Two people pointed handguns at a suspected shoplifter in the parking lot of a South Hill shopping center on Friday in actions that drew cautionary advice from police for people attempting to stop lawbreakers.
A video posted on Facebook shows a woman being held at gunpoint in her car by people who believed she stole from a store in the Manito Shopping Center on the South Hill, while they waited for police to arrive.
The video had been shared hundreds of times by Monday morning and been shared to other platforms like Reddit.
Annamarie L. Kirkpatrick, 36, was cited for shoplifting, a gross misdemeanor. Her boyfriend, who she mentions in the video, fled the scene and was not cited, said Officer John O’Brien with the Spokane Police Department.
A man and a woman drew their weapons because they suspected Kirkpatrick had stolen shoes from the nearby Rite Aid in the complex, according to Spokane resident Peter Trotta’s Friday post. Kirkpatrick was charged with shoplifting from the Ross in the shopping center, according to police.
In the video, an unidentified man can be seen holding a silver handgun and telling Kirkpatrick to “sit down” when she tried to stand up.
“Get your (expletive) in there and sit down,” the man said. “I am not a cop, I will (expletive) shoot you. I’m a Democrat. I can shoot you because Democrats get away with everything.”
The woman can be seen in the video holding what appears to be a blue handgun.
Sgt. Terry Preuninger said witnesses told police that Kirkpatrick and a male suspect ran out of a store in the Manito Shopping Center with bags of clothing. The man and woman saw them leave the store and believed the couple to be shoplifting. They pulled guns on Kirkpatrick and held her at gunpoint until police arrived.
Neither the man nor the woman with a gun were charged or cited with a crime, according to police.
Under Washington law, it is considered assault to threaten someone with physical harm if the person making threats seems to have the means and intent to cause threatened harm. In cases that don’t amount to assault under Washington law, any person who aims a firearm at a person, whether loaded or not, is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
Also under Washington law, a private person can conduct a citizen’s arrest for a misdemeanor, if they saw the act themselves and the act constituted a breach of the peace.
After watching the video, local criminal defense lawyer Jeffry Finer said he was shocked the people with guns were not charged.
“Based on what I saw, it looked like these two people were assaulting a suspect who had not breached the peace and I don’t think what I saw constituted a proper citizen’s arrest,” Finer said.
There are legal provisions for citizen’s arrests, Finer said, but for an incident involving property theft, violence seem unnecessary.
“Socially, legally, ethically I was stunned, not that people would intervene with a crime because as people, we’re raised to intervene, but they could have intervened with a camera and a license number,” Finer said.
However, Finer did note that it’s not possible to get the whole story from a video clip.
“As a criminal defense lawyer I’m mindful that you can’t get the whole story from a clip, but what of it I saw left me cold and disturbed,” Finer said. “I was definitely expecting all three to be charged, assuming there was cause to arrest the woman in the car.”
The part that shocked Finer the most was the man’s threat to shoot Kirkpatrick, which he called “unnecessarily aggressive and criminal.”
Finer also noted the gun owners did not follow basic firearms safety rules.
“His handling of the pistol was sickeningly sloppy,” Finer said.
The man had his trigger finger ‘indexed’ but was waiving the gun around, Finer said. The woman had her gun pointed through the windshield and ran the risk of misfiring and hitting people directly in her line of fire, including the person taking the video, Finer said.
Since the case is ongoing, Preuninger could not comment on the details but said in situations like this he reminded the public that citizens are accountable for the level of force they use.
When police officers use force, it is related to the severity of the incident, Preuninger said.
“We just want to remind people you’ve got to be reasonable and prudent,” Preuninger said. “You have to make sure that the use of force that you’re prepared to use is reasonable in the context of the situation you’re in.”
O’Brien encouraged citizens to be good witnesses by giving police a through description of a suspect and safely taking pictures or videos.
“Just because they get away from the scene at the time, doesn’t mean they get away from us forever,” O’Brien said.
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