Question of the Day: Would You Make a Citizen’s Arrest?

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?

comments

  1. avatar Robert Farago says:

    Hell no. Keeping a perp at gunpoint is a fool’s errand—especially if you don’t carry a pair of handcuffs. And especially if you do.

    Then again, adrenalin.

    The more vexing part of this challenge (for me): disarming someone. Or trusting that they are fully disarmed. And making sure they don’t have a friend in the crowd. And . . .

    Yeah, forget that.

      1. avatar Coyote Gray says:

        Tough call. On one hand, the smart and cynical thing to do, is call the cops while safely driving away. Maybe snap a picture of the perp on the iPhone.

        Drawing a gun, regardless of the situation, is always a crap shoot. Mostly because the legal system has become warped and devoid of any common sense any more.

        But I would venture to say, that we have a larger problem in our society, with those who care too little to involve themselves, and not with people who risk something to stop the “bad guys”.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      I am not a cop, nor do I play one on TV. Unless very special lives are endangered, namely mine, I would not engage. But the former rent-a-cop here had a special quandary that we seem to be overlooking. The bad guy was running toward him, and the good guy had no place to go.

      In a situation where a man with a gun (who has already shot someone) is running toward me, I have an instant to decide whether to draw or not.

      If I don’t draw right now, I could get shot without ever having a chance to defend myself. I’ll pass on that option, thank you.

      If I draw but don’t fire, there a great chance that I’ll attract fire and, once again, end up face first on the ground with my life oozing out of one or more holes. That’s not for me either.

      If I draw and fire accurately, I get to go home and pet my cats.

      The shooter did the right thing. Period.

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        Something got left out from my cut and paste above.

        “Once Fletcher drew and the bad guy dropped, the mall cop’s options were limited. He says he stood there for a couple of minutes until he remembered the cuffs. Then he put them on the bg and the rest is internet history.”

  2. avatar Rebecca says:

    From Wikipedia:

    “Each state, with the exception of North Carolina, permits citizen arrests if the commission of a felony is witnessed by the arresting citizen, or when a citizen is asked to assist in the apprehension of a suspect by police. The application of state laws varies widely with respect to misdemeanors, breaches of the peace, and felonies not witnessed by the arresting party. For example, Arizona law allows a citizen’s arrest if the arrestor has personally witnessed the offense occurring. [35]

    “American citizens do not carry the authority or enjoy the legal protections held by police officers, and are held to the principle of strict liability before the courts of civil- and criminal law including, but not limited to, any infringement of another’s rights.[36] Nonetheless many citizens’ arrests are popular news stories and criminal prosecutions in clearly justifiable cases are rare.[37]

    “Though North Carolina General Statutes have no provision for citizens’ arrests, detention by private persons is permitted and applies to both private citizens and police officers outside their jurisdiction.[38] Detention is permitted where probable cause exists that one has committed a felony, breach of peace, physical injury to another person, or theft or destruction of property.[39] Detention is different from an arrest in that in a detention the detainee may not be transported without consent.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I’m not going to be carrying handcuffs with me, because (in my mind, anyway) that would imply that I was out looking for trouble. I think if this situation were to happen to us, the police would be called and informed that a couple of ambulances were needed.

    1. avatar HAVEGUN says:

      I am with you on the handcuffs.

      Also no way would I want to get close enough to touch a dangerous person.

      Whole point of carrying a gun is for protection, not law enforcement.

    2. avatar 2Wheeled says:

      I don’t know anyone who conceal carries with a pair of handcuffs. I agree that to me that probably looks like you’re looking for trouble, maybe even taking the whole “sheepdog” concept a little too far.

      I can imagine scenarios where I might attempt to detain someone until the cops arrive, this probably isn’t one of them. My number one priority would be to get me and mine away from the violence, not to arrest the offender.

    3. avatar Ralph says:

      This whole “citizen’s arrest” stuff is being pumped up by the media, and it does make a good story. Was Fletcher a good samaritan? We’ll never know. I tend to think of him as a victim. The BG ran up on Fletcher with a gun. Depending on the logistics, that may have constituted an assault on Fletcher. At least it would be if I were his lawyer. 🙂

  3. avatar TTACer says:

    Hell no. I probably wouldn’t even make a very good witness.

  4. avatar matt says:

    Not really sure on the self defense laws are in Washington, but how did he know if the ‘suspect’ was not practicing self defense and then exercising his duty to retreat? I’m not surprised at all that this guy is/was a rent a cop, who else besides a dominatrix or a real cop would regularly carry around handcuffs when off the clock.

