When two armed, masked men came into his store demanding money, Hani “Sonny” Salha not only refused to hand over the cash, but opened fire on them with his own gun.
“I would do whatever it takes to protect my business, my family and my customers,” Salha said Tuesday at the In & Out Mini Mart, 1513 Tieton Drive.
While Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic said using a gun to defend yourself against robbers is a legal option, a Yakima police official said it’s safer to give them what they want.
Salha was working at his store around 9 p.m. Sunday when he saw the two men on his surveillance camera putting bandannas over their faces in the parking lot. When they came in the store, they brandished handguns and demanded money, but Salha said he had already grabbed his .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol and refused to give them any money.
He said he fired two shots, which caused the would-be robbers to run out of the store. One of his shots left a bullet hole in the door.
“I think that went between his legs,” Salha said, examining the damage to the lower part of the door.
It is not known if the robbers were hit, police spokesman Mike Bastinelli said, because they fled from the scene. The pair were described as being 18 to 24 years old, and anywhere from 5 feet 3 inches to 5 foot 8 inches tall, wearing beanies and bandannas.
Salha said police arrived within a minute of being called, and he noted that his neighbors came over to see if everything was OK.
Under Washington law, people are allowed to defend themselves with lethal force if they believe their life or someone else’s life is in danger. The state Supreme Court also found in 2003 that people do not have a duty to retreat from a threat when they are in a place they have a right to be.
But Brusic said the details of each case have to be examined to determine if use of lethal force was justifiable.
Someone arguing self-defense must show that they feared for their lives or the lives of others, and that the force they used was appropriate
for the situation, Brusic said.
But he noted that lethal force cannot be used solely to defend property, only lives. If a thief is fleeing with property, a homeowner is not allowed to shoot them.
“No life is worthy of taking over a TV set,” Brusic said.
Yakima Police Capt. Jeff Schneider said police prefer that people just give a robber what he is asking for, rather than resist and possibly escalate the situation.
“By and large, in almost 100 percent of the cases, the robbers will take the money and no one will get hurt,” Schneider said.
But Salha said he was grateful he was able to defend himself.
“It’s good to see business owners and homeowners fighting back,” Salha said, referring to a recent incident where someone was shot during a home invasion by an occupant of the home.