TACOMA — Washington state appeals court judges had lots of questions for lawyers Monday at a hearing about whether a gun owner should be prosecuted in a Bremerton school shooting that critically injured a 9-year-old girl.
Kitsap County prosecutors have charged Douglas Bauer with third-degree assault in the February shooting that injured Amina Kocer-Bowman at Armin Jahr Elementary School. The 9-year-old son of Bauer’s then-girlfriend took the gun from his house and brought it to school in a backpack. The weapon fired accidentally.
Bauer’s lawyer, Wayne Fricke, told the judges that the case shouldn’t proceed because Bauer did nothing to cause the assault.
Guest Judge C.C. Bridgewater posed most of the questions asked by the three-judge panel during a half-hour hearing.
Bridgewater asked how Bauer could possibly have caused the outcome, adding, “He didn’t shoot that kid.”
Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Morris replied that Bauer allowed the boy to “sleep in a room of loaded guns” and that without that access, the shooting couldn’t have happened.
State law says someone whose criminal negligence “causes bodily harm to another person by means of a weapon or other instrument” is guilty of third-degree assault.
A written decision from the appeals court could take months, the Kitsap Sun reported.
While many states have laws that specifically criminalize failure to secure a gun used by a minor to cause injury or death, Washington is not one of them, the defense lawyer noted.
Judge Joel Penoyar asked what message a jury would be sending if it convicted Bauer. Morris said the message would be that “leaving loaded firearms in a room where a child sleeps is not a reasonable thing to do.”
The prosecutor asked the judges to let a jury decide whether Bauer was guilty of assault.
A third-degree assault conviction is punishable by a maximum of five years in prison.
The boy earlier pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and was sentenced to counseling. He said he took the gun to school because he felt threatened by classmates.
The boy’s mother has pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm as a felon.
The Bowman family has also filed a civil lawsuit against Bauer, the boy’s mother and the Bremerton School District, among others.