Monday, December 31, 2007

An Interesting and Unfortunate Case

You should always, always be sure before using deadly force. Here's a case that at first appeared to be a clear-cut use of deadly force against a burglar:

Memphis, Tennessee

From WREG of December 28, 2007
Man Shoots And Kills Burglary Suspect

"It's so bad around here and i'm just afraid for my safety," says one woman we spoke to as she stepped outside of her apartment and saw crime scene investigators. Police were combing her neighbor's apartment following an alleged burglary attempt that ended in gunfire. Rhonda, who didn't want to give us her last name or show her face on camera, says crime at the Camelot Apartments has driven her to leave.

"I was already in the process of making preparations to move, but this has done it. This has given me the right to make the decision to just leave here," Rhonda says. A little before 5:00 this morning, a woman returned home and caught who she thought to be a burglar in the act.

Lt. Tony Armstrong, a homicide detective with the Memphis Police Department, says, "The victim called her boyfriend. Her boyfriend came over and investigated, found him inside the house and shot him multiple times."

Medics took the suspect to the hospital where he later died. Police spent several hours later combing the apartment for more evidence. We're told the man who shot the suspect did have a state gun carry permit. It's likely the man who shot the intruder will not face any charges. Neighbors like Rhonda agree with that decision.

"People work too hard to make a living for someone to just come in and take things, your personal items or to invade your apartment like that. I think it was justifiable," she adds.
However, further investigation revealed that it was not what it first appeared:
From MyEyewitnessNews of December 30, 2007
Southeast Memphis Shooting: Woman Charged

On Sunday, December 30, 2007, we have new information on a deadly shooting at the Camelot Manor apartments in Southeast Memphis.

Memphis police have charged a woman who lived at the apartment in connection with the shooting.

22 year-old Asa Marmon was shot and killed in Antionita Clay's apartment by her boyfriend after she told her boyfriend Marmon was a burglar.

Memphis police say Antionita Clay knew it was Marmon inside her apartment before she called her boyfriend and police about a burglar.

Police say that Clay and Marmon had a prior relationship and she wanted to end it.

Clay is charged with false reporting and reckless homicide.
The boyfriend didn't do anything illegal (although I would not be surprised to see him sued by the next of kin). He operated based on what Clay told him, and there was nothing particularly implausible about the claim or the circumstances. It is rather like this case, where a man found his wife in the front seat of a pickup truck. She screamed rape, and the man fired at the fleeing rapist. But it turned out that the relationship was consensual, and the wife made the false claim to hide her adultery. The wife was indicted; the husband was legally not at fault.

When my wife and I took concealed weapons class in California, the deputy sheriff who taught the class showed us a videotape that showed a number of situations where at first glance, you know who the criminal is, and who the victim is--and where it turned out to be not the way it first appeared. It is very important when you make that very serious decision to draw and fire that you are completely certain--or as completely certain as the circumstances allow--who the bad guy is.

I encourage you to think through the different scenarios now, while you are calm, and not in fear. A person dressed all in black comes into the mall carrying a rifle? Look carefully to make sure that it isn't someone from a police SWAT, who tend to dress in ways designed to make them less visible. Waiting until the person has opened fire on someone who is clearly not a threat is probably wise.

You walk onto a situation where a man and a woman are engaged in some confrontation, and the man is holding a gun or a knife? Very likely, she's the victim--but this is by no means certain.

Waiting until the last possible moment to use deadly force is both morally right, and puts you in a much better legal position with respect to both criminal and civil liability.

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