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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Training pays off for Safeway employee held at gunpoint Tuesday

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 28, 2017

Joshua Spottedhorse, 36, was killed by Spokane police officers Tuesday morning. He’s accused of robbing a Safeway in northwest Spokane, taking an employee hostage, and firing and people in the store’s parking lot. (Facebook / Courtesy photo)
Joshua Spottedhorse, 36, was killed by Spokane police officers Tuesday morning. He’s accused of robbing a Safeway in northwest Spokane, taking an employee hostage, and firing and people in the store’s parking lot. (Facebook / Courtesy photo)

Tammy McCabe had just opened the front doors of the Safeway store on Northwest Boulevard on Tuesday when a man approached.

“He asked me which register was open,” the 47-year-old employee said over the phone Thursday afternoon. “I said, ‘I can help you at number 4.’ ”

What happened next, McCabe said, was swift and yet seemed to drag on forever. The man, later identified as 36-year-old Joshua Spottedhorse, came up to her from behind and demanded cash from the register.

Fumbling at the computer screen, McCabe told Spottedhorse that she was “going as fast as I can,” she recalled. “At that time he puts his arm around my neck and puts the gun at my side.”

McCabe was struggling to sign in, but when she did, the register opened and Spottedhorse took the $300 it contained. He walked quickly out the front door and into the parking lot, where McCabe said he shot his gun, most likely into the air.

Less than an hour later, Spottedhorse would find himself in a foot-chase with officers in the area of West Sharp Avenue and North Madison Street, where he would be shot and killed.

McCabe said in all of her years working at Safeway, this was the first time she’s been held at gunpoint. As a front-end supervisor of about four years, she teaches store policy to new hires about what to do in the event of a robbery – not thinking she’d ever have to rely on it herself one day.

“It was basically, get him whatever he wants, don’t argue, don’t try to fight, try to be peaceful in the situation, keep calm, don’t yell, don’t cry, just kind of keep it together,” she said. “He had a gun up against my stomach and I was just thinking, ‘Keep him calm.’ ”

Her training worked. After the man left her register and walked outside, she locked the doors behind him and wouldn’t allow anyone to enter or leave, including Spottedhorse’s female acquaintance, until police arrived. Doing so allowed officers to interview the woman, who showed them the location where Spottedhorse’s car, a 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix, was likely located.

According to a search warrant filed in Spokane Superior Court on Thursday, police located the car in an alleyway on the 1400 block of North Jefferson Lane. At 6:21 a.m., the car was driven away, heading southbound on Madison Street. Police surrounded it minutes later, at which point Spottedhorse got out and fled on foot.

The details of what happened next are scant, but based on court documents, Spottedhorse was shot multiple times by at least one officer. The Spokane County medical examiner ruled that he died from multiple bullet wounds.

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said only one officer, who was wearing a body camera, fired a weapon. The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, in addition to other law enforcement agencies, will lead the investigation.

The identity of the officer has not been released.

McCabe, who took Wednesday and Thursday off from work, said she planned to return Friday morning. Not on the sale floor or behind a register, she said, most likely filing paperwork and other office work.

Still, she said she’s looking forward to her normal routine.

“I am very self-controlled and I don’t like having people dictate to me what I am going to do,” she said. “I’m just trying to take control of myself and that situation. I’m trying to take control back from that gentleman.”

Spottedhorse has a limited criminal history in Washington and Spokane County.

In February he pleaded guilty to an assault charge after he was caught trying to steal a dog while armed with an ax in July 2016. Residents spotted him walking away with the animal in the 2000 block of West Boone Avenue, where he was confronted, according to court documents. The 36-year-old began waving around the ax threateningly. The words “Kill you dead” were written on the side of the ax.

He served 6 months in jail.

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