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When is it OK to pull a gun? King County prosecutor reviews self-defense law

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg agreed to speak with The Dori Monson Show about what self-defense law in Washington covers. (AP)

An apparent theft attempt in Maple Valley on Tuesday turned deadly for the suspect when the owner of the truck, an ex-Marine with a concealed carry permit, found the suspect in his car, leading to an exchange of gunfire.

Deputy Charlie Akers said the owner and the suspect both pulled their guns. About a dozen shots were fired and the suspect was dead. The ex-Marine was unharmed.

Akers told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson on Tuesday that the homeowner apparently fired in an attempt to disable the suspects’ getaway vehicle, which he said was a stolen vehicle from Kent.

“As the truck owner fired some rounds at the vehicle to disable it, the individual who was running apparently started shooting at him, at which time he adjusted his fire and he was able to shoot the suspect, who died at the scene.”

So is this a case of self-defense?

Knowing what he does of the case, Dori said he doesn’t think the ex-Marine should face any charges.

The case has not yet been sent to the prosecutor’s office, but King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg agreed to speak with The Dori Monson Show about what self-defense law in Washington covers. He was not able to speak specifically to the Maple Valley case, but gave an overview of the law.

“There are parts of self-defense law that are crystal clear,” said Satterberg. “If you are in your home and someone is trying to break into your home, you don’t have to wait to see if they intend you some harm, you can assume evil intent and you can repel that invasion and this prosecutor will always give you the benefit of the doubt.”

When it becomes less clear, Satterberg explained, is when the suspect is just involved in a property offense. He said it comes down to how much force was used and was it reasonable.

“If a person is running away from you, doesn’t pose a threat of harm to you, say they’re running the other way with something they might have stolen from your car, and you shoot and kill them, the question is going to be was that reasonable force or was that necessary.”

But if you have probable cause to believe a felony or misdemeanor has occurred, Satterberg said you can conduct a citizen’s arrest.

“The question is what kind of force do you use to restrain. Are you going to beat the person senseless and wait for the police to come? Are you going to hold them at gunpoint?”

What about shooting at tires?

“Is shooting out tires reasonable force? I think most people would probably say yes,” said Satterberg.

But he also points out you are responsible for all the consequences of your decision to affect a citizen’s arrest.

“If one of those bullets ricochets off and hits and kills an innocent person, you’re going to have to be right. You’re going to have to be accurate and you’re going to be responsible for mistakes that you might make in trying to affect an arrest. That is why we prefer people call the police because they know how to do it,” said Satterberg.

The factor that distinctly changes circumstances in a property offense however, Satterberg explained, is if the suspect makes a threat.

“If you encounter a thief and then they do something that threatens you, you feel like you are in imminent fear of injury, then you may use all the defense that you have available to repel that attack,” said Satterberg. “When you go from a property crime to an actual threat, then the analysis shifts to more classic self defense, where you don’t have to retreat, where you can use all the force that you believe is necessary to protect yourself.”

“That’s a game changer, when the thief starts to attack. But if the thief is simply going to steal your stuff, you can stop them, but you better be right and you better be reasonable,” said Satterberg.

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