Prosecutors announced Shalom Luani will not be charged with assault because they can't prove that he was not acting in self-defense.
Washington State safety Shalom Luani will not be charged with assault, Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy announced Monday afternoon.
Tracy’s decision went against the recommendation the Pullman Police Department made after it concluded its investigation into the Aug. 24 incident, in which Luani, a WSU senior, was accused of breaking a man’s nose outside a Domino’s Pizza in Pullman.
The victim, a man named Kyle Medina, was named in a letter Tracy wrote and released to the press on Monday, announcing his decision.
In his letter, Tracy wrote that there was enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Luani hit Medina once, with a fist to the nose.
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However, Tracy noted, “in order to prove that a criminal assault happened, the prosecutor must not only prove that the suspect hit someone, but the prosecutor must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect was not acting in self defense.”
“In this case, it is my view that no reasonable jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Luani was not acting in self defense,” Tracy wrote.
Based on the Pullman Police Department case narrative obtained by The Seattle Times, in the early-morning hours of Aug. 24, Luani became impatient after waiting two hours for his order at the Domino’s Pizza on 845 N.E. Monroe St. in Pullman.
The pizza place was understaffed that night and very crowded, witnesses observed. Luani aggressively complained that his pizza was taking too long, agitating several people in the crowded lobby, who told him to leave.
According to police, the surveillance video from inside the Domino’s Pizza showed Luani “getting pushed toward the door by several males and Luani pushing away an arm from one of the males.”
Medina appeared to put his left hand on Luani’s shirt to “guide him outside” and Luani responded by palming Medina on his chin, forcing his head back.
Luani then left the store, but Medina went outside “like he was going after Luani” and four other males followed them out of the restaurant, police said.
What happened outside the restaurant is less clear because police did not have video footage to verify anyone’s account. But the evidence shows that Medina was punched in the face and suffered a broken nose and a chipped tooth, and Luani suffered scrapes on his face and head and a bruise around his eye, and also sustained a concussion.
According to the police narrative, former WSU football player Kyrin Priester happened to walk by when the fight broke out in front of Domino’s Pizza. Priester told police that he saw Luani being “pushed around” by six or seven men, and went to his former teammate’s aid.
Priester said he picked Luani off the ground and pushed several people off the player. Priester also told detectives that he saw Luani get shoved to the ground and had his head pushed into an SUV. The former WSU receiver later broke up the fight and then called a member of the football staff. WSU’s Assistant Athletic Director of Football Operations Antonio Huffman eventually arrived at the scene and spoke to police.
The police narrative yielded details to the case beyond what Pullman Police commander Chris Tennant originally told reporters: that Luani got belligerent in the pizza place because he was upset his pizza order was taking too long, and he shoved the victim’s head into the door on his way out of the restaurant, before punching the victim once outside.
But days after the incident occurred, WSU football coach Mike Leach told reporters he had reason to believe that Luani had been “jumped” by at least six men.
The overall police investigation appeared to corroborate Leach’s assertion that Luani was ambushed outside the restaurant. It also showed that Luani might have been physically pushed out of the restaurant and then pursued by several people.
Two weeks ago, Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins said Luani told the police at the scene of the alleged crime that he was jumped by six men. Luani claimed he was acting in self-defense and said that his attackers left him with a concussion.
Jenkins also said in that interview that even though police did talk to one person at the scene who corroborated Luani’s version of events, that person declined to provide a name, and the police never found this person again.
This person is described in the police narrative as a “Middle Eastern male” who claimed he was an impartial observer but who declined to identify himself, saying only that he “doesn’t like the Pullman Police because they haven’t been fair to him.”
Tracy said he did not consider that unnamed witness’ statement in making his decision to not file charges against Luani.
“No reasonable jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Luani wasn’t acting in self-defense,” Tracy said. “Starting inside the pizza place, it was Mr. Medina who began the physical touching, although Mr. Luani overreacted in terms of pushing Mr. Medina back.
“At that point, nobody was hurt, but Mr. Luani was leaving. Mr. Medina though, had been pushed, and he followed Mr. Luani, in – using the words of witnesses – ‘an aggressive manner’ and in the words of one witness, he ‘chased after Mr. Luani.’”
Thereafter, several other men followed Medina out of the restaurant and both Luani and Medina suffered some injuries in the fight that ensued.
“Since I cannot prove that Mr. Luani was not acting in self-defense. I cannot prove that he committed a criminal assault,” Tracy wrote in his letter declining to charge Luani.
Tracy concluded that Medina and Luani were both the victims of minor assaults, but that each has requested that no charges be filed against the other.
Leach said Monday that he had no comment on Tracy’s decision to not charge his player, but added, “I’m just rooting for justice to happen on all fronts.”
In a statement Monday afternoon, WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos said he was “pleased” that the prosecuting attorney’s office “came to the same conclusion as we did.”
“I believe this illustrates the stance we have taken from the beginning which is to handle such matters internally, not speak in great detail, until the legal process has played out,” Moos said. “Though we choose to reserve comment on such instances, we continue to cooperate with law enforcement, and assume innocent until proven guilty.
“We will continue to educate our student-athletes on representing our fine university in a positive manner and also emphasize they remove themselves from situations that have the potential to impact them and the university negatively.”
Medina did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Monday afternoon, and a phone message left for Luani’s attorney, John Hart, was not immediately returned.