Jeff Fletcher just wanted to snag some cash before he and a friend headed to a local casino. But as they pulled up to an ATM, a gunfight broke out nearby between two men. One of them was shot, and when the shooter started running toward Fletcher and his friend, the former rent-a-cop decided to act. That’s where things got interesting…
Fletcher, a former rent-a-cop, was legally packing heat. He was also – for some reason – carrying his ex-cop father’s handcuffs. With an armed shooter approaching him (though it wasn’t clear from the reports whether the shooter even knew he was there) Fletcher drew his gun.
“I told him to drop his weapon, he dropped his weapon,” said Fletcher. “I told him to get on the ground, he got on the ground.”
Fletcher said minutes later he remembered he was carrying his father’s old handcuffs, and used them to detain the shooting suspect.
“When we got here, the shooter was searched, in handcuffs and sitting down on the curb,” said Sergeant John Urquhart that night.
So…a good old-fashioned citizen’s arrest. Fletcher self-deputized and apprehended the shooter, searched him, cuffed him, then called the Seattle cops. All’s well that ends well, right? We’ll see.
First there’s the question, is that legal? Not being a lawyer, I take you now to some helpful info from the state of Washington AG who’s helpfully posted some previous case law:
“. . . If a crime is actually being committed in one’s presence, a person, whether he be a peace officer or not, has the power to arrest without warrant. . . .”
“While the authority of a private person to arrest is more limited than that of an officer, in general it may be said that a private person may arrest an offender against criminal laws where the offense is committed in his presence; . . .”
So from a layman’s view, Fletcher seemed to have acted within the law. Criminal law, anyway. As an everyday citizen, he has no protection against a suit by the shooter. He may need to lawyer up against claims such as civil rights violations, assault, illegal restraint, false imprisonment, yadda, yadda, yadda.
In terms of self defense, Fletcher’s options seemed limited. Based on the always-reliable media accounts, anyway. He saw a man shoot someone else, then run. The shooter approached his position. Fletcher arguably had good reason to conclude he and his friend were in potential danger. But it isn’t clear if they could have availed themselves of their car and gotten the hell out of Dodge. Which might have been the better (safer) part valor.
As RF’s said any number of times, pull your gun, prepare to be arrested and fund your lawyer’s children’s education. Fletcher managed to avoided arrest. His situation was evidently clear-cut enough that Seattle’s finest didn’t haul him in while they sorted out the story. Time will tell whether or not the shooter lets his fingers to the walking and hires an opportunistic member of the bar to pursue a civil action.
Of course, we look forward to Washington defense attorney and TTAG scribe Chris Dumm’s take on all this with baited breath.
Which brings us to our ultimate inquiry – would ya? Having just witnessed a shooting, do you channel your inner Barney Fife? Would you make a citizen’s arrest?