Self-Defense Tip: The Three Rules of a 911 Call

 

[Click here to listen the 911 call made from a private residence in Springville Utah where a home owner shot and killed an invader.] This series has long argued that there are two parts to armed self-defense. Defending yourself against a lethal threat and defending yourself against prosecution for defending yourself against a lethal threat. Just as the first rule of a gunfight is have a gun, the first rule for staying out of jail and/or losing everything you own due to defensive gun use is STFU (Shut The F Up). That rule starts from the moment you call the cavalry. Here’s the 411 on 911 . . .

1. Make the call as short as possible

911 operators are trained to keep the caller on the line as long as they can, until the first responders make the scene. You are under no legal obligation to remain in contact with the operator.

By the same token, the 911 operators are trained to extract as much information from the caller as possible. You are under no legal obligation to answer any of the operator’s questions.

f you’re in the middle of a Defensive Gun Use (DGU) talking to a 911 operator is not a particularly good use of your time (as opposed to say hiding, running or fighting). If it’s a post-game show, you don’t want anything you say to be used against you in a court of law. And yet everything you say to a 911 operator can and will be used against you in a court of law.

It’s also the way you say it. In the example above, the caller laughs nervously. Well, you and I think it’s a nervous laugh. A prosecutor might convince a jury to hear it another way. Hint: not a good way.

So communicate the basic information necessary: the situation (there’s an intruder in my house/there’s been a shooting), your address, a description of yourself and the medical condition of a wounded friendly (if applicable). After that? Nada. What else do the cops need to know? Nothing. Not a damn thing.

2. Either hang up or put the phone down as soon as possible

Once you’ve shared the key info, either hang up or put the phone down. The former is the best strategy if the DGU is done. The latter is the best option if the situation is in progress.

If you throw the phone down—an excellent idea from a strategic/situational awareness point of view—remember that you’re being recorded.

Use that to your advantage. If it’s safe to do so, yell a warning to the intruder. “The police are on their way. I’ve got a gun. Don’t make me me shoot you.” Over-zealous prosecutors hate that stuff. Juries love it.

Again, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. If you start swearing, laughing (even nervously) or go for some Clint Eastwood-like line before pulling the trigger, that will NOT work out well for you.

3. Do not discuss the 911 call with the cops

Police/detectives arriving on scene will try to extract as much information from you as possible. The cops may try and use information from the 911 call to get you to talk before you lawyer up. Lawyer up. Tell them “My life was in danger” and “I will answer all your questions after I speak with my attorney.” And . . . that’s it. Nothing else.

Don’t be fooled by 911 operators’ good intentions (which are beyond doubt). They are not trying to get you into trouble. But by God they can.

I know it’s difficult not to tell a helpful stranger anything they want to know in a time of grave danger. But give them the basics and STFU. Don’t give law enforcement and the perp’s lawyer the ammunition they need to turn you from an armed self-defender into a victim of the legal system.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

28 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: The Three Rules of a 911 Call

  1. avatarRoy says:

    Good advise. How critical is it in a Castle Doctrine state? how much does that law protect a person who uses lethal force?

    • avatarThe Pit Boxer says:

      I would think it’s just as critical. Castle Doctrine doesn’t provide immunity from prosecution in all situations. You are only presumed innocent, and only if your situation falls under a limited set of circumstances. If anything on the recording can be used to say that your situation did not, there goes your presumed innocence.

  2. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    It doesn’t matter whether you have “Castle Doctrine” or not. The 911 call can also be introduced into civil wrongful death case(s) brought against the homeowner even after a homeowner is cleared of any criminal action.

    Look at the pattern you see in news stories. Have you ever seen a mother or relative of some perp who is now dead say “He was a problem as a child, and when I learned of what he was doing last month, I warned him that he could get shot…”?

    No, you always hear “He was such a good boy.” “He was turning his life around.” “He didn’t deserve this.”

    On and on and on and on and on and on, we hear idiotic pablum out of the families of perps how they were “good” people. Never mind that they might have had a rap sheet as long as your arm. “He was a good boy…” the mother will sob.

    And if you have enough assets and have made questionable or stupid statements to the 911 operator, the cops, the press after the fact, etc… you’ve just made yourself a target for the relatives of the perp to come after you in a wrongful death suit. Because being cleared of any criminal charge does NOT mean that the DA is saying “Yep, he needed killin’!” No, the DA is saying “You were not acting in a criminal manner.” This is not sufficient to prevent a wrongful death action being brought.

    • avatarBob says:

      “The 911 call can also be introduced into civil wrongful death case(s) brought against the homeowner even after a homeowner is cleared of any criminal action.”

