Gail Gerlach Should Not Have Been Charged with Manslaughter

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”  That is to say that people have to make split second decisions when they act in self-defense.  This is what Spokane plumber Gail Gerlach did when he saw the man stealing his Chevy Suburban turn his arm around like he was pointing something at him.

Gail Gerlach

In hindsight, we now know that the man was unarmed. Washington law states “A person is entitled to act on appearances in defending himself, if that person believes in good faith and on reasonable grounds that he is in actual danger of great personal injury, although it afterwards might develop that the person was mistaken as to the extent of the danger. Actual danger is not necessary for a homicide to be justifiable.”  It is believable that Gail Gerlach saw a threatening gesture.  Gerlach’s wife also saw a gesture from a different angle.

Under the law of Washington State, it is not Gerlach’s job to prove self-defense. The prosecutor’s job is to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

The police are challenging that Mr. Gerlach could have seen the driver make such a gesture. The media reported that the detective said: “I was only able to see small portions of the front seat and believe it would not have been possible to see anybody’s actions as they turned around and shifted their arm over the top of the seat. If anything would have been visible of the driver, it would simply have been the top of his head sticking up over the top of the head rest.” However, is a person turns around to shoot, “over the seat” is exactly where his hand would be pointed.

Gail Gerlach’s supporters posted a photo online of the windows look like on a similar Suburban with factory tinted windows.

The police implied that Gerlach couldn’t have seen the driver gesture from the rear of the vehicle. Do you think this is true?

Apparently there wasn’t a consensus in the prosecutor’s office to charge. The Spokesman-Review quoted the elected prosecutor as saying “One police officer and one deputy prosecutor thought that it was a murder… The others ranged in opinion from manslaughter to no charges at all.”

If you can’t get a room full of prosecutors to agree that a crime was committed, how will you get 12 jurors agree to convict a man?

It seems to me that this charge is a waste of tax payers money.

For people interested in helping Gail Gerlach, please see his Facebook Support Page. I just made a small donation.

What do you think about this case? Have prosecutors typically charged police officers when they make poor judgment calls?

One Response to “Gail Gerlach Should Not Have Been Charged with Manslaughter”

  • Dave S:

    How do we know that Gerlach wasn’t lying about seeing the thief turn around with what he thought was a gun? After all, no gun was ever found. Why would a thief even need to turn around at shoot at Gerlach? It makes no sense. Gerlach had to come up with some excuse to be able to claim self-defense. Give Gerlach a polygraph, and see how he does. I think that he was just mad that someone was stealing his truck and wanted to stop the thief, but there was no threat to his safety. A truck, and an old one at that, is not worth someone’s life, even a thief’s life. It is property and can be replaced; that is why we have insurance. Of course the thief should pay for his crime and belongs in jail, but we don’t impose the death penalty for theft.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
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