Tragedy, Yes. A Challenge, No.

Charlie Quimby may be the Twin Cities’ generally least-insane leftyblogger, but it doesn’t mean he’s not prone to some wishful thinking:

After all, Minneapolis has a ripe current case that provides a provocative example of the ambiguities surrounding self-defense claims.

Now, Charlie’s been debating the proposed changes in Minnesota’s self-defense laws wtih Joel Rosenberg for a few weeks now – but if he thinks this case is “ambiguous” – well, he’s learning. A few more weeks with Joel might help.  And so for the second day in a row,I’m gonna go after something he’s written.
Let’s be clear on a few things.

As we’ve talked about on this blog many, many times, there are four criteria that the accused must achieve to the satisfaction of a jury (or, preferably, to prosecutors before any charges are filed) to claim self-defense.  I’ve you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know ‘em, and may skip ahead.  They are:

  1. You can not be a willing participant in the scuffle
  2. A jury must believe that you feared death or great bodily harm.
  3. A jury must believe you made reasonable effort to disengage – whatever that means to the prosecutors, judge and jury (which was one of the points of Tony Cornish’s “Stand Your Ground” bill).
  4. That jury must believe that lethal force was appropriate.

That’s it.

Oh, and if you use a gun outside your house or place of business, you should have a concealed carry permit (although illegal carry might not be used against you in a self-defense claim).

Finally, if you’ve taken a concealed carry training class (I do endorse my arma mater, Joel Rosenberg’s class), there are, let’s just say, certain standards of behavior you need to follow after using lethal force in self-defense.

Now, let’s remember; the debate is about the rights of law-abiding gun owners who follow the rules; not about the “rights” of people who are too criminal, impaired or stupid to follow the law.

Tyeric Lessley believed it was life or death.

In town to celebrate his fiancée’s birthday, the 22-year-old and his two cousins were leaving a downtown Minneapolis club early March 17 when they crashed into a pickup on Washington Avenue S. Lessley got out and started to walk away, but Darby Claar went after him.

So let’s add up the pros and cons of Mr. Lessley’s case, and his career as poster boy for the law-abiding gun owner who’d benefit from Tony Cornish’s bill – and in so doing, let’s take every element of Quimby’s story at face value.    On the one hand, Mr Lessley was apparently not a “willing participant”.  On the other, the story doesn’t mention if he’d had anything to drink at “the club” (the legal limit to carry a gun with a permit in Minnesota is .04) – which begs the additional question, did he have a permit?  I’d suspect not, or Heather Martens would have held a press conference – but, as it happens, evidence appears later:

Lessley’s family claims racial epithets were shouted and punches thrown. As Lessley stumbled to the ground, he pulled out a .44 caliber Smith and Wesson handgun and fatally shot Claar in the chest. Within minutes, a random twist of fate shattered two families.

So did Lessley “reasonably fear death or great bodily harm” from a guy armed with his fists, and “is lethal force appropriate” in dealing with a guy who evidences no actual weapon (wouldn’t brandishing the gun have worked)?  Both of those are questions for trial.  But, again, the more interesting question is “was Lessley carrying legally, with a Minnesota permit?”

Evidence to contrary follows:

Lessley planned to turn himself in because he had no doubt the shooting was in self-defense, relatives said. Before he did, a SWAT team arrested him at his aunt’s house. It wasn’t until Lessley saw a news report on a jail television that he realized Claar, 32, was dead.

If you’ve had any of the training that’d qualify one to get a permit (and to legally have a firearm under the circumstances in this story), the following would have been repeatedly beaten into your head, to the point where you repeat it in your sleep:

  1. If you ever even DRAW your pistol, you call the cops; from the scene if possible, from as close by as is prudent if there is continuing danger.  Even if you didn’t fire a shotEven if all you did was scare someone off with a gun.
  2. If you did  shoot; when the cops arrive, show them any evidence.  And then lawyer up. And don’t consent to a search. And say nothing else without your lawyer holding your hand and, preferably, moving your tongue by remote control.
  3. Do not run to your aunt’s house.  Do not assume that it’ll go away.  Even if you never fired a shot - to say nothing of pumping a .44 slug at point blank into someone’s chest.

If you learn nothing else in concealed carry training, you learn this.

So I’ll say this without fear of rational contradiction; Mr. Lessley was not a legal carry permit holder.  I can’t speak to his motivations for carrying a .44 on a night of clubbing – and either can Charley Quimby – but he was certainly not the law-abiding, honest, trained, competent citizen that the Minnesota Personal Protection Act and the Cornish/Pariseau bill are designed to protect.

