Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bungled in Boise?

Shortly after 1p on Friday afternoon, a homeless man was near the intersection of Americana Boulevard and River Street in Boise, Idaho. He had a duffel bag with him. John Dickey grabbed the duffel bag and ran away. The homeless man yelled out, “Stop hey, stop, that’s my stuff!”

At that time, Paul Brookhouse was driving by and saw the crime take place. He pulled over and intervened. As reported by KTVB, Brookhouse produced a firearm, identified himself as a police officer and detained the criminal. Unfortunately, Brookhouse, who has a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon, is not a police officer.

As is often the case with real life, the story gets even more complicated. Prior to the police arriving, another citizen with a concealed weapon permit drove by. This gentleman, seeing what he perceived as a crime in progress, drew his firearm and ordered Brookhouse to drop his weapon. I’m not sure what Dickey was thinking as he lay on the ground, but at this point, he was probably afraid to breathe.

Finally, the police arrived and defused the situation. Thankfully there does not appear to be a report of someone else stopping by and trying to arrest the police.

Sadly, it appears that everyone involved (except, presumably, the homeless man and the police) may face charges. Dickey is facing charges for the crime, Brookhouse may face charges for impersonating an officer, and the third man may face assault charges for pointing a firearm at Brookhouse.

If I would have come up against a similar situation, would I have drawn my firearm? Unless someone’s life was in danger, this would be a minor property crime, not something for which the threat of deadly force would be permissible. Would I intervene in a more serious crime, especially if I don’t have all the necessary information? I think it is a question of degree—how much do I know and how serious is the crime. In this instance, the outcome could have become very tragic simply because the final intervener did not have all the facts. At least, each person showed restraint, and in the end, no one was hurt.

This case involved a minor property crime—one that appears to have already been concluded without any noticeable physical harm to the crime victim. Although it’s hard to second guess someone’s reaction in the heat of an incident, that’s exactly what the law will do. In my home state, you cannot use deadly force to prevent a property crime--life is more important than property. Of course, I don’t know Idaho law, but even if it allows taking a life to defend a duffle bag, it’s hard to justify that action. One lesson to take from this is that if you decide to carry a concealed weapon, the burden is on you to know the law. And, in the end, the burden will be on you to justify your actions.


Sailorcurt said...

Is property crime really that much less egregious than a crime that creates bodily harm?

It's a matter of degree.

Had you come upon a scene where the perpetrator was punching the victim to get the bag, would you feel justified in intervening...even though punches are generally not life threatening?

To you or I, a duffel bag of possessions is no big deal. We can easily replace them. They probably aren't worth taking even a punch to protect. Even something as valuable as a home or car can be replaced because we have insurance and financial reserves.

To a homeless person, however, that duffel bag of belongings may be his only possessions in the whole world...and can't be easily replaced...if they can be replaced at all. Those provisions may represent his only chance for surviving his life in the elements. If the person is mentally challenged (very common for street people), the loss of his belongings might be emotionally devastating enough to constitute a death sentence.

I'm not saying you're wrong...just opening a line of thought. It was the victim's status as homeless that made me consider this. The fact that he probably couldn't replace those things as easily as you or I take for granted.

Lawyer said...


Those are good points. I guess that's why there are more questions than answers in my post. It's an issue I'm not sure I've personally resolved yet.

If the attacker were hitting the victim, that may be an easier line to define. In any event, your point is well taken.

From my research, it appears that deadly force is not justified in Virginia when used solely to defend property. Deadly force is only justified when the defender reasonably believes that his life is in danger.

However, Idaho law is not as strict. Idaho Code section 18-4009 says that in some instances, deadly force can be used to stop a crime in progress or to protect property in order to prevent or stop a felony.

In Idaho, the question will boil down to whether the bag grab was a felony. Unfortunately, the law may not take into account the relative value of the bag to the victim. However, depending on the force used to grab the bag, it may be a felony, though, based on the reporting, it does not appear to be the case.

Sailorcurt said...

You're right about the law in Virginia. You have to reasonably believe that you are in danger of death or grievous bodily harm to use deadly force.

I'm personally not sure I agree with that...but it is what it is.

I didn't really have a "point" with my comment, it was just something that occurred to me when thinking about a homeless person having everything they own stolen from them. It could be devastating.

Why shouldn't we be able to protect and defend, with all the violence necessary, that which we've invested some portion of our lives obtaining?

I'm not saying that I would use deadly force to protect my "stuff"...I probably wouldn't for the reasons I mentioned: I've got insurance and reserves and "stuff" can be replaced...it's just not that important to me. But that's a personal decision that I've made...I don't see that the .gov should have any business making that decision for anyone. It should not be a crime to defend against any criminal act perpetrated against you...with whatever means is necessary to put a stop to the perpetrator.

If criminals don't want to get shot, they should find a different line of work. IMHO

Lawyer said...

"It should not be a crime to defend against any criminal act perpetrated against you...with whatever means is necessary to put a stop to the perpetrator."

Ultimately, that's the basis on which self-defense law should stand. It's the basic belief that doing good is rewarded and doing evil is punished.