Christopher Knapp sat on his front steps Saturday evening watching Spokane police search for a homicide suspect.
And then he heard a noise on the far end of the porch. The man wanted in a fatal stabbing at the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza downtown was standing a few yards away.
Knapp, 29, pushed a female friend toward safety, then turned to confront the suspect, Donald T. Phillips, 40. After a few tense moments, Phillips was on the ground in front of the home as Knapp stood over him, a box cutter in hand, calling for officers.
“It was a really good feeling, you know, that I was able to stop this guy and I was able to stop anybody else from getting hurt,” he said.
That was the last of several confrontations Phillips had with residents in the Peaceful Valley neighborhood beneath the Maple Street Bridge. Police also suspect he started a house fire nearby, possibly to divert their attention from the search.
Phillips, who has an extensive criminal history and was wanted on felony warrants, allegedly stabbed a man in the chest inside the bus station at 701 W. Riverside Ave. about 3:20 p.m. Saturday and then walked out of the building.
Police said Phillips – identified from security video – knew the victim, who died at a hospital.
Later, Spokane City Councilman Jon Snyder, who lives in Peaceful Valley, spotted a man fitting the assailant’s description approach a neighbor’s house. Snyder tailed him briefly with 911 on the phone.
Phillips also entered the home of Benjamin Reichow, who was home with his son. Reichow said he spoke with the suspect for about 10 minutes and persuaded him to leave, while his son called the police.
That was just next door to where Knapp lives in the 1400 block of West Main Avenue. The houses sit above a steep, brushy slope, and Knapp believes Phillips may have been hiding back there, waiting for a chance to slip past a heavy police presence in the neighborhood.
When Phillips slipped onto the porch just after 9 p.m., Knapp quickly realized this was probably the man wanted by police.
“I told him to announce himself, and I told him to stop what he was doing,” he said Sunday. “And he kept coming towards me. I basically angled myself to where he had a way to get off the porch and I wasn’t trapped.”
Phillips stepped down off the porch and Knapp followed. “That’s when he reached for something in his pocket, and I pulled my knife,” a box cutter he uses in his work as a door builder.
Knapp repeatedly yelled for police, then was able to compel Phillips to get on the ground in front of the house without laying a hand on him.
“I didn’t take my eyes off the suspect, because I didn’t know exactly what he had on him,” Knapp said.
Phillips acted bewildered and was incoherent, he added.
“He seemed very, very intoxicated,” Knapp said. “When he was trying to speak to me, I couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was slurring his words. He seemed like a cornered animal, basically.”
He said he was grateful Phillips could be apprehended without a physical confrontation.
“Somebody already died and I personally don’t think anybody else needed to,” Knapp said. “I was able to assess and stop the situation without the need for violence.”
Police said they were grateful for his assistance.
“Had he not had the wherewithal to say, ‘Hey, who is that?’ and then let us know when he knew something was up, it’s very possible that we would have lost (Phillips) sometime that night,” police spokeswoman Teresa Fuller said.
Fuller said police were pleased with the patience and cooperation of Peaceful Valley residents during the drawn-out response, which involved patrol officers, SWAT, the Spokane Fire Department, medics, K-9 units and the Air 1 helicopter.
“That on top of everything else just made for a really successful outcome with nobody else injured,” she said.