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Wash. Supreme Court Sides With Boyfriend In School Backpack Shooting Case


A Washington man whose loaded gun went off in a school backpack, critically injuring a student can’t be charged with third-degree assault, Washington state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The split decision stems from a high-profile case in 2012 in Bremerton.

The student had taken the gun from his mother’s boyfriend, and brought it to school in his backpack. The gun went off, striking a fellow classmate just as the kids were getting ready to go home for the day.

The Kitsap County prosecutor charged the boyfriend with third-degree assault for “criminal negligence.” But the Supreme Court says it didn’t rise to the level of criminal culpability, even if the boyfriend was negligent.

“This was, in fact, a tragedy. It would also be a tragedy if you make someone criminally liable when they shouldn’t be liable for that type of behavior,” said Wayne Fricke, an attorney representing the boyfriend.

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge says this decision limits prosecutors in cases where kids get their hands on loaded guns with tragic results.

“The only thing left to us is possibly reckless endangerment, a gross misdemeanor. That’s not enough,” Hauge said.

Three justices dissented. They said the boyfriend was the person in the “best position” to prevent the shooting, and a jury should decide if he’s criminally responsible.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.

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