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Shooting by Florida CHL Holder

Our opponents are all over this story from Florida, where a white captain of a neighborhood watch got into a tussle with a black teenage male, and through circumstances that have not yet come to light, and are still being investigated by police, he ended up shooting and killing the 17 year old, who was unarmed. Needless to say, because of the racial implications here, all sense and reason will go out the window. I don’t really have any statement as to whether the guy is a murderer or not, because all the facts are not in. This is a case that, to me, looks very similar to Gerald Ung, except that was a crowd of white guys trying to beat up an Asian guy. This is one black teenage male against a white male in his 20s. But unlike Ung, it looks like George Zimmerman took blows before resorting to deadly force, and unlike Zimmerman, Ung had multiple attackers. Generally speaking, you can more easily claim self-defense using deadly force against multiple, armed attackers than you can a single, unarmed attacker.

I’m not an expert in Florida’s self-defense law, but it is a castle doctrine state, which means there’s not a duty to retreat. Traditionally, under common law, you were justified in using deadly force to stop commission of a felony. It was not only justified, at the time it was considered a civic duty to do so. In the case of an affray between two law abiding people, which is the case here, you were required to retreat before resorting to deadly force.

Given the circumstances, I think it’s likely this guy’s case will go before a grand jury. I would not be surprised if the grand jury hands down a bill if the facts surrounding the affray and shooting are in dispute. This case reminds me of the Joe Horn case, who ended up no billed by a Texas Grand Jury. Generally, to be able to claim you killed in self-defense against an unarmed person, you would have to prove that there was a force disparity. If Zimmerman was on the ground and getting bloodied, a force disparity is going to be a lot more believable to a jury. But there are some lessons here, regardless of the outcome of the case:

  • Zimmerman was following the kid, on the phone with 911, saying the kid looked suspicious. There’s not any facts that have come out to indicate what was suspicious, other than a black teenager walking through a predominately white, wealthy neighborhood. The 911 dispatch told him not to confront the kid, and wait for the police. He should have heeded that advice. We carry guns for self-defense, we’re not cops. It would have been one thing if he was stopping a robbery, but questioning “suspicious” people is a job for the police.
  • You need to have options all the way up and down the force continuum. You don’t want your only option to be fists and deadly force.
  • You never want to be in a position where you initiate the confrontation that leads to a shooting. The law and juries frown on that, and for justifiable reasons. I would not be surprised at all if the grand jury hands down a bill of indictment and this goes to trial based on this fact alone.
  • There’s nothing unmanly about running away from a fight. If you’re armed, you should run away from a fight. Ask yourself whether you’d rather deal with having run away, or whether you want to deal with six figure legal fees for shooting someone? Or worse, end up in prison. The law says you have no duty to retreat. That doesn’t mean retreat isn’t a good idea.

So that’s my two cents. I think this case is going to trial, personally. But we’ll see. Depends on what facts are made public once the police investigation is over. It’ll be really surprised if it doesn’t at least go to a grand jury. Zimmerman never should have confronted the kid, and I’ll be really curious as to what objective behavior was making him a suspicious person. If it was a case of the kid being black in a white neighborhood, that’s really going to look bad to a jury, and it should.

UPDATE: Looks like a witness is talking to the media here. If he was down on the ground getting pummeled, unable to disengage from the fight, that’s going to point more favorably to self-defense. Sucks for the family, but one way to avoid your kids getting shot is to teach them it’s wrong to beat people up.

41 Responses to “Shooting by Florida CHL Holder”

  1. mobo says:

    Well, considering that every option in the force continuum is illegal here in Philly (except for guns), what’s a guy to do?

    • Sebastian says:

      Defensive sprays aren’t illegal in Philly, and I’m not a real big fan of civilians using tasers. Not because I think police are the only ones trained enough, but because it requires poor tactics to employ it as a civilian. It’s a contact weapon, or limited by the length of the taser wire. Once you drop the wire, the taser is a contact weapon. Chemical sprays will continue to work after you’ve removed yourself from the fight, and you’ll still have another shot if need be, or you can go to the gun if the attacker escalates.

      • Rydak says:

        This is true, even when police tasers are used. The second the charge is done, the subject feels fine. Emotionally they are “usually” a bit better mannered, but not physically worst off or limited in any way. The pain stops instantly when the charge has run its course or the device’s safety is used to turn if off.

    • Sebastian says:

      I should note, this doesn’t mean I support Philly’s ban on electric stun weapons. I think it should be an option for people, it’s just not one I would use or recommend.

