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December 14, 2005

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And, of course, everyone who busts a door down yelling "This is the police" is always a legitimate law enforcement officer, and, once the magic words are spoken, you are morally obliged to do everything that they say.

Wow. Thank you, Sebastian. This is the sort of thing I love to read - knowledgeable commentary, clearly expressed.

There is plenty of blame to share in a case like this. I agree that the police are off sides. And to a certain degree what happened shouldn’t be terribly unexpected.

But……

As a kid I grew up in a house that was chock full of guns. I had a rifle and shotgun hanging above my bed. My step brother also had a rifle and my stepfather had two rifles and a shotgun in his room. We were well armed (and that doesn’t include the compound bows, pellet guns, and other boy’s toys). Woe would have been the foolish chap that broke into our house and threatened the family.

The thing is you can’t just shoot at someone when they break into your house and expect to get away with it. Myriad mitigating factors come into play. What about the drunken knucklehead that is breaking into your house because he thinks it’s his and his keys don’t work? What about your next door neighbor playing an ill advised prank on you? Or lord forbid the police conduct a midnight raid on the wrong freaking house.

Owning a gun, or having one in your possession, demands a certain amount of responsibility. When you point it at someone and pull the trigger that responsibility increases exponentially. You can’t afford to make a mistake. That kind of mistake is unforgivable. That kind of mistake is clearly what has landed Maye in hot water.

Now, had Maye barricaded himself in his own bedroom, announced to whom ever was breaking into his house that he was well armed and that anyone breaking into his room would be shot, and then the police without identifying themselves broke into his room and Maye blasted the first cop thru the door, then Maye has an argument.

But if Maye was perched at the top of the stairs training his gun on the 1st floor landing and blasted the first person to come into view, well now he’s got a problem on his hands because his life wasn’t in immediate danger. He may have been scared half to death. But that doesn’t absolve him of the responsibility of taking someone’s life even if they broke into his home.

Both the cops and Maye blew it.

And, of course, everyone who busts a door down yelling "This is the police" is always a legitimate law enforcement officer, and, once the magic words are spoken, you are morally obliged to do everything that they say.

It speaks volumes that when someone kicks down your door at night yelling "Police!!!", that happens often enough that it may actually be the cops.

The thing is you can’t just shoot at someone when they break into your house and expect to get away with it. Myriad mitigating factors come into play. What about the drunken knucklehead that is breaking into your house because he thinks it’s his and his keys don’t work? What about your next door neighbor playing an ill advised prank on you? Or lord forbid the police conduct a midnight raid on the wrong freaking house.

Breaking into someone's house at night is an inherently physically threatening act - your right to self defense at that point is absolute, IMHO.

What if your drunk neighbor, as a 'prank', points an unloaded gun at you and threatens to kill you? Are you supposed to know it's unloaded?

nice post.

all this talk of warrants and Constitutionality reminds me of a certain USSC nominee.

What if the cops were tracking down Al Qaeda's Number Three?

Do they get a pass?

I had a friend once who keep a loaded revolver right next to his bed in case of a break-in.

However, he alwyas kept the first chamber empty, figuring that by the time he was ready to pull the trigger a second time, he would be awake enough to figure out what was happening.

I know that if he had ever been in Maye's situation, the trigger would have been pulled the first time. Hopefully not the second.

What if your drunk neighbor, as a 'prank', points an unloaded gun at you and threatens to kill you? Are you supposed to know it's unloaded?

If he points a gun at you by all means fire away.

With respect to breaking and entering - the smart decision is gather your family (if you have one) into one room, lock the door and announce to the whomever is breaking in that you have a gun and plan on shooting anyone that tries to break into the room you are hiding in.

This gives the person breaking into you home the chance to run away (because there is a really good chance they didn’t know you here there in the first place). Or it gives the chance for the police to identify themselves if they did a half baked job of it in the first place.

The moment of pause for all parties is key. Not only may it save your conscious from a fair amount of guilt, but it also makes it the situation particularly clear from a legal standpoint that the definitive action you took was justified beyond any doubt.

