Fresno store owner acted in self-defense when he killed 2 robbery suspects, police say

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno police believe the smoke shop owner who killed two of three robbers at his store did everything under the law.

Late Friday night, just minutes before closing, the Smoke N Vape shop clerk saw a nightmare walk in.

"Three suspects, all wearing dark clothing and hoodies and masked up with masks or cloth type material, had entered the location to rob it and at least one of those suspects was armed with a handgun," said Lt. Larry Bowlan.

Three masked suspects burst in. Only one of them got away.

Fresno police say the man with the gun pointed it at the clerk and held him on the ground at gunpoint, while the other two robbers stole cash and merchandise.

But just as they wrapped up, the store's owner came back.

"Did not see his store clerk, was concerned for his safety," Lt. Bowlan said. "At that time, he then retrieved a firearm which is owned by him and legally possessed."

Investigators believe the robbers shot first and the store owner shot back in self-defense.

"We did recover shell casings out there and all indications are they are not just the store owner's," Lt. Bowlan said. "They do belong to at least one other weapon."

22-year-old Chris Casas and 18-year-old Jesus Gonzalez died in the gunfight. The third suspect ran away.

Police aren't sure if they had any other accomplices, but investigators believe the robbers committed at least one prior robbery.

"It was the same instance where a clerk was working inside," Lt. Bowlan said. "Three suspects entered, covering their hands, face, and head areas and they proceeded to rob the location at gunpoint."

The clerk at the first store told Action News the suspects put the gun to his head and kept him from looking while they pillaged the place.

And he said police told him to get a gun so he could do what the Smoke N Vape store owner did about a week later.

"Based on the evidence located at the scene, it has been determined the suspects did fire at that store owner and he then returned fire with his own handgun, striking two of the three suspects, for sure," said Lt. Bowlan. "The reality of it is if you're being shot at, you have a right in this state to defend yourself."

But the shooting might still haunt the business.

A memorial of candles and beer bottles sits right at the door and the robbers' friends invoked the name of a street gang and used foul, threatening language in graffiti on the windows.

Crowds of people seem to watch the store, as evidenced by a call from police dispatch Sunday night.

"Disturbance at the smoke and vape shop, Blackstone and Cambridge," said the dispatcher. "Ten subjects outside harassing the employees."

"We are making the store owner aware if there does appear for him or his employees to be any type of retaliation," Lt. Bowlan said.

Police are patrolling the area frequently and they say the prior robbery could also act as evidence supporting an arrest under the felony murder rule when investigators find the third suspect.

Whether he was armed or not, if he participated in one robbery and saw a gun to a man's head, prosecutors could decide to charge him with murder for the deaths of his friends in the second robbery as a "major participant" in the violent felony leading to their deaths.
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