Lessley is the father of three children. He recently received an Applebee’s employee of the month award because of his rapport with customers.

I feel for the guy – on many levels (levels which will be revealed in an episode of “Twenty Years Ago Today” in about ten months).   It’s a shame one of his customers hadn’t been one of Minnesota’s certified carry permit training instructors.  It woulda saved everyone a lifetime of heartache.

He was charged with intentional second-degree murder. Lt. Amelia Huffman, head of the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide unit, said she’s not surprised he would argue self-defense.

“But in this scenario, we had only one person who was armed with a weapon of any kind,” she said. “There are no other aggravating factors that I believe would lead a reasonable person to feel they were in a situation in which they would be likely to lose their life.”

And while I feel for Mr. Lessley, that might seem to be that.  It’s an ugly, stupid situation.

And as an indictment of the behavior of the law-abiding, trained permit-holder (or citizen at home), it’s really a non-sequitur.

19 thoughts on “Tragedy, Yes. A Challenge, No.

  1. As I’ve said, the facts of the case that we’ve been presented with are consistent both with self-defense and with a guy acting horribly, and criminally; I just don’t, at this point, know enough to figure out which it was.

    Even if he wasn’t a permit holder — and he wasn’t; Huffman would have been happy to tell us that he was, if he was — it’s still possible that he was carrying (unlawfully) and had a legitimate case of self-defense. (See the Goetz case.) There are all sorts of possible (and, in some cases, real) situations where an attacker armed with nothing more than fists and feet could create an imminent threat of death or GBH, after all, and Huffman’s claim that the (putative) attacker was unarmed is, after all, just chin music. (It’s not like she has been totally complete and accurate in the past, after all.)

    But, yeah, assuming (for the sake of argument; see above) it was a legitimate case of self-defense, from the moment he pulled the trigger, Lessley did just about everything wrong, from his failure to call 911 and a lawyer to fleeing the scene and to acting on an (understandable, albeit unrealistic) hope that it would all go away.

    I don’t know, at this point, if it was a (other than the problem of carrying in the first place) a lawful shooting. I’m pretty sure, though, that that’s one of those things that’ll be settled in a court of law.

  2. Johann Santana sure had a nice outing in the Mets’ opening day win against the Miami Fish, eh?

    Oops! It occurs to Angryclown that his post may be slightly off-topic.

  3. Joel is right, if he had been a permit holder, we would have heard about that before we heard his race.

    From what I’ve read, Lessley has no criminal record. Not even DUIs. Nothing. I think that, more than anything else is going to stand in his favor. Both parties were clubbing so alcohol is probably a factor.

    The “racial epithets” scenario is possible in any kind of fight between black and white people but it sounds like the family may be trying to rachet up the story to help get their guy off. It was Lessley who caused the accident, right? A key point will be did he have insurance. There are two reasons I can think of why people would flee the scene of an accident. Priors or an outstanding warrant (not interested in talking to a cop) and lack of insurance. We already know Lessley was clean. If he had insurance, the fear argument looks better for him.

    It is my understanding that there were witnesses in both cars. It will be interesting to see what their stories are and how they compare.

  4. Margaret said: “Both parties were clubbing so alcohol is probably a factor.”

    Seals?

    By the way, very nice performance last night by Mr. Johann Santana, if I’ve forgotten to mention it.

  5. ! It occurs to Angryclown that his post may be slightly off-topic

    Well, not anymore.

    Nah, you guys made out good with that trade.

    Better than Mr. Lessley will probably make out in court, I’m afraid.

    (And the kid makes the turnaround segue, and does it with style.  That’s why he’s in the majors! WHOAH!  He just segued again!  He’s like the Walter Peyton of commenting!)

  6. And yet the Santana-less Twins managed to win their home opener against the Angels. Without sidearms.

  7. The guy who got shot had people with him; we don’t know if they all were heading towards the shooter or not. There is no duty, even in MN, to engage in fisticuffs with assailants – and the shooter would have no idea whether or not the other guy(s) had weapon(s).
    And that’s nice of Huffman to pronounce judgment as to what a reasonable person might percieve under those circumstances. Pretty good work for a person who wasn’t there at the time. What a jackass.
    Of course, from what we have to go on, the shooter was illegally armed and fled the scene. Of COURSE he was gonna turn himself in! You bet.
    You’re going out drinkin’ (4.0 wouldn’t even remind some of us of a buzz) you gotta leave the gat home. If this guy was carrying legally, I’ll eat my hat.

