When Loudon County, Virginia prosecutors charged a 31-year-old concealed carry holder and DoorDash delivery driver with aggravated malicious wounding, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and discharging a firearm within a building after he shot a self-described YouTube “prankster” who had targeted him in a local mall, I had a feeling that the case was going to be a difficult one to prosecute. Honestly though, I figured a hung jury was the most likely outcome if defendant Alan Colie refused a plea deal and took his chances with a jury of his peers, but the twelve men and women deciding the delivery driver’s fate have now acquitted Colie of the most serious charge he was facing.
The April 2 shooting at the food court in Dulles Town Center, about 45 minutes west of the nation’s capital, set off panic as shoppers fled what they feared to be a mass shooting.
Colie pleaded not guilty and said he was acting in self defense.
The verdict came Thursday after about five hours of deliberation. Three hours in, the jury sent out a note saying it was “divided in terms of whether the defendant acted in self defense.”
Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Snow called the jury back into the courtroom around 3:30 p.m. and urged them to continue deliberations, a standard admonition given to juries that indicate they are deadlocked.
The jury then delivered its verdicts at the end of the day.
Pouilliard said during Thursday’s closing arguments that his client felt menaced by the 6-foot-5 (1.95-meter-tall) Cook during the confrontation, which was designed to provoke a reaction and to draw viewers to Cook’s YouTube channel.
[Tanner] Cook, [Defense attorney Adam] Pouilliard said, “is trying to confuse people to post videos. He’s not worried that he’s scaring people. He keeps doing this.”
Jurors saw video of the shooting, which captures the confrontation between Cook and Colie lasting less than 30 seconds. The footage shows Cook approaching Colie as he picks up a food order. Cook looms over Colie while holding a cellphone about 6 inches (15 centimeters) from Colie’s face. The phone broadcasts the phrase “Hey dips—, quit thinking about my twinkle” multiple times through a Google Translate app.
In the video, Colie says “stop” three different times and tries to back away from Cook, who continues to advance. Colie tries to knock the phone away from his face before pulling out a gun and shooting Cook in the lower left chest. There is no pause between the moment he draws the weapon and fires the shot.
While prosecutors claimed that Colie had no reasonable fear of injury, death, or great bodily harm from Cook’s aggression, the jury clearly saw things differently. But the jury’s decision to convict Colie on the count of discharging a firearm within a building is puzzling, given that they also believed the DoorDash driver was lawfully defending his life when he pulled the trigger.
As a result of the jury’s mixed decision Colie is still behind bars, though his attorney will get a chance to make the case that the sole charge he was convicted of should be thrown out a hearing next month. Poulliard maintains that the jury’s finding is “inconsistent with the law”, and I think he’s absolutely right. If Colie was justified in using deadly force to defend himself, then why he is still being punished for that use of force?
I can’t help but wonder if the Loudon County jury wanted to send a message to both Cook and Colie; if you’re a jackass who makes money off of intimidating people in public, don’t be surprised if your f***ing around leads to you finding out about the consequences, but also don’t create a panic by firing a gun in a busy shopping mall, even if you justifiably feel threatened by someone else’s actions.
The problem with that, of course, is that if Colie genuinely believed his life was in danger, as the jury concluded, and was within his rights to pull the trigger, then why should he be punished for where he acted in self-defense? Under the Virginia statute in question, “If any such act be done unlawfully, but not maliciously, the person so offending is guilty of a Class 6 felony,” but the jury seems to believe that Colie’s act of self-defense was both justified and unlawful, which doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.
In my opinion, the judge in this case should have instructed the jury to disregard those two lesser charges if they found Colie was acting in self-defense, but failing that he most certainly should have allowed Colie to be freed from custody pending that upcoming hearing. Colie has been behind bars since April, and it’s absolutely ridiculous that he’s forced to remain in custody when there are serious questions about the jury’s guilty verdict on the discharge count.
I wish Pouilliard the best of luck in defending his client at that upcoming hearing, but I think it’s also time for the Virginia legislature to tweak that portion of the law and explicitly include self-defense as an exception to the prohibition on discharging a firearm in a building. We’ve now seen firsthand the issues that can arise from the current text of the statute, and amending the statute appears to be necessary. That might not help Colie in his current case, but at least it would prevent similar injustices in the future.