The state Supreme Court ruled today that prosecutors cannot charge a man with third-degree assault for allegedly providing access to a gun to his then-girlfriend’s 9-year-old son. The boy brought the weapon to a Bremerton school, where it accidentally discharged and injured a fellow student.
In a 6-3 ruling, the high court rejected the argument by Kitsap County prosecutors that the gun owner’s failure to secure the weapon was a contributing factor in the February 2012 shooting at Armin Jahr Elementary in Bremerton. The girl, Amina Kocer-Bowman, was critically injured after the handgun accidentally went off in the boy’s backpack.
The boy told investigators he had taken the gun off a dresser at Bauer’s Allyn home.
Kitsap County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Hauge said this morning that prosecutors will likely not seek to recharge Douglas Bauer in connection with the shooting, but also warned the ruling could impact prosecutors’ ability to charge third parties who caused harm indirectly through negligent or criminal acts.
For example, he said, the decision could affect prosecutors’ ability to criminally charge a drunk driver who causes another car to swerve and hit a third car, causing a death.
“This is opening a whole can of worms,” Hauge said.
In March 2013, the Court of Appeals ruled that Kitsap County prosecutors could continue their case against Bauer. Bauer appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court hadn’t overturned the appellate court’s decision, the case would have returned to Kitsap County Superior Court for a jury trial. Bauer faced possible maximum of five years in prison and would have been prohibited from owning firearms if he had been convicted.
Kocer-Bowman underwent multiple surgeries. The bullet from the shooting remains lodged in her spine.
The boy, who pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and to bringing a weapon to school, was sentenced to a year of probation and counseling. His mother, a felon, pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm; her sentence is pending.