Texas man fatally shot person robbing restaurant customers

HOUSTON (AP) — A grand jury will determine whether a customer at a Houston restaurant will face charges after fatally shooting a man who pointed a gun that appeared real at customers and took their cash last week, a shooting that several legal experts said appears justified.

Following the shooting late on Jan. 5, police asked for the public’s help in identifying the man who fatally shot the robber, who wielded a plastic gun, because he left the restaurant before officers arrived. By Monday, police said they had questioned the 46-year-old man and after consulting with prosecutors, determined that the shooting would be referred to a grand jury. Police said they aren’t releasing the man’s name because he has not been arrested or charged.

In Texas, it is legal for anyone 21 and older to carry a handgun in public without a license, background check or training. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, over 30 states in the U.S. allow people to openly carry a handgun without a license or permit.

Witnesses told police that a man — later identified as 30-year-old Eric Eugene Washington — had entered the restaurant wearing a ski mask and gloves, and began pointing what looked like a gun at customers while demanding money. Then, police said, one of the customers took out his gun and shot Washington multiple times. After shooting Washington, the customer collected the stolen money from Washington’s body and returned it to the other customers before leaving the scene.

Police said investigators found that the suspect had a plastic gun.

Former prosecutor Joanne Musick also told KHOU television station that she sees the man’s actions as self defense, but wasn’t surprised that the case would be presented to a grand jury. She said it wouldn’t be the kind of case that a district attorney would take over the phone — or by reviewing the evidence and filing a charge.

“That means that it’s too close to call,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office said in an email Tuesday that the case “is somewhat unusual,” so prosecutors “thought it appropriate to present it to a grand jury as soon as possible to determine whether a criminal case is warranted.”

Houston police Detective Jeff Brieden told KHOU that it’s important to remember that even if someone is lawfully carrying a weapon, taking matters into one’s own hands can have consequences. For instance, he said, an innocent person could be hit as well.

“You’re accountable for each and every bullet that comes out of that gun,” Brieden said.

Thomas Nixon, an attorney and former police officer, told KPRC television station that the restaurant’s video of the shooting helps show that the customer’s actions were justifiable.

“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,” Nixon said. “He was reasonably in fear of serious bodily injury or death.”

Court records show that Washington and two others were arrested for an armed robbery in 2013 when a man was killed. Washington was convicted of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon in the case and received a sentence of 15 years in prison.

Washington served almost six years in prison before being released on parole in January 2021, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Last month, he was charged with assault of a family member, and accused of grabbing and scratching his girlfriend. At the time of the restaurant shooting, he had been released on bond.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.