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Robber was drug rehab resident, police say

Joshua Wippert (Spokane County Sheriff's Office)
Joshua Wippert (Spokane County Sheriff's Office)

Spokane County Sheriff’s Office deputies tracked a suspected robber on a bicycle back to a Spokane Valley drug rehabilitation facility on Saturday.

An employee at Divine’s Gas Station near Pines Road and Mission Avenue told deputies a man stabbed him in the neck with a pen and took money from the cash register around 7:40 p.m. Saturday, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release. The robber rode away from the scene on a bike, and deputies found a matching bike abandoned behind American Behavioral Health Services at 12715 E. Mission Ave.

Cpl. Jeff Shover then asked facility staff if the suspect was a resident. They refused to answer, told Shover to back away and shut the door in his face, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Craig Chamberlin said.

Spokane County prosecutors are examining whether the staff unlawfully obstructed an investigation, Chamberlin said.

Hours after the robbery, around 12:55 a.m. Sunday, ABHS staff called Crime Check when they discovered 31-year-old Joshua M. Wippert was missing. Wippert’s description matched the robber, the victim told deputies.

Wippert lives in Bellingham, according to his social media accounts, and most of his criminal convictions are out of Western Washington.

Spokane County detectives are seeking Wippert on first-degree robbery charges.

Deputies later returned to the rehab facility Wippert escaped from, but staff said they did not request the Sheriff’s Office assistance and were only following their facility’s policy to notify Crime Check, Chamberlin said.

“When you have somebody that is willing to rob a business in daylight – what potential hazard does this person possess to the community?” Chamberlin said.

ABHS is the facility to which suspected heroin dealer Charles Wallace was sent last year before he escaped and shot two deputies and then himself.

“We find it very troubling because these folks … should be working with us because they’re housing (felons),” Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said. “When they walk out the door, escape and commit more crimes - they have a duty to the community they are a member of to help us with the investigation.”

“This has nothing to do with medical records - it has everything to do with a criminal investigation,” Knezovich added.

The facility is locked to prevent strangers from accessing the building, but employees can’t prevent patients from leaving.

When Wallace left the facility last year, Knezovich said they didn’t report the incident even though they knew he was gone. Now authorities are looking for a robbery suspect who Knezovich said was “allowed to basically walk out of the center.”

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