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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Hate crime charges possible

Federal authorities investigating suspect in South Hill shooting

A man charged with attempted second-degree murder in connection with a shooting targeting three black youths may face federal hate crime charges as well.

Jimmy J. Blackburn, 29, pleaded not guilty Tuesday before Superior Court Judge Sam Cozza, who ordered Blackburn to remain in custody on a $500,000 bond. Cozza set Blackburn’s trial on the attempted murder charges for Nov. 19.

Federal authorities confirmed Tuesday they are investigating the Sept. 12 shooting as a possible hate crime.

Blackburn was arrested Sept. 13 as Spokane police officers converged on the Days Inn, 120 W. Third Ave., to investigate a separate shooting, a confrontation in the motel parking lot that left Paul A. Haney, 33, of Yakima, dead.

According to court records, investigators believe Kevin M. Heaton, 35, is responsible for that shooting and remains on the loose. Heaton had paid for the room in which Blackburn was found at the Days Inn, but the court records don’t indicate whether Blackburn had any involvement in the Haney shooting.

Outside the hotel, however, investigators found a red 2012 Rocketa Sicily moped that was linked to a shooting the day before near 33rd Avenue and Thor Street.

In that case, three black teenagers were walking on 33rd Avenue at 4:20 p.m. on Sept. 12 when they heard a white man yelling racial slurs at them. That man was later identified as Blackburn, according to court records.

Blackburn challenged them to fight. “At this time, (Blackburn) asked the victims, ‘Have you guys ever had a gun pointed at you?’ ” according to court records.

Blackburn then walked over to the moped – which had been reported stolen earlier that day – and grabbed a locked pistol box, the records say. Unable to open it, Blackburn threw it on the ground several times until it opened.

According to one of the boys, Blackburn “pointed the handgun” at them and said “they could have a six second head start before he shoots them,” court records state. Blackburn then began yelling for someone named “Suicide” to come out of the house at 3304 E. 33rd Ave.

The boys ran eastbound, grabbed rocks to defend themselves and hid behind a parked van. Blackburn jumped on the moped and began driving in their direction. The youths said they saw him pull a gun from his waistband and heard him fire one round, which was later recovered by officers in the parked van.

Shortly after the shooting, the second male followed in a green SUV and approached the youths. Investigators later identified that man as 42-year-old convicted felon John T. “Suicide” Gakel.

“Police records also indicate that Gakel also has tattoos consistent with the White Supremacy Movement,” Detective Ty Snider wrote.

One of the youths told police that when Gakel drove by after the shooting, the youth could see Gakel had a pistol tucked under his leg. The Spokane Police Department SWAT team executed a search warrant Friday, found a pistol in the house on 33rd Avenue and took Gakel into custody on the charge of second-degree illegal possession of a firearm.

Gakel appeared in court Monday and remains in the Spokane County Jail on a $30,000 bond. His arraignment has been set for Oct. 4.

A federal investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Tuesday that the FBI has initiated a preliminary investigation into possible hate crimes by Blackburn and Gakel. “We are still in the middle of it,” the source said.

In the meantime, Spokane police records indicate, Gakel could also face the charge of malicious harassment.

“Based upon my training and expertise, this incident has facts and circumstances that are consistent with a hate crime,” Snider wrote.

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