Thursday, March 22, 2012

Vigilante Shoots Vigilante: Utah Incident and Stand Your Ground Law

A 2009 shooting in Utah demonstrates the problems with Shoot First laws, as drafted and promoted by ALEC and conservative Republican legislators that expands the ability to shoot upon belief of threat off the premises of one's own property.  This was exactly the kind of incident that law enforcement, prosecutors and opponents of the Minnesota Shoot First law described, and which the ALEC legislators and their associates disregarded.  It exemplifies why opponents call these Shoot First, because the questions are only asked and answered after someone has either been shot or shot at.
This incident points up a number of the problems with Shoot First laws, including vigilanteism, the lack of authority or official recognition for some of these self-appointed neighborhood watches that operate contrary to the directions of police, and the failure of the shooters to identify themselves, as well as their lack of authority to act to demand others explain themselves and their actions to them.
One of the aspects of the Trayvon Martin shooting that has intrigued me, but has received relatively little attention in the media storm of attention so far, is the claim by Zimmerman and his neighbor and fellow self-appointed co-captain of their neighborhood watch is the claim that previous crime was committed by black teens.  So far, there is no evidence that I can find that supports that claim, and the Sanford PD does not support that claim when queried by local media.  The mistaken assumptions of self-appointed vigilante civilians on patrol figure significantly in this Utah shooting, and in the Treyvan Martin shooting.
So far as I can tell at this point, in the Trayvon Martin shooting and in this Utah shooting there were in each neighborhood watch ONLY the two self-appointed captains, but not a larger group of people from the neighborhood.  On that basis I challenge whether two guys, in either instance, legitimately constitutes all by themselves a valid group that really is representing a neighborhood. 
In both cases, the individual doing the shooting does not appear to have identified themselves as acting on behalf of a group.  In both cases, the local police do not appear to have given either pair of men official recognition, and in both cases the local police specifically direct such watch members not to engage people, and not to carry guns while patrolling.
In both cases, people who knew the shooters - and the victims - describe them as nice people.  In both instances there is a misguided effort to make a location safe where the vigilantes each overreached any right or authority they had, and the vigilantes end up making the areas LESS safe, one putting a kid in the morgue, and one putting a man in the hospital.  I would argue further, that both of these situations with a distraught shooter were cases where there was no authority for the vigilantes to challenge anyone, where no person who they followed, criminal or not, had any obligation to answer their interrogations, to stop or to change what they were doing.  Vigilantes mistakenly think they can act as if they were police.  They have no training, they have no authority, they have no accountability - for example, they are under no obligation to identify themselves (and don't).  We do not allow cops to act like this, and we should not allow these deluded if well-meaning citizens to do so.  They are clearly dangerous - to innocent people, and to each other.
Both sides in the incident were involved in protection shootings involving what they believed was an incident of self-defence.  In Utah, this resulted in one man arrested, and another in the hospital.  Had the same event occurred under the authority of the Shoot First law as it exists in Florida and a number of other 'red'/ conservative lax gun regulation states, no arrest or prosecution would have occurred.  The shooting of a man who was not a criminal and who was not committing a crime would have been completely legal under the expanded territory provision.  This is what is wrong with extending the Castle doctrine to public places, to any place outside one's own actual home or 'Castle'.  The second amendment under the Heller decision ONLY recognizes a right to a firearm in one's home; to go beyond that as the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground laws do clearly is not a second amendment right, and just as clearly these laws resulted in a pattern of abuses, the same abuses that law enforcement and prosecutors predicted.
Here is a local news account of the incident from KSL TV and Radio in Utah (the original story has video and a link to the audio of the 911 call after the shooting):
Bluffdale man shot while on neighborhood watch

BLUFFDALE -- A late night altercation left one man fighting to survive. The shooting happened Tuesday night in a Bluffdale neighborhood. The victim, authorities say, is a member of the local neighborhood watch; the shooter is a resident of the neighborhood.
Over the past few weeks there have been a number of vehicle burglaries and vandalism to vacant properties in the Bluffdale neighborhood. Tuesday night, 36-year-old David Serbeck and the homeowner's association president decided to patrol the neighborhood to see if they could find anyone involved.
Sometime before 11 p.m., the HOA president and Serbeck, who was driving the vehicle at the time, came across four teenage girls walking down the street near 1570 West and 15500 South (Iron Horse Boulevard).
The two men drove next to the girls, trying to question them about the crimes, thinking they might be involved. Their vehicle matched the description of a car used in the earlier burglaries.

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Reginald Campos was arrested for attempted murder by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.
The girls got into the car and drove away, but SerbeckHOA president followed. Police say they never identified themselves as members of neighborhood watch.
"The SUV does some funny maneuvers with the car, gets behind them, starts following them. This freaks them out because they think the older men are stalking them," said Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lt. Don Hutson.
The girls became upset and of them called her father, 43-year-old Reginald Campos, and said the men were stalking them.
When the girls arrived home, Campos sent three of the girls inside and he and his daughter went looking for the two men and found them in an SUV a few blocks away.
Lt. Don Hutson said, "They both got out of the vehicle. They were both armed with handguns ... words were exchanged, there was a verbal altercation, and unfortunately Mr. Campos, who is the father of the young lady, fired two rounds, possibly three rounds, at Mr. Serbek."
Authorities say Serbeck was hit with one of the bullets in the left shoulder and it traveled near his spine.