Or shoot the guy because the constitution gives you that right. And be unfortunate enough to shoot a cop. And maybe, just maybe you get thrown in jail.

Just because you can doesnt mean you should.

Great post, Sebastian.

Toby's caveats, however, also make a lot of sense. My father was once startled out of sleep by a noise outside the house and had to be talked out of running amok with his shotgun. Of course, it was me, sneaking in.

I'm not sure what situation the law should protect. Should a resident who shoots before figuring out what's going on get charged for manslaughter or some sort of homicide? I agree that shooting before thinking seems tragically irresponsible.

That said, the death penalty for Maye is obviously overkill.

With respect to breaking and entering - the smart decision is gather your family (if you have one) into one room, lock the door and announce to the whomever is breaking in that you have a gun and plan on shooting anyone that tries to break into the room you are hiding in.

That may be often smart (when there is time to do so), but the State cannot mandate that.

Great post Sebastian! I'm going to steal a para from the Agitator that stuck in my mind:

And therein lies the problem with hyper-militarized, highly-weaponized drug raids. Citizens on the other end of these raids are expected to behave perfectly rationally. They're supposed to be cognizant, alert, and aware that it is police, and not illegal intruders, who are storming their homes. At the same time, police typically justify the tactics used in no knocks -- including raiding late at night or just before dawn, and deploying dangerous "flashbang" grenades designed to confuse and bewilder a house's occupants -- for the precise reason that they catch drug suspects off guard, and disorient them. How, then, can they turn around and say that the innocent victim of a no-knock who shoots back should have known better?

That was Radney's response to a letter:

In January 2004, the Hattiesburg American (sorry, no link) ran this quote from Maye's first attorney, Rhonda Cooper:

"The thing that bothers me the most is the notion that this 21-year-old who was out on his own for the first time and caring for his daughter was supposed to act reasonably and perfectly, but the officer did not. The reason why the officer lost his life is because he failed to do a thorough investigation. There was no surveillance, no controlled buys. There was no announcement that he was a police officer.

"Everybody has to bear some responsibility for this. Cory reacted like any other person who thought someone was breaking into his apartment. He was scared. There was no intent to kill.

Innocent people are more likely to act "irrationally" if cops burst in the door because innocent people have no expectation that the cops will descend on them and no mental preparation for such an event. Criminals know more or less what their role is in a raid and choose from a variety of responses, including those responses which will keep them physically safe or escalate the situation. An innocent person is going to be scared and react in a defensive manner which could include shooting, shouting, or running. All of the innocent person's natural responses increase the odds that the innocent person will get hurt.
One difference between a police state and a free country is that in a police state innocent people are supposed to know how to react during a police raid and in a free country innocent people don't expect to get raided and aren't prepared emotionally for a raid.
Although Toby's point about the responible use of weapons is valid, it seems to me that blaming Mayes for the death of the officer is pretty close to assuming that we need to behave like citizens in a police state and innure ourselves to random raids.

Could it be that lily and I have found some region of agreement? Looks that way. Welcome to the wonderful viewpoint of the gun freaks, lily.

8)

I dont place all blame on Maye. both parties are responsible for what happened. Maye certainly doesnt deserve the death penalty based upon what's been covered here. I assume (hope) there is more to this story.

Good post, Sebastian. Thank you for the effort.

Lots of worthwhile comments also. The points Frank and Lily raise seem particularly important to me.

I doubt very much that there is more to the story. It's a complete travesty of justice.

Not mentioned by Seb (not a slam; not everybody can mention everything) is that Maye is black, the victim was white, and the jury was mostly white. In Mississippi. Surprise surprise, you're going to get a conviction and a death penalty way more often under these circumstances.

Tragedy #1 is the dead police officer. This death is due to the stupidities Seb pointed out. But in order to understand tragedy #2, the basically innocent person condemend to death, we need to talk about racial politics, imo.

This is a quote from theagitator.com:

"Maye's attorney tells me that after the trial, she spoke with two jurors by phone. She learned from them that the consensus among jurors was that Maye was convicted for two reasons. The first is that though they initially liked her, Maye's lawyer, the jury soured on her when, in her closing arguments, she intimated that if the jury showed no mercy for Maye, God might neglect to bestow mercy on them when they meet him in heaven. They said the second reason May was convicted was that the jury felt he'd been spoiled by his mother and grandmother, and wasn't very respectful of elders and authority figures. The facts of the case barely entered the picture. Gotta' love the South."

