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Monday, July 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Investigators use social media posts and multiple witnesses to track Cheney shooting suspects

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 2, 2019, 7:25 p.m.

Spokane County Sheriffs Office investigators fly a drone around the crime scene at Zips in Cheney, Wash., where three people were shot in the morning hours of Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Following suspect Kevin D. Clay’s November arrest and extradition to Spokane, charging documents detailing the month-long investigation were unsealed. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane County Sheriffs Office investigators fly a drone around the crime scene at Zips in Cheney, Wash., where three people were shot in the morning hours of Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Following suspect Kevin D. Clay’s November arrest and extradition to Spokane, charging documents detailing the month-long investigation were unsealed. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Multiple confidential witnesses – and posts on the social media app Snapchat – helped Spokane County sheriff’s detectives track down three people suspected in the October shooting that left three people injured at Zip’s Drive-In in Cheney.

Kevin D. Clay, 21, is so far the only suspect to be charged. Police arrested him Nov. 28 while he was leaving his home in Kent, Washington.

Prosecutors have charged him with three counts of attempted first-degree murder and first-degree assault, along with drive-by shooting and unlawful gun possession.

Mark Gregory, spokesman for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, said Wednesday that detectives are still investigating.

The details of the police work that went into Clay’s arrest had been sealed under a judge’s order to protect the investigation. Those charging documents, however, were unsealed following Clay’s extradition to Spokane County and his first court appearance Dec. 27.

The 10-page document written by Detective Mike Ricketts details the monthlong investigation, which included multiple witnesses who told detectives they saw the shooting. Many of them requested anonymity.

Several law enforcement agencies also assisted with the investigation, including the Seattle Police Department, Bellevue Police Department, Cheney Police Department, Washington State Department of Corrections and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Task Force, or ATF.

The shooting occurred at about 4 a.m. Oct. 27 in the Zip’s parking lot. Witnesses and neighbors reported hearing at least 15 gunshots, though police would later collect 19 casings from a 9 mm gun, along with evidence of multiple bullet holes in the side of the building, along with shattered glass doors and several bloodstains.

Witnesses further told Ricketts they saw Clay and two others enter the Zip’s, which is open 24 hours, minutes before the shooting and start “mean-mugging,” or giving dirty looks, to other patrons, according to court documents. When the three victims, identified in charging documents as Darrien Walters, Ezekiel Hampton and King Able, left the restaurant and went to a cluster of cars on the south side of the parking lot, Clay “began shooting at them.”

All three were hit by bullets and subsequently treated at hospitals with injuries not considered life-threatening.

Walters posted on Facebook later that day that he was shot in the pelvis, fracturing it. He said if he was shot “2 inches to the right” he would have been paralyzed.

None of the victims was a Eastern Washington University student, and none lives in Cheney.

Days after the shooting, Ricketts reportedly received an anonymous text message that included a photograph of two men, with the author writing that both were the shooters, court records say. The photo matched a still from a surveillance video, which showed one of the men to be Clay, who was dressed in a forest green T-shirt and a dark, puffy jacket.

The other man pictured was identified by other witnesses, and is reportedly in a gang. However, one of the victims told Ricketts that Clay was the only one who fired a gun.

One woman from Tacoma told detectives she suspected the shooters were Clay and a man who lives in Auburn, along with Clay, according to court records. She said the two were in Pullman later that night after the shooting.

That same man was monitored by Bellevue Police Detective Dan Finan, who reported to Ricketts that he had been tracking the suspect’s Snapchat account. Records say the suspect posted photos and videos of himself in Cheney and Pullman on the weekend of the shooting. He also previously posted videos of himself “firing a firearm from a vehicle,” despite felony convictions.

A final tip came from an Auburn High School teacher, who sent Cheney Police Capt. Rick Beghtol screenshots of an Instagram account called “trying_to_help43444.” The account posted to the school’s Instagram account, identifying three people involved in the shooting, including Clay and two other men identified by witnesses. The post has since been deleted, thought the account is still active.

The same suspect who posted the Snapchat videos was later interviewed by ATF Special Agent Nate Merritt on Nov. 15. Records say he admitted he was at Zip’s before the shooting, but left “because he was afraid when he saw so many people armed with firearms.” He also identified a fourth man captured on video surveillance inside the store, though he only knew him by his street name.

Clay, who is being held in the Spokane County Jail in lieu of a $500,000 bond, was convicted in 2016 of second-degree robbery in King County. His arraignment in Spokane County is scheduled for Tuesday.

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