30 October 2007

UA Incident: Homeowner Criticized By Officer PART 2

Here is the follow up to the incident in Upper Arlington, Ohio I mentioned in an earlier post. It is also a decent example of why the "No Duty To Retreat/Castle Doctrine" bill now being heard in the Ohio Senate must be passed.

A little over a week ago, a homeowner, his wife and small child returned home around 6 pm from running errands. UA is a generally affluent community with little crime. The homeowner had been having trouble with a garage door opener that would open and close the door at odd times. He thought there was a short, and had had the opener serviced, and of course put new batteries in the remote devices.

I was able to chat with the homeowner recently. Here is his story . . .
Seeing the garage door open, he did not suspect an intruder. It was probably another opener issue. But to be certain, he locked his wife and child safely in the automobile, and entered the house. Everything looked fine as he moved about, until he was well into the house and saw the door to his wife's office open. A door that is always closed. Alarmed, he quickly turned to their bedroom where he keeps a 12-gauge pump shotgun for self-protection. He loaded the shotgun, then racked the firearm, putting a shell in place. That sound is something quite unique, a sound everyone knows -- particularly criminals. Immediately after he racked the shotgun, he heard a loud thump from another part of the house. Like feet hitting the floor. Shortly thereafter, he heard running feet and the back door flying open. He stepped back outside to the driveway to make sure his family was safe. At this point he called 911 from his wife's cellular telephone. After being transferred three times to the proper dispatcher, Upper Arlington police took about 12 minutes to arrive (both he and his wife now have the UA police emergency number programmed into their mobile phones).

Three officers were on scene. He allowed the police to "clear" the house rather than do it himself. The primary officer, who looked to be in his mid-40s, after taking the report, began chastising the homeowner for keeping a shotgun for self defense. He asked the homeowner why he didn't call 911 sooner. The homeowner said he called as soon as it was safe to do so. The police officer then told the homeowner that guns are dangerous and asked him, "what would you have done if he had tried to attack you?" The homeowner tells me he calmly replied to the officer, "I would have shot him." The tongue-lashing from the officer continued. At this point, the police officer went on to tell the homeowner that the person in the house could have sued him for shooting him.

First of all, there is plenty of precedent law on the books in Ohio that a court would have ruled in favor of the homeowner. The homeowner, however, would have to pay an attorney to defend himself against such a suit. This is why passage of the No Duty To Retreat/Castle Doctrine bill now being heard in the Ohio Senate, and sponsored by Sen. Buehrer, is so critical. Instead of making a homeowner, or an individual CCW licensee who is out in public, defend their actions if they use a firearm to protect themselves, it puts the burden of proof on the intruder, or the criminal attacker.

Back to our UA incident. Making matters even more insulting (at least in my book), the Upper Arlington police officer said that now that they were done, did the homeowner "mind me taking a look around your home." This is a way for police to ask if they can "snoop" around your home. By asking and being granted permission, he can't be accused of a search without cause or a warrant. The officer added that maybe by looking around he could "provide some suggestions on keeping the home safer." The homeowner said the officer should have at it . . . "look all you want." The homeowner told me that the officer, prior to entering, and trying to make it sound like a joke, said something to the effect of, "Now, I'm not going to find anything I'm not supposed to in here, am I? Drugs or weapons?" The homeowner replied in the negative. The officer then took a look around. Here is where the officer was just snooping. It wasn't about safety and it wasn't about protecting them from future intrusions. He didn't like the fact that the homeowner had a gun, was not afraid to use it in a defensive situation. So he talked his way back into the home on the off chance he might find something to hang on the homeowner. Finding nothing, and giving no safety advice (I don't believe he ever planned to), the officer left.

Before you condemn the entire department, there is some sanity in left in civilian law enforcement in Upper Arlington, Ohio. Another officer on the scene, an older officer, told the homeowner he did the right thing. He told the homeowner that were he in the homeowners situation, he would have done the same thing.

A call to the Upper Arlington City Manager's office on this matter has gone unreturned. I will keep calling, and write, to find out if it is policy for officers to criticize city residents for exercising their basic human right of self defense. Stay tuned for further updates.

POSTSCRIPT: The homeowner has changed the codes on his garage door opener, just in case it was set to factory settings. Also, UA police advised the homeowner that his well-kept house, which he bought a few years ago from a bank, used to be owned by someone with a checkered criminal history. There is an outside chance someone with a grudge against the former owner didn't know there is a family there now. My guess is that the criminals bought a bunch of generic garage door openers from a Lowes or Home Depot, and have been driving up and down streets seeing if they could open and close any doors on openers that were still set to factory settings. The criminals probably got lucky. Our homeowner did the right thing. The police officer needs to keep his personal opinions to himself, or get out of the department. He wears, by his own definition, a dangerous item on his hip. His irrational fear of firearms is going to get himself, or an innocent UA resident, hurt or worse. My concern is that his opinion is based on an "us versus them" attitude. That hypocrisy is increasingly rampant in civilian law enforcement, and a most dangerous situation.


John Beckman, Newark Ohio said...

I used to live in Arlington. The police there would pull you over just for driving through their town at 1 am. Glad I'm not there now and do what I can to avoid it. Not surprised this dude was hassled just for looking out for his family.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brent - I know this is a WAY old post, but I had a relevant UA story.

First of all, to John Beckman, I love the UA cops in general, although the way the officer in the post behaved is deplorable.

I T-boned a guy on the way to work this morning (his fault) with a .380 in my pocket. I called UA cops, told the dispatcher I had a CHL & a pistol. I could hear her taking the info down, but she certainly didn't sound alarmed at all.

She said an officer would be right there - she didn't give me any instructions regarding the pistol, so I offered: should I lock it in the glove box when the officer gets here? She said, sure, that'd be great. When the cop got there, I fulfilled my statutory duty and informed him of my license - didn't even get to the part where I was going to tell him it wasn't on me, and he just waved me off - "I'm not worried about that" or something like that. I'm 99% sure if I still had it on me, he wouldn't have cared a bit.

So, maybe I just drew a cool officer, or it just takes time for them to get used to the idea, but clearly I was more nervous that I was a CHL holder than the UA cops were! Sucks to have gotten into a wreck, but the CHL part of the experience couldn't have been smoother!