Can't prove the above is true, of course, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. Black folks who don't know their place can still get the death penalty in Mississippi. Go back and read "Black Like Me" and meditate on just how far we have come in 40+ years.

Excellent post, Sebastian; and I will second Bruce Baugh's encomiums. The Cory Maye case has fired up a rare unanimity of opinion in the blogosphere: the consensus reached here - that whatever culpability Mr. Maye might have in Officer Jones' death: the Mississippi police did NOT conduct their raid well, there were a raft of "mitigating circumstances", and that the death penalty for murder is a wildly inappropriate judgement - is one I seen posited everywhere.
As toby says, there IS more to this story than just the issues that Sebastian has posted on: unfortunately (for Cory Maye), they mostly (from what I have read) involve issues of race, social relations in the Soouth (this raid DID take place in Jefferson Davis County, after all), and the responsibilities of law-enforcement agencies - not a single one of which are issues that Americans like to - or even CAN - discuss rationally.
Hopefully, input like Sebastian's will help to move this long-needed dialog along.

Toby,

2 points. Maye was in the house alone with his 18 month old daughter.

Second - retreat, barricade etc? There's a MAN in your HOUSE. While your solution may be objectively best for everyone on average, you want to mandate that people ignore natural 'fight or flight' responses? Or just that people should spend time making 'Worst Case Scenario Handbook' plans for their back door being kicked in?

Sebastian, I think you missed one point on the warrant - the purpose of the warrant is both to give the police authority to enter, and to inform the occupant of that authority - perhaps an argument for revisting the prudence of 'no-knock' raids.

Pooh

To address your second point - if you own a gun you should probably take the time to develop some sort of guideline for when and how you will resort to using deadly force to protect your life and the lives of your family. And then you should do your level best to following it despite natures design.

After all YOUR life might depend on it

Second - retreat, barricade etc? There's a MAN in your HOUSE

Perhaps the compromise ought to be that while shooting a stranger in your house may be an overreaction and wrong; shooting an visably armed stranger in your house is 100% okay under any possible circumstances.

Black folks who don't know their place can still get the death penalty in Mississippi

White people can get a negligent homicide changed to a felony murder charge because of racial politics, even when prosecutors agree that there was no intent, etc.

Making the homicide of a police officer ALWAYS a capital offense is a bad idea. At least this is what I think the issue is in this case.

Jonas, a fair point, but that speaks to imperfect self defense, which would make it Man-1, rather than 'malice aforethought' murder.

Toby, I understand the point you are trying to make, I just don't think it has much relevance to the facts of this case. (Actually, it does, but only in terms of whether Maye is guilty of manslaughter. Which I can take no position on not having seen the evidence.)

Making the homicide of a police officer ALWAYS a capital offense is a bad idea. At least this is what I think the issue is in this case.

Is this true? This would be particularily relevant here in New York, where I know the Police and the Tabloids are calling for far stricter laws after the recent two Cop shootings.

I didn't realize I was expressing a pro-gun position, but it is nice to be on the same side as you, Slarti. I will enjoy it while it lasts.

When you read about the Maye case, think about the great discretion given to a police officer who shoots someone in the line of duty. Anyone remember the case of the marine who shot the Iraqi man who was on the floor?

Self-defense rest on a foundation of reasonableness. Maye's actions were reasonable under the circumstances.

Maye should have never been charged with a crime. I hope people flood Mississippi's governor and legislature into taking action. I also hope that this case puts a stop to SWAT team style home searches, except in the most unusual of cases.

When you read about the Maye case, think about the great discretion given to a police officer who shoots someone in the line of duty. Anyone remember the case of the marine who shot the Iraqi man who was on the floor?

Self-defense rest on a foundation of reasonableness. Maye's actions were reasonable under the circumstances.