  8. Mitch,

    I think you probably know your facts here pretty well, but in all seriousness I’d be careful about offering legal opinion. Or at least caveat the opinion as that of a layman, and not a lawyer, nor even, a legal expert.

    As for your prima facia evidence of why he wasn’t a certified carrier, I can’t completely agree. I hope my point meets your bar of rationality, I certainly think it meets a normal test. He certainly did a bunch of stupid things, and I agree it’s unlikely he was trained in firearms rules/standards/usage, but people, trained people, cops for that matter, often do stupid things, and even moreso when they drink. Stupid conduct therefore doesn’t prove the point that he wasn’t trained. He could simply have panicked, during and afterward.

    However, it makes it somewhat WORSE if he in fact was trained – because, as you point out, he did about the stupidest things possible afterward. He can claim he intended to turn himself in, but the facts are, he hadn’t. He can claim self-defense, but given his post-shooting conduct, why believe him? He seems to have engaged in a shouting match, leading to fists being thrown, leading to him drawing a weapon when things went south. Frankly, he sounds like a pretty classic case of Murder 2/manslaughter.. compounded by alchohol.

    Just as you say, I don’t think his carry status has much at all to do with this case. If Quimby thinks so, I’d say “BS”, but then again, you seem to be suggesting that a ‘certified carrier’ wouldn’t get into this kind of situation, which isn’t really provable either. Drunk people do dumb things, certified carriers drink too. It’s making a claim of superiority/infalibility that just isn’t known or really knowable.

    As for Santana, he’ll be sorely missed. These Twinkies are going need to score MANY more than three runs normally to win. They should be able to do so, and they should have pretty solid defense, so the likes of Livan Hernandez should see somewhat lower ERA’s here than elsewhere, but this is still a team with Boof Bonser as it’s #2, Baker as #3, and Kevin Slowey in the mix somewhere. That’s young and inexperienced combined with someone with a slightly better pedigree than Sidney Ponson. While, on talent, the Mets got the FAR better end of the deal. Yet, considering Santana wouldn’t sign here I think the Twins did OK in that deal but, really, only time will tell.

  9. Lessley supposedly shot at Claar when he (Lessley) was already down on the ground with Claar looming over him. Presumably the others were back at the car or took cover when Lessley pulled his piece and shot their friend.

    This case will get interesting if Lessley can sell the self-defense argument. It shines a spotlight on an interesting conundrum of urban race politics. If his version of events were the solid truth and the victim and his friends were going to lynch him (and if there is a real danger of this sort of thing happening) why isn’t the African American community encouraging people to take classes and get permits, instead of throwing their lot in with the gun control lobby?

  10. Peev,
    It isn’t that the class makes you better… more that the type of person that is interested in taking the class (sitting through it as well) is likely to absorb some of the points the class hammers home, and therefore not do some of (or any of) the stupid things this guy did.

  11. I think you probably know your facts here pretty well, but in all seriousness I’d be careful about offering legal opinion. Or at least caveat the opinion as that of a layman, and not a lawyer, nor even, a legal expert.

    Thanks – but I think my context is clear; I’m relating what I learned in permit training.

    As for your prima facia evidence of why he wasn’t a certified carrier, I can’t completely agree. I hope my point meets your bar of rationality, I certainly think it meets a normal test. He certainly did a bunch of stupid things, and I agree it’s unlikely he was trained in firearms rules/standards/usage, but people, trained people, cops for that matter, often do stupid things, and even moreso when they drink. Stupid conduct therefore doesn’t prove the point that he wasn’t trained. He could simply have panicked, during and afterward.

    A fair point. And I’m not going to bet my next house payment that he didn’t have a permit or anything; merely that the signs in the story make me reasonably sure.

    However, it makes it somewhat WORSE if he in fact was trained – because, as you point out, he did about the stupidest things possible afterward. He can claim he intended to turn himself in, but the facts are, he hadn’t. He can claim self-defense, but given his post-shooting conduct, why believe him? He seems to have engaged in a shouting match, leading to fists being thrown, leading to him drawing a weapon when things went south. Frankly, he sounds like a pretty classic case of Murder 2/manslaughter.. compounded by alchohol.

    Allowing for the speculation about alcohol (in which we both indulge), I can’t disagree. Again, I’m no expert, much less a lawyer – but while I think he’s got 1/2 of a legit case (not a willing participant, reasonably tried to disengage), and maybe even 3/4 (reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm), I can see the Henco Attorney trying to convince a jury that the force used was unreasonable.

    Just as you say, I don’t think his carry status has much at all to do with this case. If Quimby thinks so, I’d say “BS”,

    To be fair, I was connecting his post to a motivation that, while plausible, was not clearly stated.

