Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Grandmother detains intruder at gunpoint

Sandra Mize has a motto: “You don’t get do-overs.”

That’s why the 63-year-old grandmother of 10 keeps a gun by her bed, a canister of mace in her living room, and reinforces the doors in her north Spokane home with deadbolt locks and metal jambs before she goes to sleep every night.

Her preparedness may have saved her life just after midnight Wednesday when she held off a burglar – at one point firing a wayward shot at the intruder – until police arrived.

Mize knows gun use and property crime are hotly debated issues. The break-in occurred nine days after a car thief was shot and killed by the car’s owner about a mile away from her home.

“I could let my car drive down the block,” Mize said. “That doesn’t bother me. Someone in my home bothers me.”

Mize was asleep in her single-story home along the 2000 block of East Dalton Avenue when she heard someone bust through her back door, bending her door braces and shattering the steel-paneled door’s wooden frame.

She grabbed the .22-caliber handgun she keeps by her bed and ran into her dark living room to see the silhouette of a man in her kitchen.

Separated from the man by only a kitchen counter, Mize warned the intruder she was armed.

“He just kept coming,” Mize said. “I didn’t hesitate to shoot.”

Police Chief Frank Straub acknowledged that in Mize’s case, “Having a firearm in your home for personal protection, I guess we got to see the value of that last night.”

In the other case prosecutors will decide whether Gail Gerlach should face criminal charges for killing car thief Brendon Kaluza-Graham as the car sped away. Gerlach said he thought the thief was going to shoot him.

Mize, who has lived in her house for 45 years, said she is sad she can’t trust everyone.

“It’s a shame,” Mize said. “Spokane used to be such an overgrown farm town. And I loved that. And it’s not that anymore.”

Mize said she had every intention of shooting the burglar who had broken into her home.

“I’m glad I didn’t hit him,” she said. The bullet struck the wood above the busted door frame.

The man advanced into the living room, where he collapsed on a sofa without uttering a word.

“So I waited a second and I said, ‘Did I hit you?’ because I had no idea,” Mize said. “He didn’t move, he didn’t say anything.”

Keeping the gun aimed at him, Mize inched her way along her living room wall, around a chair and picked up a telephone from an end table. She dialed 911.

“I told them, ‘I have an intruder, I’m armed, and I have discharged my gun,’ ” Mize said.

Within two minutes, police had surrounded her home. The officers on her porch told her to put down her gun, so she set it on top of an antique sewing machine she uses as a TV stand.

That’s when the man took off. Rising from the sofa, he tried to flee through the back door, Mize said.

A police dog was there to greet him.

The man ran back into the home and police quickly followed. Mize said she watched as about five officers wrestled the man to the living room floor and the dog bit him on the leg.

“He was very strong,” said Mize, a quilting and beading enthusiast who stands 5 feet 1 inch tall. “I’m really glad he didn’t challenge me because I would have had to actually shoot him.”

Police identified the intruder as 35-year-old Sean Denny. He is jailed on two counts of burglary with a $25,000 bond.

Denny has no felony criminal history but has 19 misdemeanor convictions, including violations of protection orders, Judge James Triplett said during Denny’s court appearance Wednesday afternoon.

Police said they do not believe Denny’s encounter with Mize was his first burglary of the night.

Lt. Dean Sprague said police received a call just after midnight that someone had broken into a business in the 2700 block of North Pittsburg Street.

Police found the Centaur Group, a group of marketing firms at 2703 N. Pittsburg St., had been burglarized.

Lacey Williams, an assistant at Genesis Marketing, said police called her so she went to the office to view the damage.

The burglar had kicked a metal bar across a glass door, bending the bar and breaking the glass. A footprint on the inside of a window indicates the burglar tried to kick his way out after kicking his way into the building. A chair, Williams said, was thrown into a wall and left in splinters across the floor.

Nothing was stolen, she said, but that may be because a neighbor overheard the burglary and came to investigate.

Neighbor James Bryant said he heard a crashing sound and ran down the street to find someone inside the marketing firm. He said he ran back and told his fiancee to call 911. When he turned back around, a man wearing only shorts was stumbling and running north on Pittsburg.

About 15 minutes later, Mize called 911 about four blocks away from the Pittsburg Street break-in to report shooting at an intruder.

There is no indication Denny had a weapon, Sprague said, but given that he had broken into her home, he was “obviously threatening.”

“In this case, this guy was at least half her age and twice her size,” he said.

Mize said her short stature and arthritic hands are why she goes to such lengths to protect herself.

She wasn’t even sure she could fire her weapon, as she hasn’t done so in more than 30 years and at the time of the intrusion wasn’t wearing her usual hand braces. She said she commented to police officers that her ammo was likely older than they are.

The break-in was Mize’s second in the last few years. In 2010, she and her late husband were in Seattle when someone busted through the back door and rifled through their medicine cabinets. Her sons fixed her door frame after that break-in and did so again Wednesday morning.

The police, who Mize said acted “perfectly,” gave her a junior police badge. Neighbors said they are proud of Mize, and yelled “Yay Sandy!” to people in front of the home Wednesday morning.

“She’s a little lady, and she’s soft-spoken and she’s got a great laugh,” neighbor and longtime friend Brooke Plastino said. “But I wouldn’t want to cross her, frankly.”