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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Supreme Court Sides With Boyfriend In School Backpack Shooting

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

The split decision stems from a high-profile case in 2012 in Bremerton. A student took the gun to school in his backpack. He had taken it from his mother’s boyfriend. 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,” the boyfriend’s attorney, Wayne Fricke said.

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge said 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," Hauge said. "That’s not enough.”

Three justices dissented. They said the boyfriend was the person in the “best position” to prevent the shooting and that 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."