Saturday, May 12, 2018

Thugs at the Door: The Murder of Pedro Cain

Pedro "Pete" Cain
Pedro “Pete” Cain was killed when he was trying to stop a robbery. Cain was socializing with some neighbors at his apartment building when two women, Ashanta Parker and Felicia Ries came to the neighbor’s apartment and asked to use someone’s phone. The group told the women they didn’t have one they could use. Cain who correctly suspected the women might be casing the place, ran to his apartment, retrieved his loaded handgun, and returned to his neighbor’s apartment.

Parker and Ries told their companions Kevin Hill; David Barrington; and Russell Barrington (17 years old at the time), that there were four people in the apartment where Cain was located.  Kevin Hill who was armed with a pistol went to the apartment’s back door and knocked while Parker and Ries returned to the front of the apartment. Witnesses said Cain answered his neighbor’s door, saw Hill with a firearm and pointed his pistol at Hill. Cain commanded Hill to drop his pistol and Hill apologized and seemed to comply, slowly lowering it, but then he jerked up and fired, hitting Cain in the stomach. A medical examiner stated that Hill’s bullet struck Cain’s left upper abdomen hitting his stomach, small intestine and abdominal aorta causing his death.

The Thugs
As Pete Cain lay dying, Ries, the Barrington brothers, and Hill took off, leaving Parker at the scene.  Police officers caught Parker nearby a short time later with a letter in her purse that she never delivered. It said: “What goes around comes back around Broke Ugly Bitch.” It was signed “Karma.” Parker said the robbery was for revenge because she suspected that an occupant of the neighbor’s apartment had stolen her cell phone as well as some shoes from Ries. Shoes and a cell phone.

We can learn a few lessons from this incident.  The first and perhaps most obvious is that if you think a bad guy is on the other side of a locked door—don’t open it. Call the police (that’s what they get paid for), take cover, and wait.  If the bad guy somehow gets through the door, in most states you can engage the home invader from solid legal ground.  See below.

If someone other than a law enforcement officer is pointing a firearm at you or another innocent party, that is a threat of unlawful deadly force. The law generally permits a private citizen to use equal force in that circumstance/situation without verbal warning (check your local laws).

Trying to hold an armed individual at gunpoint is extremely dangerous.  At least for the moment, the thug knows that you have decided not to shoot—otherwise you would have already fired. That gives him the advantage of being able to plan an immediate response to your inaction. If you are in the open and in close proximity, the thug has a clear (if fleeting) time advantage. 

Your ability to react to the thug’s movements come into play as well. The Force Science Institute conducted several experiments in a 2014 study to measure police officer reaction time to start and stop shooting. In experiment one the officers were positioned in a firing stance with a training pistol, finger on the trigger, and were instructed to fire the pistol when a green light came on for 0.5 sec. On average, it took officers .25 sec to begin the trigger pull (i.e. react to the stimulus) and .06 sec to complete the trigger pull (defined as the actual travel time of the trigger from a position of rest to a position back against the frame) for a total reaction time of .31 sec.*

It took the officers almost 1/3 of a second to react even when their finger was on the trigger and they knew that they were going to shoot when the green light came on. Undoubtedly their reaction would have been slower if their finger was in a proper index position on the pistol frame. Also, it would add additional reaction time if the officer had to raise the pistol from low ready to a point of aim before firing.  So, 1/3 of a second is probably the best-case scenario in reacting to a stimulus that would justifying shooting an armed assailant like Hill.

Was it possible for Cain to react this fast?  Probably not.  Although we do not know how Cain was holding his pistol, that fact that Hill appeared to be following Cain’s command to drop his pistol likely lulled Cain into a belief that Hill was complying. Hill’s sudden movement to aim and fire at Cain was likely much faster than Cain’s potential reaction time.

A friend of mine and I did an experiment to determine just how fast someone who appeared to be lowering their pistol could rapidly aim, fire, and hit a nearby target. Out of ten trials each, I did it in an average of .34 seconds and my friend did it in an average of .37 seconds. To see a video of portions of our experiment, click here. 

Our time to aim and fire was .03 and .06 seconds slower that the officer’s best-case reaction time in the Force Science study. To put it in perspective, according to the Harvard Database of Useful Biological Numbers the average duration for a single blink of a human eye is .10 to .40 seconds. Additionally, we were not under adrenal influence as Hill undoubtedly was experiencing so his movement was likely faster than our movements in the experiment. Our hits were reasonable as well (see picture below). 

The simple elements of an individual’s response such as perceiving, deciding, and reacting take time. If you are in the open and trying to hold an armed bad guy at gunpoint, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to react in time to prevent him from shooting you if he decides that is his best course of action.

So what should you do in a similar circumstance?  As I stated above, leave the door closed and locked. If the thug goes away, you have avoided potentially having to use deadly force with all the challenges that use entails. If the thug breaks through the door into a residence while possessing a firearm the thug’s actions clearly meet the Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy requirement.**

Remember you also have the option of simply letting the thug leave. That is exactly what Hill did immediately after shooting Cain.  You are under no obligation to attempt to detain a thug and as we see here doing so may be very dangerous.  Although we can never know, would Cain be alive today if he had simply pointed his pistol at Hill and told him leave?

If you are going to try and take someone at gunpoint, it is critical that you do so from a position of cover if at all possible.  While true cover is hard to find inside a residence, a door jamb, corner, counter, or other obstruction is better than standing in the open. Even if such material does not stop a bullet, it may deflect it or slow it down and reduce its wounding potential.  

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* Lewinski, Hudson, & Dysterheft (2014). Police Officer Reaction Time to Start and Stop Shooting: The Influence of Decision-Making and Pattern Recognition. Law Enforcement Executive Forum 14(2), 1-16

** The legal system often deems use of deadly force justifiable when the defendant demonstrates that three criteria were present in the incident: Ability, Opportunity and Jeopardy, or AOJ when viewed under the Reasonable Person Standard. This standard is typically defined as "what would a reasonable, prudent person have done in the same situation knowing what the defendant knew at that time."  

Ability: Ability is most commonly associated with some kind of weapon. In this case, Hill’s possession of a pistol met the ability requirement. Hill had the power — or ability — to cause serious bodily injury or death.

Opportunity: The person with the ability to attack you with deadly force must also have the opportunity to do so immediately. Hill’s immediate proximity to Cain met the opportunity requirement. If Cain had left the door closed and locked, Hill would not have had an opportunity unless he breached the door—then he would have.  

Jeopardy: In order to fulfill the jeopardy criteria, Hill would have had to clearly indicate that he was going to carry out an attack. Jeopardy speaks to the attacker's intent. This is where the totality of the circumstances could have come into play.  Hill arriving at the apartment with a pistol immediately after a woman had been there acting suspiciously could clearly have spoken to jeopardy, particularly of he had broken through a locked door.  

Preclusion: An additional factor that occasionally comes into play with AOJ is preclusion. Preclusion speaks to the unavoidability of your use of deadly force when analyzed under the Reasonable Person Standard. Under preclusion, Cain would have had to demonstrate that as a reasonable person he saw no way to avoid having to employ deadly force against Hill such as running away or employing some lesser level of force other than deadly force.

Always know your local laws—this is not legal advice. Some state statutes have a duty to retreat if you can safely do so before using force.

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