March 31, 2013 in City

Clark: We’ve seen this shooting defense here before

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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I own a pistol for protection.

Got a rifle, a couple of shotguns and plenty of ammo, too.

My faith in the Second Amendment is firm.

And though I pray such a horror never happens, I wouldn’t hesitate to use deadly force if someone with evil intent invaded my home or threatened the lives of my family.

I lay all this out there as a pedigree.

I’m hoping members of Spokane’s armed-and-angry camp will at least pause a beat before writing me off as just another “lefty journalist” for what I’m about to say regarding the recent fatal shooting of a car thief by a North Side homeowner.

It stinks. To high heaven, it stinks.

Many of my pro-gun brethren are using Monday morning’s bloodshed as an argument for a property owner’s right to defend himself. That’s a foolish move.

What we know so far makes this shooting about as clear as tar.

To recap …

A 25-year-old punk named Brendon Kaluza-Graham tries to steal a ’97 Chevy Suburban that has been left running in the driveway outside a north Spokane home.

Gail Gerlach is the Suburban’s 56-year-old owner. He goes outside and fires his permitted 9 mm handgun through the back window of his departing SUV. The bullet travels a short distance before striking the head of Kaluza-Graham, who drives two blocks, crashes into a garage and dies.

Why did Gerlach open fire?

He told police that he believed Kaluza-Graham was armed, and I’d sure love to believe him.

Unfortunately, I’ve been around this news game way too long.

The “I thought he had a gun” defense is about as shopworn as that cliché about your check being in the mail.

I can’t help but think of Jay Olsen, who used a similar scenario to justify shooting an unarmed man back in 2007.

Remember that scandal?

Olsen, an off-duty Spokane cop, claimed he caught Shonto Pete trying to steal his truck that was parked outside a bar. Though thoroughly drunk at the time, Olsen engaged Pete in a nighttime footrace through the downtown winter streets. The chase ended at a hill overlooking Peaceful Valley, where Olsen then fired a handgun that he shouldn’t have been carrying in his besotted state.

Pete was miraculously only grazed in the back of his head. He managed to disappear into the dark and was later acquitted on a charge of auto theft.

When it was Olsen’s turn for a trial, the officer swore in court that he had cause to shoot Pete because the man made some sudden move as if to brandish a weapon.

The jurors agreed. Olsen was found not guilty on charges of assault and reckless endangerment. Olsen was very lucky that I wasn’t on the jury.

Will it take a courtroom to decide whether Gerlach was justified in pulling the trigger? Perhaps.

What we do know is that no weapon was found inside the stolen Suburban or on the lifeless body of Kaluza-Graham.

But being suspicious of the shooting doesn’t mean my sympathies lie with this dead thief.

You can’t always boil everything down to a convenient One Side vs. The Other Side. Life is often far more complex than that.

Once the investigating is done and all the evidence is in, what happened on the North Side last Monday may very well wind up being a case of two wrongs.

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 ordougc@spokesman.com.


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