Spokane County prosecutors will have to decide whether to file charges against a homeowner who shot and killed a man allegedly stealing his vehicle Monday morning near East Mission Avenue and North Lee Street.
The homeowner in the 1400 block of Lee called 911 just before 8 a.m. to report that his vehicle had been stolen, that the alleged thief was armed, and that he had fired at the thief, according to Spokane police.
The back window of the SUV was knocked out, which police think is from the single shot fired by the homeowner, said Lt. Mark Griffiths. He would not comment on where the vehicle was when the shot was fired at the driver.
The suspected thief, who hasn’t been identified, crashed the green Chevy Suburban about two blocks away. The SUV drove through a fence and crashed into a detached garage at another home at the intersection of East Sharp Avenue and North Lee, Griffiths said.
Griffiths said investigators had not confirmed if the suspected thief was armed when the vehicle was taken. A search of the vehicle will be done today after police obtain a warrant. Griffiths said the suspect appeared to have suffered one gunshot wound and died at the scene.
The medical examiner was called to the scene and will release the dead man’s identity after his family is notified.
A prosecutor on the scene was given a walk-through, Griffiths said, which is not normal practice. Often it’s clear early in an investigation whether a homicide warrants a murder charge, he said, but “this one has a few more elements in it.”
Police have interviewed the alleged shooter but he is not in custody, Griffiths said.
It will be up to the prosecutor’s office to decide whether the incident warrants charges against the shooter.
“People do have a right to defend their property, but it does have to be reasonable,” Griffiths said.
He said state law is intentionally vague about what constitutes “reasonable” to allow for a variety of circumstances.
Mary Fan, an associate professor of law at the University of Washington, said the threat of loss of property is not enough to warrant the use of deadly force.
“Before you can use deadly force, you must be faced with a threat of deadly force,” Fan said.
Police were still investigating whether the homeowner in this case was faced with that threat.
In that area of the Garry Park District, there have been five vehicles stolen in the past two weeks, according to police.
Richard McKinley said he didn’t hear the commotion Monday morning but looked out his bedroom window to see an SUV sticking out of his garage.
“I saw my fence down, the tree down and the car into the garage,” McKinley said from the front stoop of his home, which is less than 50 feet from the detached garage.
Crews demolished the garage later in the day but were able to rescue McKinley’s two vehicles, both damaged but drivable.