Defense of Others

CNN has an odd but interesting defense of other story:

A man says he broke into an apartment with a cavalry sword because he thought he heard a woman being raped, but the sound actually was from a pornographic movie his upstairs neighbor was watching.

“Now I feel stupid,” said James Van Iveren, who has been charged in the case. “This really is nothing, nothing but a mistake.”

According to a criminal complaint, the neighbor told police that Van Iveren pounded on the door and kicked it open without warning February 12, damaging the frame and lock.

I don’t honestly think charges in this case are appropriate. A reasonable person, hearing what sound like screams of help coming from a neighboring apartment, I think is perfectly justified in doing something here, even if I wouldn’t do exactly what Mr. Van Iveren ended up doing. I think Van Iveren is civilly liable for the damage he caused, but what he did should not be criminal, and society ought not encourage the “don’t get involved, let the professionals deal with this” mentality that prevails among government officials.

This does illustrate the risks we face in coming to the defense of others; it’s something we do at our legal peril. I think the real lesson here is that if you like loud, screaming pornos, keep the volume down.

I see Bitter is running the same story, from a different source.

UPDATE: Bitter updates on the post linked above that it turns out it’s not particularly screeching porn, which I suppose would make a difference.  At the very least, this should keep things interesting for whoever ends up on that jury :)

6 Responses to “Defense of Others”

  1. Brad says:

    Now, suppose that his neighbor was attacking a woman and those screams were legitimate and the guy ended up doing nothing. There would be non-stop questions about “Why didn’t anyone do anything?”

    See Kitty Genovese.

  2. Ahab says:

    Perhaps, but this is the sort of thing can easily be “armchair-quarterbacked” into oblivion. Perhaps kicking in the door was a wee bit excessive; a simple hard knock followed by “is everyone okay in there?” might have been preferable to his course of action.

    There’s also the flipside of this; which is that if someone came barreling into my house with a goddamn saber, I would quite certainly shoot him.

  3. Earl Harding says:

    +1 to Ahab.

    Also note that if he was shot dead then we would be calling it a justified shoot. After all he did break into a house armed with a sword.

    He should thank his lucky stars he still has a heartbeat.

  4. straightarrow says:

    Everybody has a point. And good ones too. However, I don’t think there should be criminal charges. As someone above said “see Kitty Genovese”.

  5. Sebastian says:

    The problem with all of these stories is you only know what the media tells you. Like, originally we didn’t know it was mainstream porn. Plus, we always tend to put ourselves in the other person’s stead, and think “Damn, that must have been some loud screaming porn”, when the reality could be this guy was just a bit off his rocker.

    Nontheless, it’s a useful exercise to think about situations. In this case, I think the guy went overboard, but I also think doing nothing (generally, not necessarily this situation) is also not proper. But given that it’s coming out that the porno was pretty tame, I’m rethinking my position that the charges were not appropriate. The standard is reasonableness, and whether a reasonable person would believe that the situation was one of a man raping a woman. If the guy who likes his loud prono can convince me as a prosecutor or grand jury member, that it’s not possible for a reasonable person to interpret the sounds as immediate peril, I would likely hand down and indictment or proceed with charges.

    Personally, in the same situation, I’d call the police and hope they show up quickly. If they were more clearly cries for help, like, I could hear “Help me! Someone help me!” coming from the apartment above, I can justify doing something in that instance. If the situation is vague or unsure, better to let the police deal with it. But even in cases where you’re pretty sure, you proceed at your own risk. That’s just the way it is.

  6. Dave says:

    Agreeing with straightarrow. My first thought when this started making the rounds was, “hey, better than being one of those folks watching Kitty Genovese”