Man who shot ATF agent in Spokane in November 2021 pleads guilty; argues shooting was ‘a setup’
March 14, 2023 Updated Tue., March 14, 2023 at 9:04 p.m.
A 25-year-old Tacoma native pleaded guilty to federal charges on Tuesday that could send him to prison for more than two decades after he shot an undercover agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms in November 2021.
Randy Holmes and his attorney also signaled they would argue he was “set up” in the operation by a confidential informant, and that the gunfight that ensued occurred because Holmes believed he would be killed.
“I was in fear for my life, and I acted accordingly,” Holmes, identified in court records as a member of a gang with ties to organized crime in Mexico, told U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice.
The shooting at a Motel 6 parking lot in west Spokane sent one federal agent to the hospital and prompted a massive police response on Nov. 5, 2021. Two other men, Vincent Petrushkin and William Burns, were also indicted on federal charges after admitting they were in the car when Holmes arrived for what he thought was a gun purchase. Holmes was a convicted felon, and had already spent three years in federal prison after previously being arrested in Moses Lake in possession of a loaded handgun illegally.
Petrushkin and Burns told investigators the three had met up at a 7-Eleven prior to the gun deal, according to court records. The informant told ATF investigators that Holmes wanted the gun to use in robberies, according to court records. The three men traveled to the Motel 6 off Sunset Boulevard, where Burns provided Holmes with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, according to investigators, for “protection” during the gun buy at which Holmes said he’d offer an ounce of methamphetamine in exchange for the gun.
Burns has pleaded guilty to a charge of transferring a firearm to a prohibited person, a federal felony. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in June. Petrushkin pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. He’s scheduled to be sentenced next month.
Holmes got in the car with the undercover agent, who said they wanted to move the transaction because Holmes had arrived with two other people, according to the plea agreement. Holmes got out of the car, but then re-entered and pointed his handgun at the agent’s head, according to court records, demanding the gun he’d come to buy. The agent told Holmes the gun was in the back of the car, then when Holmes got out, the agent exited and commanded Holmes to drop the gun, according to court records.
The agent intended to sell Holmes an inoperable firearm and then arrest him, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Eastern Washington.
Gunfire ensued, in which the agent was struck “multiple times, causing (the agent) serious and permanent bodily injury.” The agent has only been identified in court records by initials A.J.
“This tragic case demonstrates the danger and violence that too frequently occurs when convicted felons possess firearms and engage in illegal drug trafficking,” Vanessa Waldref, U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, said in a statement Tuesday. “I am grateful for the exceptional courage and bravery of law enforcement officers, who put their personal safety at risk to protect our community, and I commend the ATF agents involved for their exceptional professionalism in rendering life-saving aid to Mr. Holmes before he could be treated at a hospital. Our community is stronger as a result of these agents’ tremendous service.”
Holmes was shot 11 times, according to his attorney, Bryan Hershman. Holmes initially appeared in court in a wheelchair after the shooting, but on Tuesday he walked into the courtroom in a yellow Spokane County jumpsuit, addressing Rice directly during the hearing.
Medical aid was given to both the agent and Holmes at the scene. Petrushkin and Burns were taken into custody nearby after a short search.
Hershman said after the hearing there is video evidence that would support Holmes’ claim he feared for his life and that the gun deal was orchestrated by the informant, who held a grudge against Holmes. Hershman also said his client became fearful when the agent, who was undercover, asked to move the deal to another parking lot.
“My client took that as a threat to his life,” Hershman said.
The admission caused Rice to pause the change-of-plea proceedings, saying he couldn’t accept a guilty plea if Holmes was going to argue his actions were in self-defense. Holmes was scheduled to go to trial on the case next week.
Hershman told Rice that he wasn’t arguing his guilt, but that he would argue at sentencing that Holmes’s sentence should be lowered because he didn’t know the person he was shooting was an agent with the ATF when he fired.
“We think he was, in a way, set up,” Hershman told Rice.
Rice then accepted the guilty plea, and set sentencing for June 21. The plea agreement says prosecutors can seek a prison sentence of up to 24 years for Holmes, while the mandatory minimum for his crimes is 10 years. He’s been in custody since November 2021.
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