Relatives of the humane society volunteer shot and killed by a hiker on a remote trailhead May 11 are asking how Coconino County Sheriff's detectives have concluded self-defense.
Coconino County Attorney Terry Hance told the Roundup that the detective's assessment of self-defense was "terribly premature".
Grant Kuenzli, 43, was shot three times in the chest by a hiker who said he was under attack by the man and the three dogs that were with him.
The dogs, which were not on leashes, ran up to Harold Fish, 57, of Glendale, as he was finishing a 10-mile hike.
Fish, who was carrying a 10mm semi-automatic handgun, fired a warning shot at the ground in front of the dogs. According to lead detective Scott Feagan, Fish said he looked up to see Kuenzli running at him, then fired three shots into his chest.
Kuenzli's sister, Linda Kuenzli-Almeter of Fowler, Ill., said she wants to know why Feagan is so confident it was self-defense even though her brother was unarmed and shot three times in the chest.
"It doesn't make sense," Kuenzli-Almeter said. "If (Fish) was able to fire a warning shot at the ground, couldn't he have shot Grant in the foot or leg? He was shooting with the intent to kill him. He had the presence of mind to decide not to shoot the dogs. Why did he then decide to shoot my brother point blank in the chest?"
In an interview with The Arizona Republic earlier this week, Fish said "He was on top of me. I couldn't get away. He had this look in his eyes ... He was punching at me."
Kuenzli's sister as well as his friends in Payson, say he was not the type of person to fly into the violent rage his shooter portrays.
Teresa Emig worked with Kuenzli at the Grand Canyon Fire and Safety Department for four years.
"He was a kind gentle soul and a good man. He liked reading poetry. He was interested in history. He was a safety officer, an EMT and a firefighter," Emig said. "I cannot imagine he would be a threat to anyone -- that is beyond comprehension."
One of Kuenzli's close friends in Payson, John McCauley, started a petition this week to submit to the Coconino County Attorney's Office in the hopes that charges will be filed against Fish.
"Mr. Fish probably never intended to kill Mr. Kuenzli," the petition reads, "however, it is our belief that he overreacted and that his ultimate act is unjustifiable."
Within 24 hours after posting the petition, McCauley said there were more than 50 signatures.
"It just shows how many people Grant touched since he moved here in January," McCauley said. "The sheriff's office has made him out to be an indigent and that offends me. Grant was an animal lover, an outdoorsman, a firefighter and incapable of attacking someone. I am very upset that someone took his life."
Kuenzli-Almeter said she believes the physical evidence of an attack is weak and the gunshot wounds on her brother as well the fact that Fish suffered no injuries, contradict his claims of being "punched at" by Kuenzli and attacked by the dogs.
"We were told by the detective that the first shot went directly into Grant's chest from seven feet away," Kuenzli-Almeter said. "The second shot skimmed his forearm and went into his chest. The third shot was fired from eight inches away and went through his ring finger, then thumb, and into his chest. And if the dogs were attacking him, why didn't he shoot them?"
Kuenzli-Almeter has tried to get some answers from Fish.
"I just want to talk to Mr. Fish and ask him what happened," Kuenzli-Almeter said. "So far, he has refused to call me."
"I don't find total fault with Mr. Fish, but I believe he reacted in a very poor way," McCauley said. "This is not the slam-dunk case the detective gave me the impression it was."
"We take objection to (Feagan) saying it's a clear-cut case of self-defense," Gil Fredericks, president of Friends of the Payson Humane Society, said. "We don't see it that way. (Feagan) says it's cut and dried and it sure doesn't look like it to most people I've talked to."
Feagan said that evidence gathered at the scene, as well as documentation on Kuenzli and the dogs, will lead the grand jury to conclude self-defense.
"They will look at the totality of the circumstances," Feagan said.
Hance said Feagan can think what he wants, but it doesn't represent the opinion of the county attorney.
When the county attorney's office receives the report from the sheriff's detectives, they will see if there is sufficient evidence to charge a crime, Hance said. If they find there is, the case will go to either a grand jury or there will be an open, preliminary hearing to see if there is probable cause to bring criminal charges against Fish.
"This is a case where an unarmed person is shot in the chest three times," Hance said. "There's going to have to be some pretty fancy facts and talking to get around the fact that an unarmed man was killed. Our office is going to take a very hard look at the facts."
According to Feagan, an attorney from Hance's office was called to the scene shortly after the shooting and also concluded self-defense.
"He was there strictly to advise on legal aspects of evidence gathering, not to form an opinion of whether or not charges should be filed," Hance said.
"There is clearly the possibility that the shooter thought it was self-defense. That doesn't mean it was legally self-defense.
"Deadly force is not available as a resort for self-protection unless it appears that a reasonable person is responding to deadly force."
Hance said he has received more calls and e-mails on this case than any similar case he can remember.
"We don't want to turn it into a mob mentality," Hance said. "I appreciate people's concerns, but whatever decision we make has to be based on the facts rather than the community sentiment."
"If one thing is to come out of this," McCauley said, "my hope is that people who subscribe to the second amendment -- which I do -- also have to adhere to the law. They can't be vigilantes. If they pull that trigger and injure or kill someone, they have to pay the consequences."