|James Meyer (Dallas Police Photo)
According to the arrest warrant, James Michael Meyer told police that noise outside his home awakened him about 5 a.m. He looked out a window and saw someone trying to break into his storage shed with a pick-axe. Meyer said he grabbed his handgun, chambered a round, and then exited his home yelling at the person to stop what he was doing and not come any closer or else he'd shoot.
Meyer told police the person took several steps toward him, so he fired his gun. Meyer stated that at that point, the burglar dropped the pickax and ran toward the park. Meyer said he fired an additional shot "into the night" in the direction of the park; however, he didn't know whether he had struck the person, so he went back to bed.
Later that morning Meyer looked outside once again and saw something in the park. Upon closer inspection, he found an unidentified individual lying face down so he called the police.
When police investigators were looking for spend cartridges at the scene the could not locate any. When asked about this Meyer told them he had thrown them in the trash.
Meyer has an uphill struggle ahead of him. Texas Penal Code § 9.42. Deadly Force to Protect Property contains a clause stating that a person is justified in using deadly force against another to prevent the other's imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime.
In addition to the provisions of §9.42, the circumstances Meyer faced when the individual was advancing toward him with a pick-axe may have justified the use of deadly force to defend himself from a reasonable perception that the burglar was threatening the imminent use of deadly force.
However, Meyer like many people, now finds himself charged with murder because the incident evolved from one in which Meyer's use of deadly force was potentially justified into one where the perpetrator is fleeing and the defender is now the aggressor. Meyer told police that the burglar dropped the pick-axe and was fleeing the confrontation when Meyer fired his final shot.
To add icing to the cake, Meyer then disturbed critical evidence and altered a crime scene when he gathered up his spent cartridges and threw them in the trash.
As a result of his extensive experience with deadly force incidents and their aftermaths, Massad Ayoob has developed a five point checklist:
Call the police. If you are involved in a deadly force self-defense incident call the police. Don't call your attorney, your neighbors, your parents, your husband, your wife or anyone else before you call the police. Tell the police dispatcher that you have been attacked and that your attacker may be or is down (in Meyer’s case he said did not know).
Stay on the line with the dispatcher and give your location, describe what you are wearing, and remind the dispatcher that you are the victim. Request that the dispatcher provide responding officers a description of what you are wearing and where you are located. The dispatcher will likely ask questions concerning what has happened however, you do not have to answer. Tell the dispatcher that you will talk to responding officers.
Sign the Complaint. When the police arrive tell them you will sign the complaint. This reinforces that you were in fact the victim in the incident.
Point out the Evidence. Evidence is perishable and can be moved or stolen. Under no circumstances should you willingly disturb or move evidence yourself. This is altering a crime scene and is itself a crime in many jurisdictions.
Point out Witnesses. If there are witnesses point them out to the police. If you do not, they may leave the scene and their testimony will leave with them.
Cooperate. Tell the police that you will cooperate fully once you have consulted legal counsel. Police may ask questions at the scene beyond what you have told them in the steps above. Politely decline to answer and repeat that you will cooperate fully once you have consulted legal counsel.
Although not part of Massad Ayoob's five-point list: ensure your legal counsel is qualified to give you proper legal advice. According to Meyer’s arrest affidavit, Meyer's attorney agreed to allow Meyer to make a statement on 26 September 2019 the day of the incident. A detective read Meyer his Miranda Warning before questioning him. The attorney then sat (presumably) silent while Meyer made an incriminating statement:
Suspect Meyer stated that the complainant (the burglar) took several steps towards him and Suspect Meyer fired his gun. Suspect Meyer stated the complainant dropped the pick-axe and ran away in the direction of the park. At that point Suspect Meyer, repositioned himself and fired an additional shot "into the night" which in the direction of the park [sic]. According to Suspect Meyer, the complainant had left towards the park when he fired the second shot. From the suspect's accounts, the threat of serious bodily injury against him was over when the complainant dropped the pick-axe and ran off away from him [Meyer].
James Meyer may well have turned a justified use of deadly force into a prison sentence with the aid of his legal counsel. Using deadly force against a fleeing perpetrator who no longer poses an imminent threat of deadly force, failing to call the police immediately, intentionally altering evidence, and then making an ill-considered, incriminating statement to the police can be very problematic for how and where you live the rest of your life.
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