I going home? There’s a poor man dead here.’ ”

Hartell, who works at an assisted living center, said he hasn’t made long-term plans since the shooting because he fears he could be arrested any day.

“I think the main problem is nobody’s got closure,” Hartell said.

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