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"We received the initial call, and essentially it was a 911 call from a gentleman who said, ‘I've shot somebody, I need the police,'" Hutson said.
"I just had someone chasing my daughter. And when I confronted them, they pulled out a gun and I shot him," Campos tells the 911 dispatcher. "He's down on the ground. He needs an ambulance. He's hurt. He's down."
Serbeck was flown by a helicopter to Intermountain Medical Center in very critical condition.
Neighbors say Campos was just protecting his daughter.
"Reggie is a decent, loving husband; loving neighbor, a good guy, always looking out for, in particular, our little street," said KanaMarie Poulson.
Neighbors close to Campos say they knew nothing about a local neighborhood watch.
Serbek's friends say he'd been patrolling the last few months because of recent burglaries. He has a military background, but mostly a calm demeanor.
"It's going to be very debilitating for the neighborhood to have such an all-star person like that be hurt this way, and his family," said Sheryl Babcock.
The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office arrested Campos for attempted murder. The Sheriff's office says Campos did not have a concealed weapons permit, but Serbeck did.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney will screen the case.

Also from the same news media in Salt Lake Utah, in a related story, another parallel to the Sanford Florida police department's position:
SLCO Sheriff's Office: When on neighborhood watch, leave guns at home
SALT LAKE CITY -- Salt Lake County sheriff's deputies say they have no record the man shot Tuesday night while paroling a Bluffdale neighborhood was part of a neighborhood watch group in the area.
Though neighborhood groups can organize on their own, law enforcement agencies say they don't sponsor the kind of program it appears this neighborhood had.

Neighborhood watch is a valuable program, but deputies say weapons have no place in it.
Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Deputy Levi Hughes said, "We recommend you do not. As a matter of fact, we tell you, you should not carry firearms."
He continued, "If you have a gun, sometimes people will feel more empowered. Problem is they don't have the training, knowledge or experience to handle a confrontation that would require a gun."
The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office sponsors neighborhood watch groups and offers training for members.
"We come to their homes. We meet with them. We talk to them about the things they need to watch out for, things they need to do to protect themselves," Hughes said.
He says the man who was shot, 36-year-old David Serbek, was not part of a sponsored program. The sheriff's office stopped sponsoring mobile patrol about 10 years ago after a shooting and chase involving mobile patrol members.
The sheriff's office says the situation Tuesday night could have been handled differently by Serbeck and the shooter, 43-year-old Reggie Campos. They say a cell phone, not a gun, is the best weapon.
"This is an example of what's happened before and could happen to you if you take the law into your own hands," Hughes said.
Investigators say Serbeck had a concealed carry permit; Campos did not but legally owned his gun.
Gun lobbyist Clark Aposhian says gun training emphasizes disengagement techniques. He says that's always the first step.
"Your first thought should always be, when faced in an encounter like this, is to disengage. Try to step back try to move away. Even if you have a firearm, you don't always win," Aposhian said.
Other law enforcement agencies do sponsor mobile patrol programs. Salt Lake City Police started theirs in 1993 and say it's been very successful. Their policy prohibits any weapons.
If you are interested in learning more about neighborhood watch programs in your area, click on the links below. If your area is not listed, contact your local law enforcement agency for more information:

The outcome of the Utah shooting was not decided until the summer of 2010; had this case gone to court in Florida, under their more expansive Castle Doctrine law, the outcome would have been different, based on similar case decisions in Florida courts, both before and since 2010.
From the same KSL station in Utah, in an op ed piece at the conclusion:
Campos and Serbeck
August 16th, 2010 @ 5:21am

A recent highly-publicized trial offers a sobering reminder to those who choose to carry guns of the responsibility they have to keep their emotions in check when a weapon is at hand.
There they were, two armed men facing each other on a Bluffdale street in July 2009. Only they know exactly what happened that night. In the end, a jury convicted Reginald Campos who was portrayed as a respected family man of attempted murder. He fired a bullet that severed the spine of David Serbeck who was on a neighborhood watch patrol. Campos claimed he did it in self-defense. Serbeck said he didn't provoke what he got.
Our intent is not to rehash details of the trial. Again, only those involved know who said what and how events unfolded. Sadly, one man is headed for prison, while the other will spend his life confined to a wheelchair.
These men were not criminals, but generally respected citizens not unlike thousands of other Utahns who legally own and carry guns.
The story of Campos and Serbeck is cause for contemplation by those who choose to arm themselves. Indeed, each has a responsibility to become properly trained along with having an understanding of the potential consequences of carrying a gun.
States like Florida, and any other states that either have laws like Florida or are considering adding them should learn the lessons of these incidents, in order to stop repeating them.  Apparently we do not as yet have a high enough body count from gun toting shooting-eager vigilantes yet to get rid of these shoot first laws.  It begs the question, when is it enough, when will the NRA and ALEC instigated legislators decide to stop taking blood money for this kind of legislation and admit it is a failure.

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