If you are carrying a firearm, the decision to use that firearm to defend yourself, or someone else, is quite possibly the single most important decision that you will have to make. What makes that split-second decision making process even more daunting is the severity of the consequences we will be faced with if that decision is faulty. Even in the case of a completely justifiable use of deadly force, there is still another factor we must face…the civil court system.
There have been hundreds of cases where the person that was targeted for a criminal act, was able to fight back, win the day, and STILL spend the rest of their lives reeling from the effects of the decision they were forced to make. Once we are beyond the criminal investigation, and once we are exonerated by grand jury or prosecutorial discretion, we are faced with the fact that we now have to justify our actions to persons that are no longer bound to make their determination by a factor of 100% certainty, but by a 51% factor.
With firearms being such a divisive subject, and those of us who choose to carry being portrayed as blood-thirsty, would-be murderers, the odds for a positive civil judgement are not in our favor.
One such situation comes to mind. During the fall of 1991, a Chief Inspector of the New York Police Department, a man with 37 years of distinguished service, a man who NEVER used his firearm, was forced through no fault of his own, to defend his very life. It happened on Ocean Parkway…a 6 lane street in Brooklyn New York, with opposing traffic lanes divided by a raised pedestrian walkway. While sitting in his department issued unmarked car with his wife by his side, heading home from church, another vehicle traveling in the same direction, jumped the divider and sideswiped their car. The offending vehicle came to rest 90 degrees to his direction of travel, with both passenger side tires blown out.
Slightly shaken from the impact, but otherwise uninjured, the Chief Inspector exited his vehicle to assess the damage. The other driver exited his vehicle as well and started approaching the location of the car he hit. The distance between the drivers was estimated to be about 75 feet. As the driver of the other vehicle approached, he began yelling at the Chief Inspector, as if he, in a stationary vehicle had done something wrong. As the other driver moved closed, the Deputy Inspector identified himself as a Police Officer. While this pronouncement should have been enough to calm the situation, it did not. The other driver returned to his car, a car that as it turns out was a “gypsy” cab operating illegally in NYC, and in the back seat of the car was a female passenger.
Believing that the other driver returned to his vehicle to retrieve his paperwork, the Chief Inspector was stunned to now see that the other driver was approaching him with a tire iron in his hand. Suddenly, that 75 feet of distance did not seem so far away.
As the other driver approached, the Inspector retrieved his Shield from his breast pocket and once again identified himself….but to no avail. The man just kept coming….and with increasing speed and ferocity. Once the man was within 30 or so feet, the Inspector drew his service revolver and once again demanded that the other driver stop…he didn’t. It wasn’t until the driver was almost within arms reach that the Inspector made the decision to end this oncoming threat.
With a single well placed shot, the assailant fell to the pavement.
Immediately, the Inspector called for back-up and a bus(police slang for an Ambulance). Within just a few minutes, officers and paramedics swarmed the area. The assailant was transported to the nearest hospital, but did not survive the trip. The inspector, with 37 years on the job, was as shaken from the experience as a rookie would have been. No matter how many times you train, and no matter how right you may be, taking a life is not something that many of us will be able to do without it effecting us in some way.
Now we fast forward a few weeks, and the Grand Jury ruled that the shooting was not only justifiable, but the Inspector was commended for his incredible show of restraint, having given his assailant as much time as he possible could before making that final decision to fire.
While this might seem as though it should be the end of the story, it is not. Within a month of being cleared from any wrong doing, the Inspector was presented with a summons to appear in Kings County Civil Court. The widow of the driver that died, even though confronted with a Grand Jury decision, sued the Chief Inspector for the death of her husband.
After the civil jury heard from over 20 witnesses, all testifying a very similar story, and after the investigating officers presented their evidence supporting the conclusions made by the Grand Jury, the Deputy Inspector was once again proven to be on the right side of the law….but this time, only by 49%.
The Civil Jury found that while the other driver caused the accident, angrily approached the Inspector, returned to his vehicle to retrieve a weapon, ignored the requests of the Inspector, ignored the displaying of a shield, and ignored the gun aimed squarely at his chest…the driver did not speak English…and nor did his passenger, a passenger that testified that she did not see the Inspector produce a police shield.
With that verdict, and after a lengthy appeals process….the Chief Inspector STILL came out on the losing side. The jury awarded the assailants widow the numerical value of the Inspectors worth that they “felt” he was at fault. They awarded the widow 49% of the Inspectors total worth, holdings, and pension. Given that he had spent 37 years serving the people of New York, and having been the 3rd Highest Ranking member of the NYPD, it was a substantial amount. It was said that the Inspectors wife would have been better off had he allowed himself to be bludgeoned to death on Ocean Parkway…at least she would have received his insurance.
A whole 12 years passed from the time of the shooting until the Inspector passed away. Twelve years of having half of everything he spent a lifetime working for being taken from him, his wife, and his family. 12 years spent, knowing that the judicial system that he spent 4 decades serving failed him. He spent the last twelve years of his life knowing that you are Damned if you Do, Dead if you Don’t.
If a man with an impeccable record of service can have his life so irreparably damaged, simply because he defended his own life, we must ALL be mindful of what might await us if we are so unfortunate to find ourselves in the same situation.