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An Armed Society is a Polite Society

Victim fatally shoots downtown assailant

By Jonathan Martin

Seattle Times staff reporter

A bizarre case of what appeared to be justifiable homicide rattled the heart of Seattle’s swanky downtown shopping district late Saturday morning.

Seattle police are still piecing together what happened, but this much is known: A young man was killed on the crowded sidewalk outside Westlake Center, and the confessed shooter was allowed to walk out of a police station.

The case, according to police and witnesses, began at 11 a.m. Saturday with a 911 call.

Witnesses reported a man in a yellow shirt acting erratically, insulting and threatening passing pedestrians at Pike Street and Boren Avenue near the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, said Seattle police spokeswoman Deb Brown.

A half-hour later, a man matching the same description was reported near Westlake Center. At the same time, a second man, described by witnesses as balding and wearing a leather jacket, was walking through the nearby plaza after finishing his lunch.

Neither man’s identity was released by police on Saturday.

The man in the yellow shirt apparently focused in on the second man, saying, “I am going to kill you,” Brown said. He then began punching and kicking the second man until the man fell to the sidewalk.

“He was down there, minding his own business. There is nothing to think he was anything but a random target,” Brown said.

The victim happened to have a concealed-weapons permit, Brown said, and he was carrying a handgun. He pulled out the gun and fired once, hitting his attacker in the abdomen.

“It looked to me like he shot him in self-defense,” said Linda Vu, who was across the street from the shooting, handing out fliers for political activist Lyndon LaRouche. “It’s kind of crazy.”

No, “kind of crazy” is the LaRouche supporters. This event does not qualify.

The man in the yellow shirt died after being taken to Harborview Medical Center. The King County Medical Examiner was trying to determine his identity, a task complicated by the fact that the man carried no identification.

Several nearby Seattle police officers heard the gunshot. When they arrived at the shooting scene, the victim, sitting on a streetside planter full of purple pansies, handed the gun to them and said, “I am the one who did this,” according to Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel.

The man was arrested, but after questioning him and other witnesses, detectives determined they did not have probable cause to book him into the King County Jail. The man was released. Police said they were withholding his name as a crime victim — of the assault.

It will be up to the county prosecutor to determine whether the man will face charges. But Pugel said, “It could be considered justifiable homicide.”

“Could be?” What kind of question about the incident is there? Was he just supposed to take the beating and pretend it wasn’t happening? I think this is clearly justified. End of story.

The shooting stunned Jim and Edith Welsh, tourists from Australia who’d just left the Nordstrom store across the street when police arrived. Peering across the police tape draped across Pine Street, Welsh hugged his wife. “I think we’re going back to our hotel right now,” he said.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Oh noes! Crime stopped in its tracks by an armed citizen? What could be more disturbing?!

8 Responses to “An Armed Society is a Polite Society”

  1. Daniel Marsh Says:

    I am unsure what the exact legal standard for execution of (lethal) self defense is in Washington, but in general it seems one has to satisfy a few conditions:

    1. One must have a justifiable belief that you will die or sustain serious injury to respond with lethal force. i.e. if someone calls you a jackass and kicks you once in the shin or pushes you, you probably aren’t legally justified to pull a gun and shoot him. In this case, the assailant announced his intention to kill the victim and proceeded to continuously batter him. Oh, don’t shoot to wound and then state that you were doing so, as that would be a sign that you didn’t believe your life was in imminent danger. If you do shoot to wound, you should probably state something along the lines of “I was aiming for his head, but missed.”

    2. One must not have the ability to escape the situation…if you can run away to avoid further assault, you should. In this case, the victim was on the ground with the assailant hovering over him, although the article seems to sugest that the assailant didn’t continue his attack once the victim was on the ground. There is some debate regarding the legality of shooting a burglar in one’s home. Can you presume that the burglar intends you harm? Can you shoot if the burglar doesn’t have a weapon? The escape factor comes into play here as you presumeably have no reasonable ability to escape one’s home, or doing so could potential expose other family members to harm, etc.

    I know that there are some states that don’t require the escape clause or even being physically assaulted before responding. So, be especially careful not to get drunk and tell someone that you will kill them, as they may be perfectly justified at that point to pull out a gun and shoot you.

  2. Stickman Says:

    Despite what the newspaper may print and say, and despite the fact that someone got beat up and anotehr died, I’m rather happy to hear about something like this. The man was attacked, the man defended himself, the police made sure nothing funny was going on, and then they let him go.

    This is the legal system working (at least so far). There are reasons to kill people (though they are rare in this society) and this sounded like one of them. The fact that things like this don’t happen every day doesn’t change the fact.

    We can probably change people’s focus by asking, “Where were the police when the yellow shirted man was harassing people? How about when he was beating the guy up?”

    “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” -Mark Twain

  3. Bernie Zimmermann Says:

    What if the attacker was stronger and managed to take the gun away from the victim? It could have resulted in an obviously deranged citizen shooting the victim and possibly others in the vicinity. I’m glad to hear things worked out, but this would be an even better story with no gun involved and some brave fellow citizens who, instead of standing to the side watching in awe, did something to help a peer in need.

    I’m sure there’s some crappy cameraphone video on YouTube, though. Seinfeld, anyone?

