Was deadly force justified in car thief shooting?

SPOKANE, Wash. - Deadly force was used by a vehicle owner to stop a thief trying to steal his SUV, and now detectives are investigating the incident to determine whether or not the vehicle owner's used of deadly force was justified.

According to police, the SUV was stolen from a house on the 1400 block of North Lee Street around 8 a.m. Monday. Police said the owner of the SUV called 911 just before 8 a.m. to report that he could see an armed man trying to steal his SUV. As the car thief was driving away with the SUV, the owner shot the thief. The thief continued to drive and crashed into a garage near Sharp Avenue and Lee Street.

When medics arrived, the car thief was pronounced dead at the scene.

Deadly force shooting

There is no dispute that the dead man was breaking the law by driving off in a stolen SUV, however you usually cannot use deadly force to stop a property crime and now the vehicle owner is going to have to justify his use of deadly force.

The vehicle owner, who has not been identified, said he was letting his SUV warm up in his driveway when he saw the still unidentified thief hop inside his Chevy Suburban.

"We got a call about a person attempting to steal a car and that, that person was shot by the car owner," Spokane Police Lieutenant Mark Griffiths said.

A bullet fired by the vehicle owner apparently hit the thief, who lost consciousness and crashed into Richard McKinley's garage.

"He came around this way and hit the fence and hit the tree and ended up in the garage," McKinley said.

It appears the owner fired at the thief as he was driving away, the fatal shot apparently going through the SUV's rear window.

Detectives now want to know what made the owner feel threatened enough to open fire on the car thief.

"You are still going to have to able to explain the circumstances that put you in fear that you were about to be attacked so there's a requirement that you show immediacy to that fear and it has to be reasonable under the circumstances," former deputy prosecutor Chris Bugbee said.

When police search the stolen Suburban if they find the thief was armed with a gun or knife that helps the vehicle owner's case. If, however, the owner fired just to keep his vehicle from getting stolen he could be facing some serious legal problems.

"The use of deadly force, if the other person turns out to not armed with a deadly weapon, is going to be looked at with great scrutiny by law enforcement," Bugbee said.

The lieutenant in charge of Major Crimes reports the vehicle owner has been cooperating with his detectives and has not been charged. A deputy prosecutor toured this scene Monday morning to get a firsthand perspective about what happened.