  2. Rydak says:

    The one thing that will over shadow the question of ” Was he justified to use deadly force at the time that he did?” will be his decision to engage the subject in the first place.

    Town Watch people are trained and instructed to not take action, only to report, and this was followed up by the dispatcher instructing him to do just that. He was in a car and could have just as easily hit the accelerator if things went bad. ( All assumption and speculation at this point of course.)

  3. DirtCrashr says:

    It’s hard for people to just turn away and leave a conflict. You endanger yourself if you put your back to someone, it angers and emboldens them and then you are at further risk – how do you defuse something like that?

    • Sebastian says:

      Most confrontations develop. There are cases where someone just unexpectedly attacks, but those are rarer. If the person gets belligerent, just back off. Don’t escalate. If the person pretty obviously wants to fight you, that’s where defensive spray comes in. Spray for the face, and get away. That’ll tell you how committed the other person is as an aggressor. It’ll also look better to a jury that you tried to avoid having to shoot the guy.

      I don’t think anyone is required to be a punching bag, so generally speaking I don’t have a problem with using deadly force to stop blows from fists and kicks. But if you’re going to shoot someone who isn’t threatening you with a weapon, you’ll do yourself a big favor if you exhaust all other options first. Is there a risk to you of not going immediately to the gun? Sure. But you’re taking a risk either way. Either you take the risk to yourself of not escalating quickly enough, or you take a risk to yourself with the legal system.

  4. Guest says:

    Police Chief had it right:

    “I understand the emotions and the response from the community… based on the limited information they have,” Lee said. “We just hope they would allow us the time to conduct a thorough and fair investigation.”
    *****
    BTW, town watch or not, doesn’t a civilian have as much right to “mere encounter” another person in public as a police officer does–and don’t the police also advise us to call them if we feel something is suspicious?

    • Sebastian says:

      I think a person has every right to a mere encounter, or even to confront the kid, which is why people who think that should mean something legally are wrong. But just because you can do it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

      • Rydak says:

        It will be interesting to see what reason is given for making the decision to engage the kid. Basically what led to Zimmerman getting out of his vehicle. Was it something brought about by the actions of the kid? or was it something that Zimmerman decided to do proactively? And I use the term “kid” only because he was 17. I know some 15y/o kids who look like professional boxers and could bring a grown man to his knees without breaking a sweat.

        Problem for Zimmerman is going to be that he knew police were in route and he was instructed by police to not engage.

        Only good part is that courts are not always so black and white , by the book kind of thing. They tend to look at the totality of circumstances and what was in the subjects mind at the time. However….their BS detector is on high alert as always. Even with such consideration, the letter of the law does apply.

  5. JR says:

    Was Zimmerman in a vehicle? If so, why did he get out? If not, why the hell would you do a foot patrol with no partner and no backup other than a neighbor locking his door and calling 911 so they can come and draw a chalk outline?

    Keep your doors locked and crack a window a bit if you want to talk to someone on the street. If the perp breaks your window and hauls you out of the car, that’s either the beginning of a carjacking or a savage beatdown where you’ll risk getting your gun grabbed and immediately ventilated.

  6. Dan says:

    “You need to have options all the way up and down the force continuum”

    That’s an excellent point. Aside from pepper spray or a tazer, and other recommendations? Any links I should read up on?

  7. mobo says:

    OMFG, not that this has anything to do with anything really, but “TREYVON” was this kid’s name? What on Earth is the matter with people? How is a kid supposed to get a respectable job when he grows up when the first thing the employers see is “Treyvon” on the top of the resume?

    All that aside, it looks to me like the Zimmerman confronted this kid when he should have just left everything to the police. My guess is that he was getting his ass beat and decided at that point to shoot the kid rather than get knocked the F out. He also sounds like one of those mall-ninja types. I mean, who the hell “patrols” a gated community?

    • Heather from AK says:

      That’s actually one of the more normal names, these days.

    • Why in the world do you care what his name is? Would you be stressed out by a Vietnamese kid named Thahn or a Honduran kid named Domingo? How about a white kid named Llewellyn?

      • mobo says:

        Funny….. Thahn (Tan), Domingo, and Llewellin are all names of people I know. None of those names scream “ghetto” like Trayvon. And I guarantee you at least one juror will be inclined to aquit the shooter in part because of the victim’s name.

      • Sebastian says:

        Yeah… I tend to agree. I don’t get worked up over parents naming their kids how they want. Treyvon can always be shortened to Trey, which is a normal name.

  8. dustydog says:

    Kids, it is wrong to beat up armed people.

    As the unofficial motto of DS says, “The defenseless victim deserves what he gets.”