      In some states, namely Florida, state law says that if a perp is injured or dies during or as the result of his crime the victim can NOT be civilly sued by him or his relatives. Not only that but his accomplices, if any, can be charged with his murder. It sure has cut down on that lawsuit crap.

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      It doesn’t matter whether you have “Castle Doctrine” or not. The 911 call can also be introduced into civil wrongful death case(s) brought against the homeowner even after a homeowner is cleared of any criminal action.

      Many states (sorry, save Florida, I don’t know which ones, do your research) that have a Castle Doctrine or a Stand Your Ground law also have attendant clauses giving immunity from civil action in cases where that person’s use of force is justified by law.

      • avatarTyler says:

        Utah is actually voting on this same thing right now to protect the home owner both criminally and civilly in court.

    • avatarRopingdown says:

      “Because being cleared of any criminal charge does NOT mean that the DA is saying “Yep, he needed killin’!” No, the DA is saying “You were not acting in a criminal manner.” This is not sufficient to prevent a wrongful death action being brought.” –In PA it is otherwise.

  3. avatarMA8934T says:

    ” If you start swearing or go for some Clint Eastwood-like line before pulling the trigger, that will NOT work out well for you.”

    What is slightly humorous is that in Oklahoma the home DGU law is referred to as the “Make my day” law, taken from Dirty Harry.

  4. avatarSkyler says:

    Beyond the general advice, was there something in the example 911 call that was objectionable?

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      In specific, within seconds, the woman on the line gave a narrative of what happened. That could bite her in the ass, legally speaking. Caller: “My husband finally got his gun.” Prosecutor: “so you’re saying your husband could have escaped?” Operator: “Is there more than one suspect?” Caller: [laughs] “Not that I know of.” Prosecutor: “Why did you laugh then? Your husband just shot a man in cold blood? Is that funny?” Operator: “Did he had a weapon?” Caller: “He said he did but we never saw one.” Prosecutor: “So you were admitting that you had no reason to think the victim was a lethal threat.” And so on.

  5. avatarbontai Joe says:

    Excellent and thought provoking advise. I am very gratefull that you posted this!

  6. avatarold and scarred says:

    something else to consider: giving the 911 operator a description of yourself and/or others a part of the DGU. what you are wearing, etc might be good info for the cops when they show up, looking for trouble………just thinkin’…….

  7. avatarAnthony says:

    I really like your article and I had the opportunity to view it from a unique perspective as I have been a 911 Operator for 5 years now. I like/agree with the advice you gave since I also am big on privacy and only giving the details needed. The only thing i can think to add is to also provide the phone number, since this is the 911 operators lifeline to you in the event you get disconnected. Also a pertinent detail I like to get is where the suspect is in the house versus my caller. That way when the police get onscene it is easier to verify the suspect and not hold the homeowner at gun point. Just a few of my observations

  8. Also, feel free to ignore any stupid advice the dispatcher says, such as “Do not, while I’m on the phone, do not fire that firearm, OK?”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2082698/Boy-14-kills-intruder-Michael-Henderson-gang-FOUR-men-try-break-house.html

    • avatarAnthony says:

      Agreed, I had a supervisor once tell a fellow dispatcher to have the homeowner put their gun away while PD was still 5 minutes away. The suspect was still in the house. To this day I still don’t know if i have heard anything asinine.

      I argued that there was no point in the homeowner putting away their gun for protection until officers were onscene. Until police arrive that gun is the only defense that caller has. They still continued to argue that it was a safety issue for the Officers. That supervisor is now all alone in that thought

  9. avatarAccur81 says:

    Good advice, and good advice to give to your wife (not that wives take advice). The hardest part will be to tell your wife to SHTF, cause she’s emotional, and going to want to talk. A lot. So good luck with that…

  10. avatarGA Koenig says:

    The only problem with all this Ayoob-level paranoia about the DA being out to get you, is that it simply is no longer true.

    Overwhelming public sentiment, across ALL jurisdictions (even NYC), is that good citizens acting in self defense receive massive benefit of doubt. To a point where I can’t recall a single case in the last 10 years where the good guy got rolled up by an “Over Zealous” prosecutor.

    I asked someone at the DA’s office about self defense shooting prosecutions around here; his basic statement – if you are a good guy and you can articulate that you acted in self defense, and the guy you shot was a known scumbag, you are fine. They aren’t going to go out of their way with lawyerly trickery to trip you up or make you out to be a monster. Why would they? Americans are waking up to their 2nd Amendment rights, gun ownership for self defense is skyrocketing, confidence in the government is at an all time low and people generally hate criminals. What DA is going to go against that sort of headwind?

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      I think you are absolutely right. I will still continue to take care with my word and actions should I find myself in a DGU situation.

