Friday, July 01, 2022
72.0°F

Man denies charges stemming from alleged pharmacy holdup

by DERRICK PERKINS
Hagadone News Network | May 20, 2022 12:00 AM

The man accused of knocking over a Columbia Falls pharmacy last month pleaded not guilty to multiple charges in district court Thursday and will remain in custody on a $250,000 bond after Judge Robert Allison denied a bail reduction request.

Grant Alan West, 38, of Columbia Falls faces felony charges of robbery, aggravated kidnapping and criminal possession of dangerous drugs in Flathead County District Court. He also is accused in U.S. District Court of committing what’s known as a Hobbs Act robbery during the April 13 holdup.

West, who used a walker to get to the defendant’s table during Thursday’s arraignment, sought extra time to prepare for his case. His attorney, Timothy Wenz, said they wanted to see how the federal indictment shook out.

According to court documents, West entered a Ninth Street West pharmacy as employees were preparing to close the business for the day. Carrying a tote bag and firearm, West allegedly lowered the gun at the employees and asked for Percocet, an opioid containing oxycodone.

During the alleged holdup, West shepherded the store employees into a bathroom. They waited there for a few minutes, according to court documents, before calling out. Hearing no reply, they exited the restroom and found the store otherwise empty. A 100 count bottle of oxycodone-acetaminophen was listed as taken in court documents.

When local law enforcement arrived, employees gave them a suspect description. But they also named West directly, identifying him as a past customer of the pharmacy, court documents said.

Authorities caught up with West at a Braig Road home in Columbia Falls. Inside, they found a tote bag, gun and several oxycodone-acetaminophen pills, according to court documents. The FBI worked alongside the Columbia Falls Police Department in investigating the case.

An omnibus hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 2 with a pretrial conference to follow on Nov. 16.

IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING Thursday’s arraignment, Wenz sought to have West’s $250,000 bond reduced. Initially released from the Flathead Detention Center on bail in late April, prosecutors allege that West walked into a Kalispell pawn shop on May 9 seeking a handgun.

A copy of the ATF firearm transaction form, allegedly filled out by West, is included in the court documents for the case. According to the form, West sought a .22 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver. The box asking potential buyers to declare whether they face felony charges or under indictment is marked “no.”

Standing before Allison, Wenz deemed the situation as resulting from a series of simple mistakes. He told the court that the weapon belonged to West’s grandfather. The 38-year-old hocked the firearm earlier and hoped to get it back to his mother, Wenz said.

West had no intention of taking possession of the gun, but was told by pawnshop employees that his presence was required to get the firearm back. Allegedly told there was a five-day waiting period, West planned to return with either his mother or a law enforcement officer and have them take possession of the revolver, Wenz said.

The defense attorney said West also tried to contact the officer overseeing his pretrial supervision in federal court, but received no answer.

“This is all a big misunderstanding,” he said.

THE STATE “vehemently” opposed a reduction in bond, said Deputy County Attorney John Donovan when his turn came. He noted that West is accused of wielding a firearm in the pharmacy robbery.

West knew he could not possess a gun, Donovan said, and lied on the form to get one.

“He was aware of these charges,” Donovan told the court.

The prosecutor pointed out that on the video recording of West’s encounter with the pawn shop employees he was the only one at the counter. His mother was not there, Donovan said.

“I don’t believe there is any misunderstanding in these matters,” he said, describing West as posing a danger to the community.

In response, Wenz reiterated the instructions West allegedly received from the pawn shop employees to retrieve the handgun.

But Allison similarly expressed skepticism at that version of events, emphasizing that West had checked the box indicating it was he who was trying to get the gun. He could have noted that he was not the transferee or purchaser on the paperwork, Allison said.

He also disputed the notion of a five-day waiting period and the idea that West could front the money for a gun, drawing similarities to what’s known as a straw purchase.

“It’s very alarming, given the nature of the offense … that one of the first orders of business upon release is to try to retain, pick up, obtain possession of a firearm,” said Allison as he denied the request.

West trying to get a gun from a pawn shop was “the height of bad judgment,” he said.

News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or dperkins@dailyinterlake.com.

photo

Grant Alan West makes his way to the defendant's table in Flathead District Court on Thursday, May 19, 2022. He was arraigned on felony charges of aggravated kidnapping, robbery and criminal possession of dangerous drugs. (Derrick Perkins/Daily Inter Lake)

Recent Headlines