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Houston homicide investigators questioned the restaurant customer who fatally shot a robber last week, then gave stolen money back to victims — but while the customer wasn’t arrested, charged, or named, a grand jury will review the case to determine whether charges against him are warranted, KHOU-TV reported.
Houston police said Monday they had been wanting to talk to the customer in question, a 46-year-old man, since the robbery and shooting Thursday that gained national attention, the station said.
What’s the background?
Houston police told KHOU in the station’s original story that an armed man in a mask entered Ranchito Taqueria on South Gessner near Bellaire Boulevard just before 11:30 p.m. and demanded money and wallets from customers.
Surveillance video shows the crook going from table to table and taking cash:
Amid the robbery, two customers tried to take cover underneath a table:
But seconds later, one of the customers sitting to the side drew a gun and fired at the robber, who was walking past him.
KHOU said in its broadcast that it froze the surveillance video before shots were fired but that the full video shows the robber being shot multiple times. KPRC-TV in its video report said nine shots were fired.
Customer who shot robber returned stolen money
What’s more, police told KPRC that the customer who shot the robber retrieved the stolen money from the robber’s pocket and returned the money to other patrons.
In fact, KPRC said the customer could be heard on surveillance video saying, “Come get your money.”
KPRC added that video showed the customer discovering the robber’s gun was fake and throwing it against a wall in anger. Investigators told KHOU the robber’s gun was a plastic pistol.
Finally, the customer walked to the door, dumped a beverage on the robber lying on the floor, and walked out, KPRC said.
Those inside the restaurant departed before police arrived, KHOU said, adding that there were no reported injuries among customers or restaurant staff.
Lawyers weigh in on the shooting
Thomas Nixon — a former Houston police officer and now a lawyer — told KPRC that “the person he shot was in the process of committing robbery and consequently his use of force in defense of himself and innocent third parties is completely justified in Texas. He was reasonably in fear of serious bodily injury or death.”
Nixon added to KPRC that the video shows the shooting was justified.
“It is a justifiable homicide, but the grand jury in Harris County is going to want to know all parties involved in the homicide so that they can investigate,” he also told KPRC.
KHOU legal analyst Carmen Roe told the station the shooting appears to be in self-defense but that she understands why police still want to talk to the customer who shot the robber.
“One of the reasons that law enforcement is seeking out this individual is to find out whether he was in fear for his life or the lives of the people around him, because that’s absolutely essential to a self-defense claim under the law,” Roe told the station. “If you’re justified in shooting the first bullet, you’re justified in continuing to shoot until the deadly threat is no longer there.”
Roe added to KHOU that it doesn’t matter that the gun used in the robbery was fake, because the threat was real: “Everybody in that restaurant clearly believed it was a real gun.”
Another concern has been that the customer left the scene without talking to police, but Roe noted to the station that the customer wasn’t legally obligated to do otherwise.
“Staying there to answer questions is important,” Roe told KHOU. “It’s something that, as a lawyer, I would have advised him to have done, but at the same time, you have no obligation to stay on the scene of a situation like that,” Roe said.
Defense attorney Nicole Deborde Hochglaube added to KHOU that the customer “was acting lawfully, and it was his right to defend himself and the patrons in that restaurant.”
Attorney Joanne Musick — a former prosecutor for the Harris County district attorney’s office — added to KHOU that the customer “is a man defending himself and others in the restaurant. People are getting sick and tired of crime on the streets.”
What do we know about the robber?
The robber in this case has been identified as 30-year-old Eric Eugene Washington, KHOU said, adding that court records indicate this wasn’t his first robbery.
More from the station:
In 2013, he and others were charged with capital murder after a man was killed during an armed robbery, according to prosecutors. The charge was later changed to aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon and Washington was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
It’s unclear exactly when he was released, but the most recent time he was arrested was Dec. 16 when authorities said he pushed his girlfriend to the ground and scratched her. Washington was charged with misdemeanor family violence and was released on a personal recognizance bond.
Houston police caution gun carriers
“If you’re lawfully carrying a weapon, and you’re in an establishment, and you decide to take matters into your own hands, you have to also take that into account that if you also hit an innocent person, that you’re accountable for each and every bullet that comes out of that gun,” Houston Police Detective Jeff Brieden told KHOU.
KHOU added that the restaurant owner and employees are calling the customer a hero. The “hero” sentiment is reflected over and over again in numerous comments in a tweet from Houston police.
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