Rapid City police are considering whether to charge a liquor store clerk who fired a warning shot into the air on Thursday night after thieves stole two bottles of vodka.
The clerk was tending Canyon Lake Liquors on Canyon Lake Drive around 8:30 p.m. when a man entered and reportedly stole the vodka. The man fled on foot with another man who appeared to be waiting outside the store.
The clerk gave chase with a handgun and fired a shot into the air when he reached the other side of the street. The suspects dropped one bottle but continued to run and were gone by the time police arrived.
Police Chief Steve Allender said Friday that although store proprietors have a legal right to use a firearm to defend themselves in the event of a life-threatening confrontation, The clerk was never threatened by the thieves and he may be charged for recklessly discharging a firearm within city limits.
"It was not a shot that was fired in self-defense, and we have compiled the facts on this case," he said.
Allender said that his department would forward its information to the office of the State's Attorney to decide whether to prosecute. He expected a decision to be made next week.
Andy Schneider, owner of Canyon Lake Liquors, said Friday that he didn't wish to comment on the incident until he had talked to the police.
The clerk could be charged with violation of a city ordinance that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Alternatively, he could be charged under a state statute that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Speaking more generally, Allender said store owners and clerks need to think carefully before using a firearm at their place of business.
"That firearm is meant for protecting your own life and it's a heavy responsibility," he said. "Human beings are very emotional creatures and when you're scared or overloaded with the set of circumstances, not everyone is equipped to use expert judgment with a firearm."
[Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect the following correction:
A clerk at Canyon Lake Liquors fired a handgun into the air after a theft on Thursday night, according to police. Due to a reporter's error, a Journal article on Page A1 Saturday erroneously reported that store owner Andy Schneider fired the weapon. The newspaper apologizes for the error.]