August 24, 2013 in City

Employees foil pawn shop gunman

Standoff ends peacefully amid store’s slew of guns
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Double Eagle Pawn employees make phone calls after escaping an armed man inside the store on Sprague Avenue in Spokane on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

Map of this story's location

A gunman ranting about “Obama” took over a Spokane pawn shop Friday, temporarily trapping a handful of people before armed employees took up positions at the front door and provided cover for the fleeing patrons.

No injuries were reported in the tense two-hour standoff at Double Eagle Pawn, 3030 E. Sprague Ave., which ended about 12:30 p.m. when 26-year-old Jonathan Johnson surrendered to police. Johnson is suspected of jumping over a sales counter at the pawn shop Friday morning, grabbing a shotgun and loading it, then firing as customers and employees ran for the exits.

Johnson, who lives in the Marysville, Wash., area, likely will face robbery charges, authorities said. He’s being held at Spokane County Jail.

The standoff capped a tumultuous week in Spokane, where the community continues to mourn the Wednesday night beating death of a World War II veteran, and investigators are still probing an officer-involved shooting that killed a homeless road rage suspect Thursday.

Friday’s episode drew so many law enforcement officers to the scene that the Police Department and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office announced they would only respond to the highest-priority calls elsewhere in the region. Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, in fact, jumped into a patrol car and began responding to calls to help out.

Their response was based on the large collection of guns inside the sprawling pawn shop and the fact that initial reports said Johnson might have hostages inside.

Double Eagle employees, however, helped free some of those who didn’t make it out when Johnson began shooting.

Jim Kalez, an Airway Heights resident who was at the pawn shop to retrieve his lawn mower, said Johnson grabbed the shotgun and yelled, “Call the cops.” Kalez ran from the building at that point, he said.

Several Double Eagle workers left the building armed with guns and gathered on the east end of the building. “They counted bodies and realized two workers were not accounted for,” said Brian Wegner, a company manager who was not at the Sprague store at the time.

In addition to the two employees, two customers were still inside, including Spokane resident Justin Roberson.

The gunman, Roberson said, was ranting about a son and “Obama” to a female Double Eagle employee who also was trapped inside. Roberson said he hid in the television section.

Within a few minutes the three armed employees walked toward the front door of the building. One of the three, whom Wegner would not identify, entered and confronted Johnson.

“He told the guy, ‘Don’t make me use this,’ and told him he wanted the two co-workers and store customers to leave safely,” Wegner said.

Wegner said the gunman said nothing and let the group leave by the front door.

“He looked straight at me,” Roberson said of the gunman. “I put my hands up and slowly walked out.”

Johnson’s brother, Dennis Johnson, said he has no idea why his brother went to the Double Eagle. Dennis Johnson said he spoke briefly with his brother by phone during the incident but didn’t disclose what was said.

“My brother is having some serious problems. He’s at rock bottom,” Dennis Johnson said, adding that Jonathan Johnson is dealing with a severe heroin addiction.

Dennis Johnson said his younger brother has a 3-year-old son who also lives on the West Side. Jonathan Johnson is not married, he added.

“He’s a good man who’s very messed up by heroin. What he did, to me, it’s like a call for help,” he said.

Police units shut down Sprague Avenue and evacuated nearby businesses.

A Spokane County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team with an armored personnel carrier came to the scene but was not needed. A Washington State Patrol airplane also arrived on the scene, flying above the cordoned-off Sprague neighborhood.

Spokane police Capt. Keith Cummings said the standoff was resolved peacefully because department negotiators were able to engage Johnson by phone.

After 30 minutes of discussion, police persuaded Johnson to leave the store unarmed, Cummings said.

It was the second time this week that Spokane police hostage negotiators successfully persuaded an armed man to surrender. On Monday, police swarmed the neighborhood surrounding a home at 653 S. Arthur St., where a suspected bank robber was hiding and gave himself up.

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