May 31, 2013 in Opinion

Editorial: Charge warranted in fatal shooting

 

If Gail Gerlach had it to do over again, it sounds like he wouldn’t have. But he did fire his gun, and the bullet did kill Brendon Kaluza-Graham, who was driving off with Gerlach’s vehicle, tools and plumbing supplies on the morning of March 25.

Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker announced on Wednesday that Gerlach would be charged with first-degree manslaughter for a rash decision that produced a one-in-a-thousand shot. But don’t call it a lucky shot, because Gerlach seems to wish he had missed, according to court documents. Now he faces a possible eight to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The situation is sad all the way around.

Kaluza-Graham, who was 25, doesn’t elicit a lot of sympathy because of his criminal history. He had stolen several cars, a crime that’s become a sore point because the city ranks fourth nationwide in auto thefts per 100,000 residents. The community has long been angered with rampant property crimes and the perceived lack of support from the Spokane Police Department.

The community’s reaction to Kaluza-Graham’s death must be viewed in that context. But it still doesn’t justify shooting someone from 40 to 60 feet away as he’s headed in the opposite direction.

Gerlach does elicit sympathy, because he was a victim of brazen car theft. Plus, up to the day of the shooting, he was a hardworking, law-abiding citizen and the chief source of support for six other people. Losing the car and the tools was a serious matter, but he should’ve called 911 rather than draw the 9 mm handgun he usually carried.

Gerlach says Kaluza-Graham turned back like he was going to fire a weapon, but the prosecutor’s office is dubious. The rear window was tinted and dirty, they said, and the tools blocked a clear view to the driver’s seat. Shooting at the speeding car was dangerous, because a stray bullet could’ve hit a bystander. Plus, the car was traveling about 50 miles per hour on its own when it smacked into a garage. It could’ve hit pedestrians or other cars. Gerlach’s choice was dangerous and out of proportion to the crime.

There’s no joy in charging Gerlach, but the prosecutor’s office cannot condone vigilante acts that put the public at risk.

Gerlach probably didn’t mean to kill Kaluza-Graham, but any gun-toting citizen must consider the possibility when pulling the trigger. A cardinal rule of gun safety is: Don’t aim at anyone you’re not willing to kill. Firing a weapon is an irrevocable act, as Gerlach now knows. Some supporters of the shooting claim they would’ve done the same, but their bravado appears to have missed the fact that Gerlach probably wants his shot back.

We won’t pre-judge whether Gerlach should be convicted. Eight to 10 years is a long time for a momentary lapse, so perhaps a deal can be worked out. We do support the charge. It wasn’t murder, but it does appear to be excessive.

However, we also understand the underlying frustration, which the Police Department must address.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.


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