Maye should have never been charged with a crime. I hope people flood Mississippi's governor and legislature into taking action. I also hope that this case puts a stop to SWAT team style home searches, except in the most unusual of cases.

This point has probably already been made, but it seems like Maye's reaction was particularly understandable given his co-tenants. I'm sure Maye knew he was sharing the house with "bad people" involved with drugs. A loud, middle-of-the-night break-in could be the police, but more likely it would be other bad people intent on doing harm to Maye's cotenants. Maye probably wouldn't be very confident that the bad people breaking in would know that he was an innocent renter. In that case, a "shoot first" policy would be pretty understandable.

Nice follow-up post, Sebastian.

My father-in-law, now deceased, became enamored with self-defense via firearms late in life. He bought approximately ten guns of various sizes, including a 457 Magnum, and proceeded to hide them throughout his fairly small house, telling no one where they were, including his wife, though she knew a few things from snooping. With the exception of the 457, which he concealed, loaded, in a specially-made panel in a bookcase near the T.V. for quick draw during the Late Show.

He was very proud of that hiding place. So he told me about it. He seemed to me to be disappointed that he hadn't had to use the thing on swarthy people coming through the front window. He would do drills with it, you know timing the dropping of the T.V. remote and lunging toward the bookcase.

He was a hostile guy, not personally, but toward groups, if you know what I mean. He read Howard Ruff (one of the early, smaller s---heads during the 1970s before the onset of the professional s---heads we have today; not mentioning any names, cough, Rush Limbaugh) and joined the NRA.

Apparently the intensive transcendental meditation courses my father-in-law took during the late 1960s offered no lasting relaxation or enlightenment.

Anyway, Alzheimer's disease made its entrance gradually but painstakingly. His hostility increased until the rest of his family decided the guns had to go. But finding them and removing them would also increase his hostility -- what to do? We were scared.

Everyone was on pins and needles for two or more years. Grandkids had to be watched closely. Finally, one day, near the end of what remained of his lucidity, he emerged from his bedroom and announced to his wife that "it's time to get rid of the guns".

That was very close to the last articulate sentence the man spoke, before he was taken away to the V.A. hospital. We got the call and scoured the house, finding all of the weapons and thousands of rounds of ammo. The guy at the gun store where we sold the stuff shook his head when he saw all the ammo -- what was my father-in-law expecting, a siege?

Anyway, I hate guns. I have experience with them and they really are for only one thing. Anyone can become proficient, and quickly bored, with mere target practice.I used to half-think if he had come out of his room waving a gun and raving that I knew where the 457 magnum was. Christ!

In learning about Alzheimer's we concluded that the hostility, especially toward strangers, the paranoia, and yes, the fetishistic gun collecting were early onset indicators of the disease.

What would I do if an armed crazy person broke into my house. I don't know. Die of fright? Rip their lungs out? If I had a gun, I'd probably throw it at them.

Oh man, John, that must have been terrifying.

I should add that my father-in-law was a decent guy with some quirky ideas. I enjoyed his company. He flew 32 missions over Europe during WWII. He was well-read. I miss him.

But we didn't know he had Alzheimers until there was a lot of water over the dam.

Hmm...I'm visiting via a link from another blog. Good discussion here.

While I've been reading a great deal on the technical merits (or lack thereof) of this case, one thing seems to be left out of most people's equations: the man had his baby daughter in the room with him.

I have to say that IF someone broke into MY bedroom in the dead of night while my daughter was sleeping beside me, I'd drop them too. Being rudely awakened from sleep by an intruder when by yourself is one thing, being rudely awakened by an intruder while your child is with you is guaranteed to send most rational people immediately into 'kill' mode.

I don't know a single, loving parent that would not instantly act to defend their young against a perceived threat. That's INSTINCT.

ChristieS-

I was thinking the same thing. He's far from a cold-blooded killer, he was instinctually protecting his child.

This story gets better and better, which means worse and worse.

What's next? The cop who went in first, gun holstered, wore a sign that said "Shoot me, or I'll harm the baby!" ????

What's next? The cop who went in first, gun holstered, wore a sign that said "Shoot me, or I'll harm the baby!" ????

