Breaking Contact Pt. 5
Part 5: Success Stories
For the past several weeks, we have adopted the personal protection philosophy proposed by respected firearms instructor Claude Werner, and we’ve applied it to our analysis of several high-profile self-defense cases. Claude says, “Our goal in personal protection is to force a break in contact. We want them to go away, or we want to go away. One or the other.” By focusing on “a break in contact,” Claude highlights the advantages of avoidance, de-escalation, disengagement, and less lethal use of force, leaving deadly force as an option of last resort.
We’ve looked at three cases where the defenders missed opportunities to break contact and ended up convicted (or killed). We’ve also revisited three cases where the defender chose to re-engage the aggressor AFTER successfully breaking contact. And we explored three cases where a defender actually INITIATED contact with a potential aggressor, setting off a tragic cascade of events. This week we’ll take a quick look at a number of defenders who struck the right balance; they managed to break contact with their aggressors, and they survived the event without long-term legal consequences.
We’ll start with Zach Peters who was taking a midday nap when awoken by the sound of broken glass. He grabbed his father’s AR-15 and went to investigate. When he entered the main area of the house, he came face-to-face with three intruders, all clad in black. Peters fired several rounds and retreated to his bedroom where he barricaded himself behind a locked door and called 911. Legally, Peters was justified in assuming that the intruders who had forcibly entered his home posed an imminent threat of harm. He fired his weapon justifiably, and then wisely retreated to a safer place and called the police. He broke contact and fled to safety — resisting the urge to either chase the intruders away or to “finish them off.” Ultimately, all three of the intruders died of their wounds, but after a short investigation, Peters was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Charles Dorsey and his wife Barbara were awoken after midnight by incessant doorbell ringing and pounding on their front door. The shirtless man outside, Gary Espinoza, was a stranger to them; they had no way of knowing he was the confused, intoxicated guest of their nextdoor neighbor. While Mrs. Dorsey called 911, Mr. Dorsey issued verbal commands, insisting the stranger leave the property. At first Espinoza complied, but he soon came back, angry and agitated. The Ring doorbell captured audio and video of the encounter. Mrs. Dorsey wisely counsels her husband not to go outside, so Mr. Dorsey waits, resisting the urge to initiate direct contact with the perceived intruder until Espinoza breaks the lock and flings the door open. Dorsey fires only once, fatally injuring Espinoza, eliminating the threat. With 20/20 hindsight, we have suggested that, if Mr. Dorsey had waited in a secure position deeper in his home, the tragic misunderstanding likely could have been avoided. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Mr. Dorsey’s actions were justified, and he is to be commended for not opening the door and prematurely engaging the threat and for firing only once, stopping once he had successfully broken contact.
Sheri McClatchy was physically attacked by an angry patron at the coin laundromat where she worked. While McClatchy suffered only minor bruises and scrapes, security cameras captured an impressive melee that saw both women bouncing off laundry machines and grappling on the floor. When McLatchey escaped the clutches of the angry patron, she retrieved her pistol from her car and phoned 911, but she did not re-engage her attacker; instead, the attacker re-engaged her. Parking lot surveillance video shows that, as the woman approaches, McLatchey raises her pistol from a low-ready position to aiming at her attacker. It works. This time the aggressor retreats and leaves the premises. McClatchey successfully broke contact with her attacker twice, first by disengaging, and secondly, by using less lethal force (in most jurisdictions, defensive display is the threat of deadly force, not actual use of deadly force). She faced no criminal charges for her actions.
Then there is the case of CCW Safe member Stephen Maddox. During a motorcycle rally in Wilson, North Carolina, Maddox was attacked three times by a much larger man, a former friend named Kelley Wilkerson. Twice, other people were able to pull the enraged Wilkerson off of Maddox, who was able to retreat from both attacks. Once safely away from his attacker, Maddox considered riding off on his motorcycle, but physically shaken from the twin attacks, he feared he couldn’t ride safely. He dialed 911, but was interrupted. Then Wilkerson arrived a third time. He charged Maddox and wrestled him to the ground. This time there was no one around to pull Wilkerson away, so Maddox got ahold of his .44 revolver and fired all five rounds. None of the shots immediately killed Wilkerson, but they weakened him enough to allow Maddox to escape. For a third time, Maddox broke contact, and he ran around a corner to a place of relative safety and reported the attack and the shooting to 911. Wilkerson ultimately died of his wounds, and unbelievably, Maddox was charged with murder. Thanks, in part, to the fact that Maddox was never the aggressor and fought three times to break contact with his attacker, it took only two and a half hours for a jury to acquit.
The lesson for concealed carriers is that armed defenders who wait until a perceived aggressor makes contact and poses a clear, imminent threat have a stronger legal justification for the use of deadly force than those who rush to confront a potential threat. Defenders who make less lethal efforts to break contact during an attack can often avoid the use of deadly force, and they strengthen their self-defense claim should they be forced to resort to their firearm. Finally, defenders who have the presence of mind to stop using force as soon as they successfully break contact with an attacker are much less likely to be prosecuted for their actions, and if they are, they will have a much stronger legal defense should they ever stand trial. Perhaps most importantly, when a concealed carrier enters a self-defense situation with the goal of breaking contact — as opposed to a goal of killing or disabling an attacker — the defender has a substantially higher likelihood of avoiding a deadly shooting or making a successful self-defense claim when all else fails.
SHAWN VINCENT- LITIGATION CONSULTANT
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know belo