Everett, Washington - A man who stepped in to protect a woman involved in a domestic disturbance with her boyfriend was stabbed to death when the boyfriend turned on him witnesses and police said.
Defense of Others: Uncertainty Risk
You are driving and you turn a corner in a parking lot to find two men wrestling with a woman who is screaming that she is being abducted and raped. Could you use force or deadly force to stop a rape or abduction? In many (most?) states the answer is a qualified yes.* As you jump out of your car, pistol in hand, do you really know what you’re getting yourself into?
What if you have just threatened the use of deadly force against two undercover police officers making a lawful arrest? Was your perception reasonable? What if the two cops testify they’d identified themselves and indeed they had, but in the stress of the moment you just didn’t hear them?
An apparent victim is not necessarily a victim. A man
attacking a uniformed police officer in the middle of the highway is quite obvious as to what is actually happening. Other situations are not so obvious. The greatest danger lies in the ambiguous, confusing events where you cannot determine with certainty the nature of the situation and the participant’s identities.
What is actually happening? You must answer this question quickly and accurately if you are considering intervention. If you are not directly involved in the altercation or incident, is it worth stepping into an uncertain fight with unknown people? Your financial future, freedom, and life may literally depend on this answer.
Let’s assume that your perception of the danger to the other person was reasonable. You see a woman struggling against a man dragging her into a vehicle. In fact, it’s her abusive, estranged husband literally abducting her off the street so he can give her another beat down or worse. You come to her rescue using deadly force. Hero! Right? Perhaps not in the eyes of a jury.
Will the victim you rescued relate those facts truthfully when she realizes her child’s father is facing arrest, conviction, possible imprisonment? No more child support. Or will she say that she really wasn’t in danger until you intervened and escalated the situation; that your intervention was not only unreasonable, but actually put her in more danger. If the person you “rescued” believes your use of force was unreasonable, why should a jury believe otherwise? Be very cautious about coming to the defense of others, especially strangers.
Although many of us would like to be Good Samaritans, you do not want to die trying to help someone else. A more prudent course of action might be calling 911 and being a good witness until help arrives.
The most critical information for a successful 911 call is KNOW WHERE YOU ARE! The 911 operator cannot send help if you cannot tell them where you are located that this means an address, mile marker, or key intersection. Telling the 911 operator that you are in a parking lot is not useful. I’m in the Walmart parking lot at Interstate 35 and FM 3009 is useful.
Tell the 911 operator what is happening in simple terms. If you are witnessing a robbery just say so in plain English. The faster that you tell the 911 operator what is happening, the faster they can dispatch the proper response. Volunteer information without waiting for the 911 operator to ask.
If possible, record the license plate numbers, good descriptions of those involved, and other relevant details. Don't trust your memory; write it down or record it with your cell phone. You can also use your cell phone to take photos or videos of the incident—again caution is in order. If the perpetrator sees you recording him, he may turn his attention on you next. If staying to observe the incident puts you in danger, leave! Use common sense, don’t stand around gawking at what’s happening if doing so puts you in danger.
We can all imagine witnessing an attack so monstrous that we just could not stand by and let it continue. Although you have a license to carry a pistol and are carrying your pistol, you could be assaulted so quickly that you could not react. If the situation is such that you believe you must intervene before police arrive, think of your own safety first. Can you confront the individual from a position of cover? Are there obstacles between you and the individual that will inhibit him from getting close to you? What if the assailant simply ignores your commands and continues the assault? Are you prepared to deal with these possibilities?
Your decision to get involved and try to stop a crime in progress is entirely up to you. Maintain situational awareness and make the best decisions that you can based on your training and experience. Remember however, that you will deal with all the consequences of your actions. The time to think about these potential scenarios is before you find yourself witnessing a crime unfolding in front of you.
*In Texas for example, an individual is justified in using force or deadly force against another to protect a third person if in the exact same circumstance, the individual would be justified in using force or deadly force to protect themselves against another’s use of unlawful force or unlawful deadly force--AND the individual reasonably believes that their intervention is immediately necessary to protect the third person.
In many states, use of deadly force is also authorized to prevent a forcible felony and sexual assault; however, the laws in your state may not. Note: I am not a lawyer. This is information, not legal advice. I provide the information on this website as a public service. Sometimes the laws change and I cannot promise that this information is always up-to-date and correct and the laws in your state may be entirely different. If you need legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.