Accused gunman to defend himself

A South Whidbey man charged with seven criminal counts after pulling a pellet gun at a Freeland convenience store in September will defend himself in court.

On Oct. 4, Curtis Leonard was formally charged by the Island County Prosecutors Office with two counts of burglary with a deadly weapons enhancement, three counts of assault with a deadly weapons enhancement, and two counts of malicious mischief for his involvement in a holdup scare at a Freeland Shell convenience store on Sept. 14.

In an interview at the Island County Jail last Thursday, Leonard admitted pulling a pellet pistol from his pants and threatening the store manager. But he said the incident was not a holdup, but rather a protest spun out of control. This is something he will tell a jury on Nov. 4, when he acts as his own defense attorney in Island County Superior Court.

Having dismissed his court-appointed attorney, Leonard spoke freely last week about the incident that got him locked into jail, where he remains until trial or until he comes up with a $250,000 bond. Describing himself as an activist with the South Whidbey group Sound Citizens, Leonard said he visited the convenience store twice on Sept. 14. The first time, he asserted to the store manager that the store had been built on a wetland, and asked the man how he could in good conscience work at the store.

Leonard left the store without incident, but returned several hours later after attending a barbecue. He said he did have “a couple” drinks at the event and, at some point, slipped the pellet gun in his pants. He said he went back to the convenience store to purchase cigarettes.

From there, Leonard’s story closely resembles that compiled by Island County Sheriff’s investigators. He shared his opinion of the store with a woman patron, then approached the service counter, where he spoke to the store manager, Colin Armstrong, again. This time, according to a sheriff’s report on the incident, he allegedly punched Armstrong in the chest. Shortly thereafter, Armstrong pulled a baseball bat from behind the counter and told Leonard to leave.

It was then, Leonard said, that he pulled his pellet gun out — to defend himself. He said he had not intention of firing the weapon, which is generally considered to be non-lethal.

“I was pretty upset,” he said.

Leonard claims he did not steal anything during the confrontation and resents a newspaper account referring to the incident as a “burglary scare.” Yet, according to both Leonard and the sheriff’s office, he did throw a $6,000 cash register on the floor and wound up walking out of the store with an 18-pack of beer. He later dropped the beer in the store parking lot.

Though he claims that he waited for sheriff’s deputies to arrive, Leonard was combative after is arrest. After kicking at the interior of the patrol car into which he was placed, he was “hobbled,” meaning his ankles were tied together with a nylon rope that meets law enforcement standards.

Leonard claims that since his arrest he has been treated poorly at the Island County Jail and that his constitutional rights have been violated. He said he will bring all this out in court.

If he is convicted on the counts with which he has been charged, Leonard could spend several years in prison. According to Leslie Tidbull, the attorney in charge of the prosecution, Leonard also has a criminal history that could call for an even longer sentence.

Prior to his arrest, Leonard had participated in Sound Citizens’ opposition to the proposed homeporting of a national missile defense radar installation in Everett. Though in jail at the moment due in part to his activist convictions, Leonard made it clear last week that he will always be ready to fight for health of his neighbors and of the environment.

“These so-called activists, they want to change the world by changing their bumper stickers,” he said.

Prior to his trial, Leonard will participate in an Oct. 24 readiness hearing.

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