Video: Alki man sentenced for shooting incident; ‘slap on the wrist,’ say police

(WSB video of the entire 31-minute hearing, unedited, added @ 5:26 pm)
A dramatic sentencing hearing is concluding right now in the courtroom of King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller. He has sentenced 59-year-old Thomas Qualls, the Alki resident who pointed an assault rifle at police officers last September, to what prosecutors had asked after a plea bargain to an attempted-assault charge: 24.7 months. Two of the three police officers at whom Qualls pointed – if not fired, which was a point of dispute in the case – his rifle spoke to the judge first. Officer Andy Peloquin called the fact the case was plea-bargained to this potential sentence, the maximum possible in the “standard range” for attempted assault with a firearm enhancement, “a slap on the wrist.” (The other officer who spoke was Sgt. Steve Strand.)

We videotaped the entirety of the hearing, including what the officers and Qualls told the court – he and his lawyers blamed alcohol for much of what he did that night – and what the judge had to say. Qualls asked the judge if he could be allowed out of jail (where he’s been since the incident last September) in time for his 40th wedding anniversary, and the judge said no.

The reason for the plea bargain was explained by the prosecution as the fact that the investigation could not prove Qualls ever fired the assault rifle, as had been contended that night. There was no proof yielded by either two audio recordings from that night or a number of field investigations, including a re-creation at his Alki home a few weeks ago.

Qualls – who had no prior record – was shot in the abdomen by police and has been in jail since leaving the hospital less than a week after the confrontation, which started when one of his grown children – both of whom were in the courtroom – had called 911 to say he had threatened suicide after a disagreement with his wife, who also came to court for the sentencing. No family members addressed the judge, but the defense lawyer noted that family and friends had sent Judge Heller letters expressing support. (September 2010 photo by Christopher Boffoli for WSB)

10 Replies to "Video: Alki man sentenced for shooting incident; 'slap on the wrist,' say police"

  • lenguamor April 22, 2011 (5:04 pm)

    It’s a world gone mad; point a high-powered rifle at police, get a couple years in jail. Kick an Officer in the head and disable him for life, get time served—a few months.
    The Prosecutor should be ashamed to plead this out, given the preponderance of evidence he or she seemed to have on the people’s side.
    The Judge could and should have refused to honor the plea deal, and ordered a choice of a much stiffer sentence or a trial.

  • NotMe April 22, 2011 (5:53 pm)

    Well, I guess the investigators needed to prove he actually fired the weapon. I didn’t think that was so difficult.
    Seems to me the prosecution or the judge did anything to feel ashamed… the police investigation on the other hand, couldn’t prove a smoking gun? Wow… there is your shame, sir.

  • workfromhomejohn April 22, 2011 (6:03 pm)

    Or, Lenguamor, bash a guy into a wall so hard he breaks his neck and is paralyzed for life…no criminal hearing at all.

    Shoot a docile mentally ill old man whittling a small stick and kill him… no criminal hearing at all.

    The prosecutors did exactly what they should have. As did the judge.

  • CandrewB April 22, 2011 (6:37 pm)

    Hey Thomas, 24 months from now, wouldn’t Vegas sound great? I am sure you would get help in relocating; wouldn’t you rather be out of the cold and rain?

  • DP April 22, 2011 (6:41 pm)

    lenguamor: If this guy were in his right mind, then yeah, the sentence would indeed have been too short. But isn’t it obvious from his behavior that he’s got mental issues? In retrospect, the whole incident looks more like attempted suicide-by-cop than anything.
    Qualls should have been offered the option of mental health court and sentenced to strictly supervised home monitoring, with mandatory treatment. Two years in a prison for this guy will accomplish NOTHING. He went in ill, he’ll come out ill.

  • sna April 22, 2011 (6:42 pm)

    Cops said he shot at them. But there’s no shell casing. No bullet hole. No audio of the shot.
    Cops said qualls said “i’m gonna get you” to them. Two separate recordings of the incident show thats not ture. He said “get off my property.”
    These are two big problems with the police statements. It makes me really suspicious that he even pointed the gun at them. Absent that, theres no assault.

  • I. Ponder April 22, 2011 (7:36 pm)

    But then the police union defends all abuse by police. Officer Ian Birk murders a man and walks away with no penalty and SPD and union never say “This is wrong. Justice was not served.” Justice for everyone would be a good start. At least this guy is paying a price and serving time. What’s Ian Birk doing?

  • An Observer April 22, 2011 (8:17 pm)

    Perhaps we were watching a different video, I do believe the prosecutor stated on numerous occasions throughout the sentencing hearing that the evidence against the defendant was not as reliable as it was first thought to be. No shell casings were ever found showing that the defendant fired upon the police. Video and audio recordings as well as separate re-enactments could not support several statements made within the police report including the portion where the defendant supposedly said, “f*** you guys, I’m going to get you.” Also, it was stated in the video that in over 600 photos taken from numerous sources there was no images showing that the defendant actually even pointed the weapon at the police.

    “The preponderance of evidence” supported nothing more than a second degree assault charge. The prosecutor does the best he can with the evidence he’s given. He’s not a miracle worker. He’s an officer of the court. If the evidence and the forensic investigation say the events happened in a different manner than the police reported, THAT’S what the prosecutor uses.

    He was given the maximum sentence allowed for the charge. The end.

  • NotMe April 22, 2011 (10:35 pm)

    Somehow, my first comment didn’t make it through the approval…
    I think the “shame” is in SPD not being able to prove they were fired on. They had a “smoking gun” of sorts, and yet they could not produce the evidence of a shot being fired from the gun. Hmmmm…. sounds like attempted assault.

  • will o' wisp April 23, 2011 (12:04 pm)

    Alcohol does not improve judgment.

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