  5. avatar Derek says:

    If I were reasonably certain that I could do so without getting killed, by the bad guy or police, and the crime was offensive enough, then I’d consider ordering them to the ground at gunpoint. Granted, I’d have to not be in fear for my life to not shoot the guy so the number of applicable situations is approximately… But putting hands on the guy, with no “official” training, while he was trying to leave (I’m no longer in immediate danger), brandishing my firearm, putting handcuffs on the guy (just carrying them would give me activist judge/prosecutor nightmares), dealing with a crowd of nosy ass onlookers, detecting more possible threats from said crowd… It just sounds like the lawsuit that a civil court lawyer dreams of.

  6. avatar James Felix says:

    In an ideal world I would (then again, in an ideal world there’d be no need to). But we don’t live in a perfect world. I hate to have to be this cynical but if an incident has already happened and the immediate threat has passed I’d stay out of it. The legal risk is just too great, and throwing my whole life away just so some goblin can do 3-5 at most doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.

    That’s not to say I wouldn’t attempt to defend someone from a crime in progress, but in this case it sounds like the crime was already over.

  7. avatar Christopher P says:

    You don’t see much heroism nowadays, in the end I find it pretty brave to stand up to a shooter. I have a duty to act, but for others it can be a scary thing to get involved. You simply don’t see it. Hell, I can’t even get a traffic crash witness with injuries!

  8. avatar Leo says:

    I live in Florida and here its ok to shoot a fleeing felon.

    I’m pretty sure that if I just witness a guy shoot another guy and now the perp is coming my way with the gun still in his had he will definitely get shot.

    1. avatar TTACer says:

      Why would you assume that the guy running away was the assailant? Maybe he was the victim and he was retreating.

      1. avatar Leo says:

        You said “what if” there should be no what if in your mind when a man with a gun approaches you.

        1. avatar TTACer says:

          So you are just going to shoot someone without having any idea what is going on? What are you, a cop?

  9. avatar Chris Dumm says:

    Your Washington legal scribe is currently ‘on holiday’ in Montana, typing on his smartphone. Big Sky Country, BTW, honors ALL states’ CCW permits, if you’re looking for an outdoorsy and very 2A-friendly.

    The ‘crowd wisdom’ of our readers and comments is so well-informed on this issue that there’s very little for me to add. As has been pointed out, this good guy took some risks trying to do the right thing.

    When acting in self defense in Washington, a person is entitled to act on appearances; in this case the ‘appearances’ certainly justified his intervention. I predict (unless some really weird new facts come out) that our sheepdog will get a walk and a pat on the head.

    His verbal challenge to the shooter was brave but fortunate, since it might have averted a friendly fire incident if the shooter had only been acting in self-defense.

    He’ll be on his own if the perp sues him, but I hope he can count on the help of the NRA or the SAF if that happens.

  10. avatar Ralph says:

    If I was going to handcuff a bad guy, I’d shoot him first. It’s much safer and follows police procedure to a T.

    1. avatar TTACer says:

      lol. Taze him and while he is writhing on the ground yell, “Stop resisting!”

        1. avatar dustydog says:

          Shooting him just once is risky, leaves you open to the possibility that you didn’t need to shoot him at all. Better to empty the first mag into him, and then call your union representative.

          PS – If you don’t have a union rep, this is probably a horrible plan.

  11. avatar pete says:

    Nope. Sorry about failing in my “citizen’s duty” to protect the general peace and welfare of the population, but I see no reason to risk my life, my health and everything I own to perform a duty from which the courts have exempted the police. I would have had my gun ready, but at the same time I would have been moving to cover away from the perp’s line of escape. Sorry about that, but I am not going to risk everything to perform a duty that society has told me NOT to perform since 1968.

    “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.”

    Not worth it. If you want to be protected, do it yourself. I will shoot to defend myself and my family, but not strangers who apparently are unwilling to protect themselves. Hey, I’m just following the recommendation of all of the proper authorities: “Don’t be a vigilante. Call 911 and wait for the professionals to handle the situation.”

    1. avatar William Robert says:

      +1
      It goes much farther than just about you… Our kids need their dads. Unless the shooter is still presenting an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm to you it may be a better idea to just get outta there.

  12. avatar Silver says:

    The sticky part, as people have said, is we can’t be sure if the shooter was another CCWer protecting himself.

    I would do what I can if there was a very apparent crime in progress, but if the danger has passed and I wasn’t a hundred percent sure who was the victim and who was the assaulter, I’d take a more reserved approach. I’d get as good a look as I could at the guy, call 911, and perhaps try to follow at a safe distance.

    Regardless, this guy should be commended for what he did. It’s unfortunate people today have to worry about reprisals from courts and police for doing a good, brave thing.

  13. avatar JJ Swiontek says:

    “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?”

    Arrest? No. Detain for authorities? Yes.

  14. avatar AntiCitizenOne says:

    You don’t know the whole story? Don’t intervene.

  15. avatar Sid says:

    I don’t carry handcuffs anymore because the faux fur lining gave me a rash and my wife would not always respond to the safe word.

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