  9. SDN says:

    Generally, to be able to claim you killed in self-defense against an unarmed person, you would have to prove that there was a force disparity.

    Sebastian, I’m just going to say what I said when the subject of deadly force in response to someone punching you came up in my TX CHL class:

    As long as “beaten to death” continues to appear in the cause of death box on autopsy forms, deadly force is fully justified in response to a punch.

    The instructors agreed with me.

    • Divemedic says:

      Keep in mind that deadly force also covers severe bodily injury, and Florida courts have decreed that a broken arm meets that threshold. Beating someone’s head into the pavement would, IMO, also.

    • Jake says:

      Considering that locally we recently had someone killed with a single punch, I’ll voice my agreement as well. And his attacker didn’t even mean to kill the guy, either – the punch knocked him down and his head hit the pavement.

      That’s the thing with punches and kicks – it’s easier to kill someone that way than most people realize, so it often happens unintentionally.

      • Sebastian says:

        I agree with you that fists can be deadly, but there’s a great sense of fair play among many Americans. I thought Ung was going to be found not guilty, because that gang wasn’t engaging him in what anyone would consider a fair fight. It was several boozed-up young lacrosse players against one guy.

        The problem you get into shooting an unarmed person after an affray between two young, similarly able individuals is that the public, for better or worse, views that fight as fair. You can explain what force disparity is to a Jury, but people are going to generally go by their instinct for fairness, and for better or worse that doesn’t mean you can shoot someone who wants to fight you. It’s good to have other options to deal with drunk assholes.

        In this case, as more witnesses are coming forward saying the shooter was basically on the ground getting pummeled, crying for help, if those stories hold up, I think we have a case of self-defense here. But the fact remains that Zimmerman created the circumstances that lead to his having to shoot the kid. It might legally still be self-defense, but it sure was stupid on his part.

  10. RODG3R says:

    Interesting to note that all the pictures of the ‘kid’ appear to be when he was 12-13. According to the article, he was 17 at the time of the incident. The witness said he was sitting on top of the other guy beating him, so that makes me want to see what this sweet little kid looks like 4-5 years later.

    I also agree the mall ninja/gated community patrol fellow should have backed off and avoided escalation. He was the one armed and should have known better.

    Seems like a tragedy that could have been avoided if both parties had acted like the adults that they both were (17 is close enough to adulthood to understand the consequences of beating the tar out of someone).

  11. sroyster says:

    most of you are trying to give the man with the gun an out he had intent come on he got out of his car with the gun this has been handel badly by the police department from day one i hope the family get justice but this just a wait and see case god bless everyone involve

    • Rydak says:

      Not sure what you mean “handled badly by the police”. Can you provide an example? All I see is the Chief and a Sergeant providing information and asking everyone to stay calm and objective. They ultimately handed it to the States Attorney’s office for investigation, which is a sign of transparency. Always a good sign to see that. That means that an agency, which has no ties of any kind to the police department, will independently look at the facts.

    • Divemedic says:

      But why did he leave his car? We are not in a position to say what happened. No one is, and absent any other witnesses, there may not be enough evidence there.
      What should the cops do? Arrest him without evidence? That would be illegal.

  12. Sage Thrasher says:

    It would be nice if there were this much public scrutiny and outcry every time someone intentionally committing a crime shot somebody. The situation at this point is still far from black and white, but the politics that have made it a headline are entirely “black” and “white.” Same old, same old.

  13. emdfl says:

    IIRC from the story, that poor, innocent, (17yo)chillin was visiting his stepmother/father(?). Probably from up north where it’s perfectly acceptable to smart mouth/attack older white people asking you what you are doing in their neighborhood. Unfortunately, Treyvon forgot he wasn’t in the disarmed-victim zone he is used to working in.
    Still, was not-smart for Zimmerman to get out of car; although I suspect that action was in response to Trayvon’s answer when asked who he was and what was he doing in the neighborhood.

  14. Patrick says:

    Some notes on Florida law that are surely going to play into this case. Florida law allows stand-your-ground, but the effect is actually more pronounced than you think.

    Florida Law states: “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

    And hugely in favor of the shooter here, a prosecutor can seek – and the Grand Jury may very well return – an indictment, but that does not mean a trial will be allowed. Under Florida Law, the person accused of the crime can request a judicial hearing in which a judge reviews the case evidence. During that review, if the judge can discern that the shooter “reasonably believes it is necessary to [use deadly force] to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”, the case is dismissed even in light of an indictment. Oh, and Double Jeopardy applies (not the game, but the fact the state cannot prosecute you again later for the same act).