      Just as most people are not out to get me, most prosecutors are also not. The gun, and the “due care” with words and actions, are to protect me from the exception.

    • avatarRalph says:

      Let’s suppose you’re right, and that the prosecutor’s instinct is to cut you lose. Do you think it will make the prosecutor want to reverse course and take you to trial if you STFU? I don’t.

      It’s highly unlikely that you will talk your way out of a prosecution, but you certainly can talk your way into one.

      • avatarGA Koenig says:

        It is hard to make the point I am attempting to (that DA’s aren’t the overly zealous prosecutors a lot of gun writers make them out to be), without coming off as though one should be flippant.

        STFU when the cops arrive is your absolute best bet. I’m not disagreeing with that idea at all.

        On the other hand, Ayoob and his acolytes are constantly publishing cautionary tales that simply don’t pan out in anything that has happened in a US courtroom any time in the last couple of decades.

        Is the gun community really served well by experts who say not to use a certain kind of firearm because of appearance? Or not to modify a trigger at all, less a prosecutor use the “he made his trigger MORE deadly!” argument? Or that every round you fire in a DGU will cost you $10k in legal fees between the criminal and civil proceedings?

        These Gun Owner Grimm Tales are designed, just like the original Grimm tales, as overly dark bodes to impart basic lessons. They go overboard, and I do not think we, as a community, are served very well by inaccurate tales spreading through the wind of this nature.

        The truth is, even a DA in San Francisco will have a hard time nailing a good citizen to the alter of justice for defending themselves. The DA I spoke with was here in flipping Portland, Oregon – not the MOST liberal place, but pretty far on the scale. In NYC, they dropped the weapons charges against a store owner who shot a brace of thugs (and even dropping the charges against those out of state CCW holders).

        We all need to be cautious. Dirty Harry phrases and boasting to the cops on the scene that you “Bagged one!” are clearly not a good idea. Making good citizens constantly question themselves and fear the aftermath more than living through the event is a terrible idea though.

        • avatarMark N. says:

          I don’t know about that being true for SF–it is illegal to discharge a firearm in SF, EVEN IN SELF DEFENSE!!! (Which is probably unconstitutional, but heh, it gives you the flavor)

    • avatarKen says:

      Ask Jerome Ersland about an over zealous procecutor. He is serving LIFE in an Oklahoma prison after shooting a robber at his pharmacy. The DA stated the crook was no longer a threat but NO-ONE can see if he is still moving on the floor except Mr. Ersland and his employees who said the crook was moving. SAY NOTHING TO THE POLICE THEY ARE THERE TO GATHER EVIDENCE.

  11. avatarKevin T says:

    While reading this article, Pandora queued up Cake’s “Shut the F@#! Up” song. Coincidence, or Google Conspiracy?

  12. avatarcody says:

    This actually happend just down the road from my parents house. From his tracks in the snow he went to !20! different houses looking for an unlocked door! Dont think these kind of people only target one house. Yours just may be the open one. This story finally put my gun where I want it in the house.

  13. avatarTom says:

    Being almost is a DGU, I have found that it is best if someone runs the guns and the significant other runs the phone and constantly gives the dispatcher updates on the situation and the location of the BGs. The person on the phone has to guide the police in properly and ID the BGs as well.
    Really, the phone person working with the cops, is a better weapon than the gun.
    The gun buys you time in case a charge and assault is made in your direction.

  14. avatarzeos says:

    great video along these lines.

    part 1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8z7NC5sgik

    part 2

  15. avatarScott Henrichs says:

    Our Miranda Rights say”You have the right to remain silent. If you give up this right anything you say can, and will, be used against you in a court of law or other legal proceedings. You have the right to legal counsel. If you can not afford an attorney one will be appointed for you by a district court or US magistrate.” Keeping those rights in mind show me where it says that talking to the police will help you? It won’t help you. They are under no obligation to help, only to gather evidence to prosecute you. How many time have you heard a DA say “well their story was just so convincing that we felt compelled to let them go. My point is the police are there to collect evidence for the DA. The DA is there to get convictions because that is what wins elections. Justice and punishing criminals isn’t part of the equation anymore. The more the police can get you to talk the more evidence they collect to use against you. Take a Saturday evening and watch the TV show cops. Watch how the officers go fishing for evidence. Watch how easily they get people to confess to crimes the officers had no clue about when they first arrived. And how many times do they talk people into giving up their 4th amendment right and allowing themselves or their car to be searched.
    I’ve got no beef with law enforcement. It is a crappy job and I’m sure it is thankless. I just don’t want to talk to them or have them try and talk me into giving up my rights. Let them talk to your lawyer.

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