Cowlitz County Prosecutor Sue Baur said she will not prosecute a Kelso man who shot an arrow into the buttock of a suspected fleeing burglar late last year, but insisted Friday she is not encouraging vigilante justice.
In an interview, Baur said her decision is by no means a license for Cowlitz County residents to open fire on people they believe to be committing crimes.
"If someone chooses to use force on a fleeing felon, their facts better be right - and the likelihood of that is very rare," Baur said. "So you take your chances, and that's why we want you to leave it up to the police. We don't want people taking chances with their own safety, bystander's safety."
Kelso police said that around 11:45 p.m. Dec. 13, Scott Allen Schwingdorf, 33, heard glass breaking at his neighbors' vacant home in the 1100 block of 10th Avenue North and spotted Galen Louis Crayne of Longview walking away from the residence with a brown box tucked under his arm.
Schwingdorf, who had armed himself with a hunting bow, shot a fleeing Crayne in the left buttock with a broadhead arrow, police said.
Crayne, who survived the shooting, broke the arrow off and fled in a truck that was waiting at Cliff's Hilltop Market about two blocks away, authorities said.
In a carefully worded statement released late Thursday, Baur said Washington State law allows citizens to "use reasonable force to defend property they own or have been entrusted with."
"It appears that Mr. Schwingdorf acted to stop a person he believed was fleeing after committing a residential burglary at a house he had agreed to watch," Baur's statement said.
Baur said Schwingdorf chased Crayne for about a block, calling repeatedly for him to stop, then fired his bow once on 10th Avenue near the corner of Burcham Street. (Previous accounts in the newspaper misstated where the shooting occurred.)
Schwingdorf shot Crayne, also 33, from a distance of about 90 feet, Baur said.
In her statement Baur said: "Had Mr. Schwingdorf acted with intent other than to stop a fleeing felon, or had the force used resulted in death, or had any of his assumptions been incorrect, his actions would be outside the realm of necessary or reasonable, and the charging decision would likely be different."
Crayne, who faces trial in September for residential burglary, could not be reached. His mother, Jacquelyn Crayne, of Longview, said she is angry with the prosecutor's office for not filing charges against the man who shot her son.
"We don't want people out burglarizing places," she said. "But it is not somebody else's responsibility to do something about it. You should never be allowed to do what that man did. He is by no means trained to recognize or assess a situation properly. It's not his right."
Schwingdorf declined to comment on the record Friday. Juries in several Cowlitz County cases this year appeared to side with defendants claiming to protect themselves. In one case a jury acquitted a man accused of waving a gun at nightclub bouncers who had just forcibly boosted him from a club. In another, a Woodland man who shot a home builder four times and claimed self-defense. He was sentenced to nine months in jail after a jury chose to convict him of a lesser charge.
Jacquelyn Crayne said Baur feared that Cowlitz County juries favor defendants claiming to protect themselves or their property. Baur, she said, "didn't want to lose a case."
Baur said earlier this year that she was taking the previous cases into consideration in weighing whether to charge Schwingdorf. But she said Friday that "losing a case is not something I've ever been afraid of."
Baur, who is being challenged for re-election in November by public defense attorney Tom Ladouceur, said politics did not influence her decision. "If I was worried about that, I would have done something in December... (and) it would have died down by now," she said. "I wanted to take my time with this one and take everything into consideration."
In this narrow set of circumstances, Baur said, the law simply "does not support a conviction." She cited a state law that allows citizens to use force to protect "personal property lawfully in his or her possession" as long as "the force is not more than is necessary."
In a statement, Baur said that on the night of the shooting, Schwingdorf was in his garage when he heard glass breaking at his next door neighbors' house, which had been left vacant by a recent fire. The neighbors had asked Schwingdorf to keep an eye on the residence, the statement said.
Schwingdorf, according to Baur's account, told his mother to call 911. He grabbed a bow and arrow, which was nearby in the garage, and stepped outside, where he found Crayne, authorities said.
(Police reports have identified the suspected burglar as Crayne, but Baur said her written statement to the newspaper does not mention Crayne's name because his case has not yet been resolved and she is ethically barred from commenting on it publicly.)
Schwingdorf told Crayne to stop, Baur's statement said. Instead, Crayne ran. Schwingdorf gave chase and called repeatedly for him to stop and put down the box, but Crayne continued running, Baur said.
"To prevent the man from escaping with his neighbors' property, Mr. Schwingdorf shot an arrow at him," Baur's statement said. "The arrow struck the man in the buttocks, causing serious injury."
Crayne broke off the arrow's shaft and fled in a truck, the statement said. Crayne was arrested in February on suspicion of burglary.
Jacquelyn Crayne said the arrowhead remained lodged in her son's pelvis for nearly six months until he underwent surgery to remove it.
"He still has a limp," she said.