Jamie Lee Chaffin, the mother of the 9-year-old boy who pleaded guilty last week in connection with the Feb. 22 Bremerton school shooting, was charged today with third-degree assault. Prosecutors also filed the same charge against Chaffin’s boyfriend, Douglas L. Bauer.
Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge said he reviewed the evidence — the agony suffered by 8-year-old Amina Kocer-Bowman after she was shot in her East Bremerton classroom and the fact that the boy easily obtained a loaded gun from his mother’s home — and came to the conclusion that a traditional charge of reckless endangerment did not carry a sufficient penalty.
Police said Chaffin’s son obtained the .45-caliber handgun during a trip to his mother’s home. The handgun, which was in the boy’s backpack, accidentally discharged at Armin Jahr Elementary School, and the bullet struck Amina, who remains hospitalized.
Chaffin’s son pleaded guilty in juvenile court last week to reckless endangerment, unlawful possession of a firearm and bringing a weapon to school. In exchange for a sentence of probation, the boy has agreed to testify against his mother and her boyfriend, authorities said.
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State law on the issue of criminal responsibility in cases in which a child shoots someone else after obtaining an adult’s firearm is vague. Some prosecutors, including Hauge, have relied on the broad reckless endangerment statute, which according to state law, involves a person recklessly engaging in conduct which “creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to a person.”
But in the case of Chaffin and Bauer, a charge of reckless endangerment, a gross misdemeanor that could result in up to a year in jail, was just not severe enough, Hauge said.
If convicted of third-degree assault, a class C felony, the two could each face up to five years in prison. According to state law, a person could be found guilty of third-degree assault if with “criminal negligence,” they cause “bodily harm to another person by means of a weapon or other instrument or thing likely to produce bodily harm.”
“The adults have the responsibility for the firearm,” Hauge said.
The shooting at Armin Jahr Elementary School effectively “ammounted to giving the firearm to the young boy,” Hauge said. “It was no different than if they said to him ‘here put this [gun] in your backpack,’ ” Hauge said.
Chaffin and Bauer are scheduled to be arraigned later this week.