    Some interesting cases that have come up just in the last year:

    – Man kills two men who board his boat. They were unarmed and one of the dead sold the boat to the shooter, who failed to pay for the new registration. Fight ensues. Prosecutors wanted death penalty for the shooter – judge dismisses all charges before a trial even gets underway.

    – 15 year old kills a bully in a knife fight after the bully intentionally gets off the school bus at the wrong stop to attack the kid. Classic bully-fight where the bully and his friends target and surround their victim, then the bully punched the victim in the back of the head. Victim stabbed bully twelve times with a pocket knife. All charges dropped and nothing can be held against the kid who used the knife in defense. The judge said the kid with the knife was cleared because, “The defendant was in a place where he had a right to be and was not acting unlawfully. He had more than enough reason to believe he was in danger of death or great bodily harm … (He) was under attack from the first punch to the back of his head until he stabbed [bully] Dylan Nuno.”

    – A 62 Year old man cuts off a 20-something in traffic. Younger man follows older man, gets out of car and challenges him. Older man stabs him in the head with an ice-pick. Younger man dies; Older man not charged.

    – Man shoots and kills his ex-wife’s boyfriend after he goes to his exes house to talk to her. Claimed the new boyfriend got hostile after his ex invited him into the house. He was scared and killed him. Prosecutors tried to get him for murder, but a judge dismissed.

    Note that the standard here is pretty light: you only have to demonstrate that the act was “reasonable” and probable. Some iffy cases have been dismissed that probably were the result of the killer actually doing some escalation and then realizing they got in over their head (that last one with the ex-wife sounded an awful lot this, but the details were too sketchy for the judge to let the prosecution continue).

    A few lessons from Florida Law:

    – You stand a better chance of surviving the legal morass of a proper defensive act in Florida than just about anywhere else in the nation.

    – You should never, ever start a fight in Florida. Seriously. People down there know that they can kill you and get off, provided they did not cause the ruckus. And even in cases where you did not start it, you should back off and walk away.

  15. Moshe Gintel says:

    I think the young negro was stopped by Zimmerman, and the kid strong-armed Zimmerman. The kid probably took off on Zimmerman’s race and if he was alive, the kid should be charged with a ‘Hate Crime’

    Horrid case of anti semetism. Jews should congratulate the Sanford police chief for not arresting Zimmerman

  16. Zermoid says:

    One thing pretty evident, the mother is spewing a load of BS, assuming she was quoted correctly.

    “He walked out of the house to go to the store. He was going to the store,” she said. “He doesn’t know anybody here. He just came down here, so he was bored, so he walked down to the store. He was on his way back home. I’m living down here. He was sitting on the porch and this man killed him.”

    Changed the story 3 times in one statement, first he was going to the store, then he was coming back from the store, then he was doing neither and just sitting on the porch when some man just up and shot him.

    • Zermoid says:

      Also since (I’m assuming here) his mom is black and living there it obviously isn’t an all white neighborhood as was said at one point.

  17. Jake says:

    More here. There are now allegations of at least one instance of the police engaging in “witness tampering”, and other mishandling of the investigation. How much of that is real or not, considering the overall attitude people seem to have, I have no idea.

    One commenter did bring up an aspect I hadn’t considered: If a black teenager walking through an (apparently) affluent neighborhood sees a large white man get out of a car and approach in a confrontational manner, he is likely going to feel threatened and react accordingly. It looks like Zimmerman actually chased after Martin. If I was in Martin’s shoes, and a large, angry man started chasing after me, I would certainly be feeling threatened enough to consider changing my response from “flight” to “fight”. The chase would, to me, offset the earlier point Sebastian made that “If he was down on the ground getting pummeled, unable to disengage from the fight, that’s going to point more favorably to self-defense.” (Note: I’m not criticizing that early assessment. The chase bit is new information to me.)

    This is getting to be as clear as mud.

    • Sage Thrasher says:

      You’re right about state of mind. If you’re walking in a strange neighborhood and a car starts shadowing you really slowly on the sidewalk is your first thought going to be “neighborhood watch” or “drive by”? Same if you see a teenage walking through your neighborhood: kid buying snacks or mugger? No matter how open minded you are, your reaction is going to depend partially on both your race and the race of the other person; much of that driven by statistics, probability and your own life experiences. (Personally, if I’m minding my own business walking back from a store and car starts following me, my first thought probably isn’t going to be “somebody wants directions” unless it’s a very nice neighborhood.) In the same way, many of our (and I’ll admit, my) gut reactions to this story are based partially on the age and race of the two participants in trying to decide who the actual “victim” was in this case.

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