Local News

Business frustrates deputies in search for robbery suspect

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. - Spokane County Sheriff deputies are searching for a man they say robbed a gas station Saturday night while the sheriff himself is mad about the lack of support one company gave his deputies to help find the suspect.

Joshua Wippert, 31, allegedly stabbed a gas station attendant with a pen and took off with some cash from the gas station he robbed.

Deputies followed the path the clerk told them Wippert was last riding and found an abandoned bike behind American Behavioral Health Systems. The victim identified the bike as Wippert's.

Deputy pursuit frustration

Deputies also had a K-9 track Wippert's smell from the abandoned bike, the victim identified as the suspect's, to the front door of American Behavioral Health Systems.

So deputies contacted the facility to ask if Wippert was a resident there and here's the point where Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich gets frustrated.

The employees of American Behavioral Health Systems could neither confirm nor deny whether Wippert was a resident there. After the facility's supervisor was called they said they couldn't confirm or deny he was in the building.

Keep in mind, this is the same facility Charlie Wallace walked away from last year. Wallace was the man who shot two deputies last June 19 and then led other deputies on a high-speed chase that ended with him crashing and killing himself,

"We're having people with criminal histories ordered to a facility, in the city of Spokane Valley, to a business that isn't willing to help law enforcement when their clients, if you will, commit crimes in our area or walk away," Knezovich said.

Then, around 1 a.m. that same night as the gas station robbery, American Behavioral Health Systems called Crime Check to report one of their patients had walked away from the facility. The patient's name?

Joshua Wippert.

The description they gave Crime Check was the same the victim of the gas station robbery gave of the suspect that assaulted him.

Deputies say they do not believe federal privacy laws regarding hospital patients protect Wippert during a pursuit and if, in fact, it does not, the prosecutor's office could charge them with rendering criminal assistance and obstructing a criminal investigation.

Sheriff Knezovich wants the prosecutor to look into the case.

The director of operations at American Behavioral Health Systems said chemically dependent patients have some of the most stringent privacy protection, and added that if deputies would have obtained a warrant they would have been given the information they needed.