Alleged shoplifting incident spins into armed encounter

Alleged shoplifting incident spins into armed encounter
RJA1988 / Pixabay

You don’t pull a gun on a shoplifter. That’s a pretty non-controversial statement when taken at face value.

However, what happens when the alleged shoplifter decides to escalate the situation?

Well, as we can see from an incident in Washington state, the alleged shoplifter in question was lucky to continue breathing.

Lacey police arrested James Aaron Sweeney, 40, on March 21 after a reported disturbance at the Fred Meyer store on Sleater Kinney Road.

A 57-year-old man who got into an altercation with Sweeney told police that he was a regular Fred Meyer shopper and was walking through the store when he saw the suspect stomping on boxes used to store high-value items.

The man said he believed that Sweeney was going to steal the goods and told the suspect to stop, at which point the two men yelled at each other and Sweeney drew his fist back in what appeared to be a punching motion.

Fearing that he was going to get hit, the shopper said, he pepper-sprayed Sweeney in the face, prompting the suspect to pull out a flare gun and point it at him.

The man said he had a concealed pistol license and was carrying a firearm, which he brought out and pointed at Sweeney. The suspect then put his flare gun away and walked out of the store, the customer said.

Sweeney claims he was pepper-sprayed for no reason, which seems unlikely.

However, he admits to drawing the flare gun, which is why he’s lucky he didn’t get shot over the whole thing.

If we take the other man’s word for what transpired–and considering Sweeney is basically claiming someone just up and pepper-sprayed him for no reason, that’s probably a safe bet–Sweeney wasn’t just an alleged shoplifter. He escalated this into an assault–aggravated assault, to be as specific as I can be as a non-attorney.

Had the other man just shot him then and there, he’d have been justified. While Washington state doesn’t have a Stand Your Ground law, the state supreme court has ruled there’s no duty to retreat. Had the man shot Sweeney, he’d have likely walked.

Luckily for all parties involved, it didn’t get to that point.


Now, understand, the armed citizen could be after-actioned to death over this. Could he have de-escalated the situation? Should he have engaged in the first place? Over and over again.

None of that is overly helpful right now, especially without video to see what was said specifically.

Instead, what we need to remember is that you can find yourself in an armed encounter at any time. Be prepared for it.

Additionally, I want to give the gentleman props for not just having a gun. He was carrying a less-lethal option as well, likely knowing that not all encounters warrant lethal force.  That’s something we all need to consider and get trained on as well.

Frankly, being pepper-sprayed would likely get me to de-escalate pretty damn quickly, rather than drawing a flare gun of all things.