By Lee Hughes
Staff reporter 

Footprints in snow lead to Medical Lake prowler arrest


Last updated 1/23/2020 at 2:58pm

MEDICAL LAKE — A Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy arrested an alleged vehicle prowler after backtracking the man’s footprints in the snow early Monday morning, Jan. 13.

Deputy Garrett Spencer was on patrol when he stopped a man walking in the road just after 4 a.m. near South Broad and East Grace streets in a heavy snowstorm.

The man, Joseph Blaine Thornton, was wearing clothing “not appropriate for the snow and 24-degree weather,” according to the police report.

When questioned, Thornton said he had been locked out of a friend’s house.

Calling dispatch, Spencer learned that Thornton had an extensive criminal history that included convictions for vehicle prowling and other felonies, according to Sheriff’s spokesman Cpl. Mark Gregory.

Lacking any outstanding warrants or other probable cause, however, Spencer was unable to detain Thornton and released him.

Due to the recent rash of vehicle prowls in Medical Lake, and a suspicion that Thornton may have been prowling vehicles, Spencer asked Deputy Christopher Gunter to keep an eye on Thornton and began following Thornton’s singular and obvious tracks in the snow and was able to backtrack about half a mile to the Silver Lake Apartments on the 900 block of East Campbell Street before the snow and other footprints obscured Thornton’s tracks.

In between, Thornton’s tracks deviated from the road or sidewalk where he had been walking and went to the doors of eight different vehicles. The tracks approached each on the side that was “most shielded from view of the residence,” the report stated, and each door handle next to the footprints didn’t have the accumulation of snow on them as adjacent handles did, as if someone had tried to open the door.

Spencer radioed the Gunter, who detained Thornton near East Ladd and North Washington streets. When he arrived and confronted Thornton about his findings the police report stated he “simply shook his head” in response.

Spencer was able to contact the owners of the one of the vehicles prowled, who stated they didn’t know Thornton and that he did not have permission to be on the property, adding that they had also been victims of the recent spat of vehicle prowls.

Thornton was arrested for second-degree criminal trespass and attempted vehicle prowling.

According to the report, Thornton replied at the time that it didn’t matter because he would “get out tomorrow because this is Spokane,” and while being transported Thornton stated, “Screw the judge,” when Spencer was speaking on the radio to another deputy.

The following Friday, January 17, Spencer responded to a call at the Petro Station on Aero Road near the Interstate 90, Medical Lake interchange for a report of a man asleep in the television room with needles in his pocket, according to a Sheriff’s Office press release.

When Spencer arrived he realized the man was Thornton, who now had an outstanding Cheney Municipal Court warrant for second degree vehicle prowling.

When Spencer began to placing Thornton in handcuffs he started yelling vulgar and derogatory comments toward a female employee.

At the employee’s request, Thornton was told he was trespassed from the location, and would be arrested if he returned. 

Thornton was booked into the Spokane County Jail for the warrant, and remains in custody.

Lee Hughes can be reached at


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