The Zach Peters Case Part 3: A Textbook 911 Call
The Zach Peters Case:
Part 3: A Textbook 911 Call
On March 27, 2017, Zach Peters found himself making an extraordinary 911 call he probably never imagined he’d have to make. Just minutes earlier, Peters awoke to the sound of breaking glass and a slammed door. The 23-year-old had been enjoying a midday nap at his parents’ house, and now he feared someone had broken in. He grabbed a rifle — his father’s AR-15, and he went to investigate. He discovered three figures in the house, each clad in black, wearing gloves and masks. After a tense verbal exchange, Peters fired. Two fell to the ground, one fled.
Then Peter’s did the exact right thing: he barricaded himself in his room, and he dialed 911.
The 911 call after a self-defense shooting is a critical part of a self-defense claim. In our series, The Four Elements of Self-Defense, we explored a number of cases where the 911 call, or lack of a call, had a very negative impact on the legal defense.
In the Ted Wafer case — where the homeowner shot a person who had been violently banging on the front door — the 911 call is short, Wafer’s demeanor is strange and detached, and he is unresponsive to the operator’s questions. “Uh, yes, I just shot somebody on my front porch with a shotgun banging on my door,” he says. When the operator asks for his address, he provides it, but when the operator queries further, Wafer says, “thank you,” and hangs up the phone.
In the Michael Dunn case, Dunn shot Jordan Davis in a gas station parking lot after a dispute over loud music. As Dunn fled the scene, he explained to his terrified fiance that what he did was self-defense and legal — yet he failed to call 911 to report the shooting. Early the next morning, in a Jacksonville, Florida hotel, he discovered he had killed the teenager, and still he did not call 911. Lather that day, Jacksonville homicide detectives caught up with him at his home in Satellite Beach, nearly 180 miles away, and Dunn soon realized he was in big trouble.
In the Gyrell Lee case, Lee shot Quinton Epps moments after Epps gunned down Lee’s cousin. After the shooting, Lee fled and hid his gun. He never called 911. Before long, police found the bodies of both Epps and Lee’s cousin, and by the time police picked up Lee for the shooting, they suspected him of both homicides.
Byron Smith, like Zach Peters, shot teenage intruders who had broken into his home. Unlike Peters, Smith failed to call the authorities. He later explained to investigators that he didn’t want to trouble them on Thanksgiving. Smith did, however, call his neighbor to explain that he had “solved the break-ins in the neighborhood.” That call didn’t play well with a jury.
A strange, uncooperative 911 call — or no 911 call at all — can become consciousness of guilt evidence at trial. CCW Safe contributor Andrew Branca explains that the concept is “the recognition that the behavior and conduct of someone who believes they’ve done something wrong often differs in observable ways from . . . someone who doesn’t.” Wafer, Dunn, Lee, and Smith’s actions after their shootings became consciousness of guilt evidence at their trials.
Zach Peters’ 911 call, in contrast, had the opposite effect on his case. Don West, criminal defense attorney and National Trial Counsel for CCW Safe says Peters “conducted himself appropriately; he had the appropriate affect. Despite it being a traumatic experience, he kept himself together.” Since Peters’ 911 call provides a textbook example of how to report a self-defense shooting, it’s worth exploring in more detail:
On the 911 call, a female voice, asks, “What’s the address of your emergency?” Peters provides it and immediately makes his claim: “I’ve just been broken into. Three men. Two I have shot in my house.” His voice is tense and firm, but it is affirmative and forthcoming.
The operator clarifies that Peters has shot the intruders, and asks if they are bleeding. “Yes. I believe one, one is down, one is still talking. You need to get here now.” Many who heard this call interpreted this statement as Peters asking for help for the injured intruder. Don West says that trying to help someone who has just assaulted you or violated your home may seem counterintuitive, but it is the right thing to do. It is the exact opposite of consciousness of guilt evidence.
There’s a long pause while the operator types. Peters silently holds. The operator confirms that the suspects broke into his home, and she asks for the caller’s name. He gives it. The operator says people are on the way, and she confirms again that the suspects broke in and he shot them.
She asks if they were white males, and Paters says he didn’t get a good look at them. She asks if he can see them, and Peters says, “No, I’m, uh, I shot two of them, and now I’m barricaded in my bedroom.” He expounds that the bedroom is in the southeast corner of the house, understanding that police will be arriving soon to a dangerous situation and his location will be important.
Also, barricading himself in his room was a wise move. Had he remained in the other room with the men he shot, there is no telling how the situation may have deteriorated. Instead, he neutralized the threat and immediately left the hostile situation. It demonstrated he was in fear and that he sought a safer place at the first opportunity.
“They broke in the back door,” Peters says, “I can hear one of them talking.” This information reinforces his self-defense claim, and it also gives information that will be important law enforcement officers when they arrive. Don West cautions against saying too much on a 911 call, but reasserting your claim, pointing out evidence, and providing information that will help police more safely approach the scene are all very appropriate ways to cooperate with authorities in the aftermath of a shooting.
The operator asks where the intruders were shot. Peters says, “Upper body.” She asks what he shot them with. He says, “An AR-15.” He’s not volunteering information at his point, but he’s succinctly answering each of the operator’s questions.
“I’m still armed in the southeast corner of my house,” Peters says. It’s very important to communicate the location and the state of the weapon after a shooting. The last thing Peters wants is to be shot by police responding to his call. Seconds later, the operator declares that the deputy is on the scene and says, “I need you to go ahead and unarm yourself and put the gun away.” Peters says, “Okay, it will be unloaded on my bed, and I’ll still be in my bedroom.”
After another brief exchange, Peters says that he can hear the deputy and that he’s going out. It’s good that he announced that, because when the operator passed the message along to the responding deputy, they insisted that Peters remain in his room. Peters complies. A few moments later, a deputy on the scene tells him he can come out. The call ends.
Zach Peters’ call provides an excellent example for concealed carriers and gun owners concerned with home defense on how to behave immediately following a self-defense shooting. He called 911 as soon as he got to a safe place. His demeanor was calm and austere. He clearly stated his self-defense claim. He implied concern for the people he shot. He answered the operator’s questions succinctly, but didn’t volunteer unnecessary information. He communicated his location and the state of his weapon. He cooperated with all the operator’s instructions and stayed on the line until he was dismissed.
Just a few days after the shooting, the District Attorney announced that Peters’ use of force was considered justified. This was an open and shut case, and Peters’ 911 call helped law enforcement quickly close it in his favor.
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