Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Shot That Breaks The Legal System's Back

When people work self defense scenarios or force-on-force training the question of legalities--always so black and white on paper--present themselves in a hazy variations of muddled gray.

And if you add the stress and excitement of working a scenario you very well find out that a split second of irrational thought could be the difference between justified self defense and aggravated assault, manslaughter or a variation thereof.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to take a class that's been on my short list for three years: Extreme Close Quarters at the Tactical Defense Institute.

On the second day of the class, attendees are invited to participate in two force-on-force scenarios. You can choose to participate in one, both or neither. The point of the scenarios is to let you work the techniques you've learned over the weekend and to put them into the context of a physical assault.

Something unique about the scenarios is that you are also supposed to think about the legalities of your actions. Class attendees who are watching the scenario act as a pseudo jury and opine as to whether or not they believe your actions were justified as you fought.

The first scenario is a "stand up" scenario which usually begins with some sort of interview process. Deciding when and how and what level of force to use can be much more tricky.

In the second scenario, it is assumed you have been hit and rendered unconscious. You come to with your attacker already on top of you, beating you. It assumes lethal force is already justified. The point of the scenario is to illustrate that even though lethal force is already justified you may have quite a bit of fighting to do before you can get to a lethal force option like a knife or a gun.

I was the first student in this scenario. I laid down on the mat and the lead instructor, Greg Ellifritz, got on top of me in the mount and said, "Go!" while wrapping his hands around my neck.

I worked the ground fighting techniques we'd learned over the weekend and in Krav and while he was trying hard to get my gun off of me I was able to adequately defend it. However, towards the end of the scenario I was feeling as though I was running out of time. He grabbed my left hand and pulled me across him so that he had access to my waistband. I felt him grab at my magazine carrier/knife sheath. I heard something hit the floor, looked and saw he had successfully taken away my spare magazine.

I realized that, given enough time, he'd get my gun or knife and making space for me to get to my gun without having better control of him would mean he might be able to take it away from me.

I needed to make a move, now!

I dropped my hips below his to take away his reach and with my right arm pressed under his chin, trying to choke him with my forearm I drew my knife and buried it into the inside crease of his right leg and groin. I twisted it a couple of times simulating a deep wound and when I felt his legs loosen from around me I darted back and away.

While falling back from him I drew my gun, aimed in on his head and started pressing the trigger.

He was sitting up by now and staring at me.

I was surging with adrenaline and still had my knife in my off-hand. I wasn't even thinking about legalities. I was only thinking how scared I was at how close he came to getting my knife and how lucky I was that I got it first.

I can't tell you what stayed my hand but I didn't shoot. I screamed at him to stay back and the scenario was over.

I holstered my gun and deescalated. I didn't think about the scenario again until I watched it later on video my husband had recorded.

Between the time I cut him and my gun aimed at him is about 3 to 5 seconds. In that time I'm pushing myself away from him, making my way to my feet and drawing my gun. I've also put about 10 feet between us.

In that time a lot changed. I'd already used lethal force against him and with the type of cut I made it would be very likely that he would be bleeding to death. However, the dynamics of the scenario had changed.

If you are a student of self defense it's important to become familiar with the principles of AOJP in order to use lethal force.

A = Your attacker has to have the Ability to cause death or great bodily harm.
O = Your attacker has to have the Opportunity to cause death or great bodily harm.
J = You have to believe your life or limb is in Jeopardy.
P = There has to be no other reasonable option for you to remove yourself from that scenario or defend yourself. This is known as Preclusion.

In that scenario the AOJP was satisfied enough for me to be entirely justified in using lethal force as a means of self defense initially.

My attacker had the ability. He was a healthy, large, fully-functioning man.

He had the opportunity. He was sitting on top of me.

I was certainly in jeopardy. I was beneath him with his hands around my throat.

There was no preclusion. I had no other reasonable options. Despite how I tried I was not able to get away from him until I cut him in the groin.

There was also some disparity of force and position going on. Lethal force was justified.

And in 3 seconds the scenario changed drastically.

My attacker may still have had the ability to cause me death or great bodily harm (at least until he passed out from blood loss) but he no longer had the opportunity. Depending on how badly I cut him he may not have been able to use his leg to come after me. While I certainly could have felt like my life was still in jeopardy I now had reasonable options of escape. I didn't need to shoot him. I could leave.

I wasn't thinking about those things at the time. At the time I was feeling a mixture of fear and relief and I was putting pressure on a trigger beneath the barrel of a gun pointed directly at his head.

The threat was over and had I put another pound of pressure on said trigger I would have been stepping beyond the boundaries of self defense. The AOJP would no longer be satisfied.

If it had been real would I have been charged given the nature of the scenario? I don't know.

Would I have been convicted? Again, given the nature of the scenario, I don't know.

But the fact of the matter is, those 3 seconds and the smallest press of my trigger finger could have landed me in a serious mess of legal trouble I couldn't begin to comprehend (much less afford) if the scenario had been real.

There will be some that will argue that I would still have been justified in taking the shot. There will be some that will argue that I would not have been. I anticipate getting private messages from now until kingdom come with differing opinions. And it will all go to illustrate one thing: that that shot would not have been clear-cut self defense.

And therein lies the importance of thinking about these scenarios and attending force-on-force and the kind of training we worked over the weekend. Until you are there and experiencing the adrenaline and wondering what you are supposed to do and afraid and, yes, a bit panicked, you have no idea how well you will judge the scenario, when to use lethal force and when it may no longer be justified.

These classes not only help you learn about techniques of self defense but set you up to better judge situations. You learn how you can work them and when they may be over while also preparing you to continue to fight if need be or search for more threats. They construct patterns of behavior that are within legal boundaries (or at least they should!) and help you identify lethal force moments.

They also help you identify when you have fought yourself to a position of no longer needing that force.

If you haven't taken a class like that yet, I recommend you go out there and find one!

And if you want to watch the scenario for yourself here is the video. Watch between the :44 and :58 second marks. 

1 comment:

  1. Your composure while undergoing the stress of ground fighting is impressive. I don't think I would have thought to drop my hips to keep him off of my gun. People really underestimate just how physically taxing ground fighting is and how quickly you can wear yourself out and lose focus. Keep up the good work!