A man accused of a shootout that caused a natural gas leak in Central Tacoma last year has been sentenced to a lengthy prison term.
Dean Michael O’Neal was convicted of three counts of first-degree assault and one count of unlawful gun possession when a jury found him guilty at the end of June.
The 25-year-old was back in court last week to be sentenced.
Superior Court Judge Garold Johnson gave him 28 years, six months in prison for the shooting, which happened at a gasoline station.
Customers ducked to avoid the bullets, and a natural gas meter at a nearby house was hit. That caused a leak that resulted in natural-gas service being shut off in the area.
Deputy prosecutor Jesse Williams gave this account of the shooting in his memo to the court ahead of sentencing:
On. Aug. 24, 2016, O’Neal confronted others about which gang they were in and then followed the group as they drove to the gas station in the 1000 block of South Sprague Avenue.
A woman in the backseat of the other car shouted an insult, O’Neal fired, and the other vehicle shot back.
The shots were fired in a busy area, and some bullets traveled toward nearby homes, Williams said.
“The defendant intended to hit people in that car, indifferent to whether they lived or died,” he wrote. “It is remarkable that no one was killed or seriously maimed by the events the defendant senselessly put into motion. It certainly was not for a lack of trying on his part.”
Williams also wrote that O’Neal has prior convictions for four felonies, including assault and robbery, and 14 misdemeanors.
The deputy prosecutor emphasized that the shooting was gang-related, pointing out that a photo from that night shows O’Neal making a gang sign.
Defense attorney Robert Quillian argued in his own memo to the court that there was no hard evidence the shooting had anything to do with gangs.
Quillian argued a 10-year sentence would be appropriate.
“While the jury rejected the defendant’s claim of acting in self-defense, it is clear that there was some sort of provocation from the other vehicle,” Quillian wrote.
O’Neal’s parents also asked the court for leniency for their son.
His mother, Amy O’Neal, wrote the judge to ask him to consider that no one was hurt in shooting and to point out that her son had been injured in an attack seven months prior that put him in a coma for a week.
“What I am asking is that you take everything into consideration and distribute a fair sentence,” she wrote. “One he doesn’t pay with his entire life.”