No, that means that cops do their homework a bit better and make sure they're entering the correct premises with the correct information.

That means when you're entering a premises, that you shout loudly and repeatedly that you are law enforcement. Bad guys might still shoot at you, but confused, frightened, half-asleep innocent renters most likely won't.

By the way, my opinion is formed by having a beloved nephew on a SWAT team in South Florida. He does a LOT of drug raids.

ChristieS:

Nail. Hammer. You're the latter.

Your opinion was formed correctly. How come the cops in this case did not have properly formed opinions?

And how did these ill-formed opinions transmit themselves to the jury? At this late date in police enforcement, by which I mean since the beginning of human history?

See, I'm always amazed that so many Americans don't know the first thing about their own professions (the cops, in this case), but that so many Americans know precisely what is required in other people's professions. The dead cop in this case
probably knew everything about the baker, the doctor, and the candlestick maker but he made Barney Fife look good in his own profession.

That last paragragh is purely rhetorical. It just always gets me.


A rare moment of disagreement with John Thullen, I think. There are a range of jobs that people know more about than their own jobs because those jobs matter. What trick the baker uses to get the crust of his bread that particular shade of brown is not really important to me. In fact, how I design a syllabus is rather mundane to me and, while I can tell you a lot about how I do it, it would require me to sit down and articulate a lot of experiences that are now more like muscle memory. How a cop asserts his authority on others and therefore, by extension, on me, is of vital interest.

I should add that I am generally sympathetic to the problems that police have in enforcing their authority, and I don't really care for the Posse Comitatus types arguing that granting the police certain powers to stop criminals is tantamount to creating a police state. But I can understand perfectly the steps I would take to defend my daughter. I cannot understand how a policeman enters a house for which he has taken a warrant because it is claimed that the occupant is dealing in drugs and walks in with his pistol holstered. This alone suggests that something is not right.

LJ:

I like disagreement, but thanks for all the previous agreement.

A paragraph was somehow deleted (my pinkie finger slipped) from my comment to Christie, roughly, that we could delete all the rest of the comments on this thread and leave hers and we have the answer. Plus, publish her comment in the police manuals across the country, in boldface, up front, page one.

Case closed. But oddly this won't happen.

I'm not sure I am persuaded by your comment regarding the professions; remember, it was rhetorical. But I gather you are a teacher, at a high level. It seems the opinion of nearly all Americans, regardless of political persuasion, is that there exist no teachers who know how to teach effectively.
And yet, the holders of this opinion do know how to do teach effectively. Further, they don't quit their current professions and enter teaching. Some do, but then in the eyes of the rest of Americans they now become a member of the teaching profession and know nothing.

Sorry, some of my questions are on the level of a child's "Why is the sky blue?"

By the way. Your job matters. And that's all I know about your job. ;)

I never stop getting shocked over stuff like this. Yeah, we all know this is how it works sometimes, but geez, in a capital case . . .

"Maye's attorney tells me that after the trial, she spoke with two jurors by phone. She learned from them that the consensus among jurors was that Maye was convicted for two reasons. The first is that though they initially liked her, Maye's lawyer, the jury soured on her when, in her closing arguments, she intimated that if the jury showed no mercy for Maye, God might neglect to bestow mercy on them when they meet him in heaven. They said the second reason May was convicted was that the jury felt he'd been spoiled by his mother and grandmother, and wasn't very respectful of elders and authority figures. The facts of the case barely entered the picture. Gotta' love the South."

Thanks John. I had a long riff about how the decline in modern society is mirrored by the decline in concern of how teachers are teaching and the rise in concern about what teachers are teaching, but it had even more holes in it than my restatement here, so I let it drop.

In my youth (a condition that continues to this day, I suppose) I gave up on music because it seemed that people who made it had some sort of innate ability. I've come to realize that the reason people are good at something is because they work damn hard at it, but they may not realize they are working on it. I'm sure that if that realization had struck me sooner, I probably would have been even lazier than I was, but as it was, I spent all my time flitting from subject to subject to try and find something that grabbed me. Teacher happened to be where the wheel stopped when I got tired of looking, so any insights I have into teaching are purely accidental ;^)

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