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No Charges: Prosecutor Rules Fatal July 4 Shooting in Randle Was Self Defense

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

Five months after a man died of a gunshot wound to the head at a Randle campground July 4, the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office has formally concluded that the shooter acted in self-defense.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer sent a letter Tuesday to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office detective in charge of the case declining to file charges against John D. Arnold, 63, of Glenoma, who told detectives that he shot a man who fired multiple shots at him and his wife in their vehicle.

“I have reviewed the reports, statements, lab results and photographs,” Meyer wrote. “A thorough review makes it clear Mr. Arnold acted in self-defense.”

The victim of the shooting was identified by the Lewis County Coroner’s Office as Dusty Phelps, a 51-year-old transient. He died of a gunshot wound to the head.

The shooting was first reported at 7:14 p.m. July 4 at a campground near the intersection of Forest Road 2801 and Cispus Road. A trooper from the Washington State Patrol and a Morton Police Officer were the first to arrive.

Arnold and his wife told police they’d never met or seen Phelps before.

When he first spoke with Det. Gabriel Frase from the sheriff’s office that evening, Arnold said he and his wife went out to the campsite that evening and began hearing gunfire and bullets hitting trees.

“They thought this was dangerous and decided to speak with the person doing the shooting to express their concerns and tell him where he could go to safely shoot,” Frase wrote in his report.

The couple drove to the campsite where they believed the shooting was coming from. Arnold confronted Phelps about shooting unsafely, and Phelps allegedly walked toward them with a pistol in his hand. Arnold put his own pistol in his lap.

Arnold said Phelps walked up to the car and “immediately fired his handgun two times into the ground outside Arnold’s Dodge Durango and then pointed the pistol in the window at John (Arnold) and his wife,” Frase reported.

Arnold shoved Phelps’ hand away and fired one shot with his own gun, hitting Phelps in the head.

When Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Det. Michael Mohr arrived, he noted in his report seeing “a large amount of spent ammunition all throughout the camp and there was fresh wounds on several trees with actively running sap coming from them,” he said.

During the investigation, officers recovered a Ruger 9 mm handgun Phelps allegedly fired in the incident along with spent 9 mm casings and additional ammunition in the gun.

In Phelps’ vehicle, investigators collected a 20 gauge shotgun, a .30-30 rifle, an SKS rifle, an Archangel rifle and a Wolf rifle. Investigators also found a Sig Sauer 556 semi-automatic rifle with a bipod, flashlight and scope near a cooler full of ammunition.

Investigators noted finding among Phelps’ belongings numerous military style bags and clothing, including a military dress uniform with Phelps’ name on it and a gas mask.

Phelps’ campsite had clips of ammunition in several locations including loaded AR or M-16 style ammunition magazines.

The campsite also included a large, multi-room tent. A smaller tent appeared to be set aside for the dogs, according to reports from the sheriff’s office.

The words “Remember Ramadi” were written in dirt on the back window of Phelps’ SUV. Ramadi is a city in Iraq and the site of a 2006 battle in the Iraq War.

Officers also collected a second 9 mm Ruger belonging to Arnold, a .38 Ruger pistol from his wife and a 12 gauge shotgun from their SUV.

Five pit bull dogs were also found at Phelps’ camp.

Investigators also found a bullet hole in Arnold’s SUV, according to police reports, and damage in the door indicating Phelps shot a round inside the vehicle during the altercation.