Alan Colie won’t be spending Christmas behind bars, but in my opinion, the “gift” of his release given to him by a Virginia judge comes about eight months too late.
Colie was originally charged with discharging a firearm within a building, aggravated malicious wounding, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony after he shot YouTube “prankster” Tanner Cook at the Dulles Town Center mall in April, but a jury acquitted him of the last two charges after Colie argued that he acted in self-defense. Cook had aggressively approached Colie as the DoorDash driver was waiting to pick up a food order, repeatedly playing a recording on his phone while shoving it in Colie’s face. Colie tried to back away, telling Cook to stop and warning him that he would call the police, but Cook continued to move closer to Colie. That’s when Colie pulled out his legally owned and lawfully carried firearm and fired one shot at Cook.
Though the jury appears to have accepted Colie’s self-defense claim, they still convicted him of discharging a firearm in an occupied building; a finding that doesn’t make much sense from a legal perspective but is apparently allowed thanks because the Virginia statute in question doesn’t provide an affirmative defense when that firearm is discharged to protect life and limb. Colie’s attorney unsuccessfully argued that Colie should be freed at the time of the jury’s verdict in September, but the judge overseeing the case refused to allow Colie’s release before sentencing. That sentence was handed down this week, and Colie received time served after spending the past eight months in custody.
“It’s not someone carrying a firearm for a reason beyond self-protection,” defense attorney Adam Pouilliard told the judge during the sentencing hearing. “Alan Colie’s life has been ruined.”
The Commonwealth argued that Cook was never armed, never placed hands on Colie and never posed a threat. They stressed that just because Cook may not seem like a saint or his occupation makes him appear undesirable, that a conviction is warranted.
During the sentencing hearing, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Eden Holmes said Colie deserved the higher end of the sentencing guidelines because he opened fire in a busy mall with multiple customers around. Holmes said Cook’s injury to his abdomen and how quickly Colie pulled out his gun should be factors.
For the specific charge, the judge was weighing a sentence between one day and six months.
[Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Matthew] Snow stressed that since Colie was carrying a firearm, he needed to approach it with responsibility. He said he understood Colie’s actions, but it doesn’t make it legal. The judge also revoked Colie’s concealed carry permit.
His defense attorney is absolutely right. A jury of Colie’s peers may have determined that he committed a felony when he discharged his gun in the mall, but the only reason he did so was because he was in fear for his personal safety. It’s absurd to think that someone can act in lawful self-defense and still be convicted of a felony because they were targeted in a building and not, say, in the mall’s parking lot.
I’m glad that Colie will be spending the holidays as a free man, but he shouldn’t be a convicted felon or have lost his right to keep and bear arms. I hope he appeals his conviction, not only because I think he’s got a strong case, but because even if those appeals fail Colie could still apply for and receive an absolute pardon once his appeal process has been exhausted.
Going forward we also need to fix the flaw in the Virginia statute and make it explicitly clear that if you discharge a firearm in an occupied building in self-defense or defense of another, no crime has been committed. That’s going to be an uphill fight with Democrats now in control of both chambers of Virginia’s legislature, but it’s a fight worth having; not only for Colie’s sake, but for other Virginians who may face similar charges in the future.