  4. nordsieck Says:


    I don’t know when the law was passsed, but Washington State is one of a few (about 10, I think) so-called Castle States. This means that a person does not have an obligation to retreat before applying lethal force in defense of his/her life.

    I have somewhat mixed feelings about this, but when it comes down to it, if someone is behaving violently towards someone else and they get shot, they deserve everything that comes to them.

    Your comment about shooting an invader in your own home seems to me to be pretty ridiculous (not saying that it isn’t accurate – just that if it is, the law is an ass).


    Three things to consider: city people are professionals at ignoring eachother. It would be folly to assume that people around you will help you (although I have met several quite nice strangers in my time).

    Secondly, someone strong/skillful enough to disarm a man with a gun will have no trouble dealing with your “brave fellow citizen”… unless that person has a gun as well (or is skilled at fighting, but realistically, not many people are).

    Thirdly, have you ever shot a pistol? It is actually quite difficult to hit anything outside of say… 20 feet. Certainly much more difficult than in the movies, where the hero routinely makes off-hand shots with pin-point accuracy. The danger of an untrained person using a pistol to shoot someone outside of two-strides-and-a-punch range is pretty small.

    In an armed society, people with guns are powerful. In a disarmed society, people who are strong are powerful. Unfortionately, the second case correlates strongly with young males – the people most likely to commit crime.

    I am not saying that an armed society is a good thing, but much like democracy, the alternatives are much worse.

  5. Another Dan Says:

    I really would liked to see a bunch of people help one person out by socking the crap out of the guy, instead of sitting there goggling as Bernie pointed out. The problem with the gun is exactly what Bernie said, and also that someone else may have gotten accidently shot within the vicinity by the man in defense. The man was in self-defense, therefor he did nothing wrong. However, it was a dangerous decision that could easily have hurt any passerby.

  6. Daniel Marsh Says:

    Well, I am glad to hear that we are a “Castle State.” I don’t see what all the fuss is about defending your own home, either (from a legal standpoint). If I discover someone in my home, I am going to presume that they are an armed intruder that intends me harm, until I have evidence otherwise. To the extent that I do sleep, I do so with a baseball bat under my bed. My family also keeps a Samurai sword and several shotguns well spaced throughout the house (what is the sense of having weapons for protection if they are too far away to use?)

    Let me share some annecdotes:

    My grandmother in Hibbing, MN recently returned home to find a scruffily (not uniformed) dressed young man in her basement. The man did not seek prior permision to enter her home and identified himself only as the meter reader. In this case, he actually was the meter reader, but he was not wearing any sort of uniform and was not immediately identifiable as such. My grandmother is a very frail woman. Any reasonably healthy individual could overwhelm her very easily. If I were in her position, I would feel perfectly entitled to shoot the unidentified stranger under either of the following mental presumptions (although which one I admitted to later might be different):

    -This person is burglaring my house and armed or not, probably intends me harm at this point in order to keep from being identified later.

    -This person is a meter reader, but I have no evidence of that aside from his word. He may have flashed id (in this case, the person did not produce id) at me from a distance (for I am certainly not letting him get any closer), but I still have no verifiable confirmation that he is who he claims to be. Even if he is who he says he is, he has entered my house without seeking and receiving permision. For all I know he may be a meter reader, but equally he could just be a burglar pretending to be a meter reader in order to case places.

    At the very least, I would require the person to get down on the ground and hold him at gunpoint while calling the police first and meter company second.

    Hibbing is a very trusting place and many people still leave their doors wide open during the day, but there seems to be an increasing level of petty theft and burglary, as well as drug motivated crime.

  7. Erik Thulin Says:

    I would like to draw the distinction between what one may do and what they should do.

    It seems apparent that, under Washington law, one may shoot and kill this man. I am of the opinion that that is not what the shooter should have done. Shooting the assailant in the arm or leg would have had the same effect on freeing you from the dangerous state and would not have required the death of another individual. To that end the shooter could have had his gun loaded with rubber bullets, had a taser, or many other non-lethal measures that would not have resulted in someone’s death.

    The fact is the situation could have been dealt with without the use of deadly force if the shooter had prepared himself for such a scenario but chose not to.

  8. Ryan Says:

    Yay, blame the victim!

    As Nordsieck says above, it is difficult to hit a target when you are in the heat of the moment. This is why training teaches to aim for the center of mass of your target — because, most likely, you aren’t going to hit if you aim anywhere else.

    Second, if we want to go down the road of correct responses, then the police should have intervened with the man in the yellow shirt when he was first reported “acting erractically.” That didn’t happen. The police, or any of the other pedestrians, should have intervened when the yellow-shirted man was threatening and assulting the gun-carrying man. That didn’t happen either. So, the victim of the assault took a totally justified action and defended himself.

    Maybe if he were a master martial artist, he could have held off the other man with his hands. Or if he were a jedi, he could have used a light saber or a mind trick. Unfortunately, he was probably just an average guy who went to the range occasionally and was happy to hit a target at 21 feet. He jumped through all the hoops that Washington has set up to legally carry a concealed weapon. Then, when the time came, he put it to use.

    Frankly, I feel more safe with people like this gunman out there. And there’s one less bad guy out there now too. It seems that lethal self-defense is the most swift justice.

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