    Drunk people do dumb things, certified carriers drink too. It’s making a claim of superiority/infalibility that just isn’t known or really knowable.

    True – and the Zachary Ourada case gives one grounds to tread lightly.

    As for Santana, he’ll be sorely missed…I think the Twins did OK in that deal but, really, only time will tell.

    Yep.

  12. Anybody know the blood-alcohol level of the Twins GM when he traded Santana?

  13. Right now we only have the word of the shooter, his family and friends. The Star Tribune seems to take his word as gospel. He might have a self defence case if mutiple assailiants were involved or if he weighs 90 lbs and his opponent goes 250-300 lbs. Even then he is going to have an uphill fight convincing a jury.

    If he is a permit holder he did a number of things wrong. Fleeing the scene of an accident-then scene of shooting, not calling authorities, and possibly drinking while carrying.

    He may have explanations for his actions but right now from the description given it looks like a good case for the prosecution.

    AC, I believe that the Twins GM refused the Breath test.

  14. Oh, if anybody reliable is willing to put up $100 with a mutually trusted person, I’ll find $400 in cash; the guy wasn’t a permit holder, and we’re going to know that for sure the moment the judge sets bail, as if he were, the judge would be required to make in interim determination about his permit status if — and only if — he had a permit. Such determinations are on the record, and it’s not going to happen.

    That said, even well-trained permit holders have been known to make unfortunate choices in the wake of the use of lethal force; we’re not all as remarkably self-controlled in the aftermath as Scott and Rebecca Treptow were, after all.

    As I said earlier, assuming the accuracy of the purported facts in the Strib story, this may or may not have been a legitimate self-defense shooting (although he’s still obviously going to have to deal with the problem of the gross misdemeanor of carrying without a permit). The exchange of words, depending on the context, could be a provocation or an attempt to deter an attack; the use of a weapon in self-defense against somebody who does not have a weapon can be an unreasonable overreach, or an obvious necessity, depending on the facts. (Darrell Mulroy, who originally trained me, had a heart condition and was on coumadin; a simple punch to the gut would have put him in serious danger of death or GBH.)

    So, I dunno. I don’t feel any need, at this point, to decide if he was in the right or in the wrong, as the implications of that don’t go beyond his own future, and I hope he’s got very good representation, as he’s going to need it. His family would be doing him a lot more good if they were putting together some money and trying to get Marc Berris, David Gross, or Brian Toder willing to take a retainer than they’re doing by telling the press what a nice guy he is . . . even if that’s absolutely true.

  15. If Quimby thinks so, I’d say “BS”…

    No, he doesn’t, nor did he state any opinion about who was in the right. He only linked to the news story.

    As Mitch says, it was possible for him to read something into my passing comment in a post on a different subject. I’ll take no offense, but say the discussion here does support that it “provides a provocative example of the ambiguities surrounding self-defense claims.”

  16. it “provides a provocative example of the ambiguities surrounding self-defense claims.”

    …among untrained, unqualified people who’ve received no education about the law regarding carrying and (heaven forfend) using guns in self-defense (o so I’ll wager).

    I’ll allow for human nature, of course.

    But in any case, this is hardly the crowd I’m targeting.

  17. I have been following this case closely and have been talking to both people whom were at the scene when this happened(In person) and Tyeric’s family.(through blogs) The most unfortunate thing about this situation is that it has left four children without fathers and in Darby’s case permanently. My intention is to put the information that I have uncovered about what happened that morning out there and let people come to their own conclusions. From sources that were with Darby here is what happened. Darby was riding in the front passenger seat of his own truck, he had a couple DWI’s in the past and did not like to drive. When they were driving home from the bar a car driven by Tyeric’s cousin (According to Tyerics Aunt) with Tyeric as passenger side swiped the rear back panel of the truck with enough force to spin the truck around and leave glass and other debris on the street. The car then proceeded to take off and leave the scene. Darby told his driver to catch up with them (Darby was the owner of the truck and he didn’t want to get stuck with the damage bill) After about two blocks the Truck caught up to the car and cut them off toward the curb. (At this point the police had already been called). Darby got out of his truck and as he got out Tyeric was walking away from the other car. Darby asked him to return to the cars so the matter of the Hit and Run could be discussed. Words were exchanged and emotions became heated between the two. Darby then supposely punched Tyeric in the face and backed off. According to court documents Darby was at least 6 feet away(wound and Gun powder evidence) when Tyeric pulled out a .44 calber Smith and Wesson and shot at Darby fatally wounding him in the chest. He then proceeded to leave the scene and go to his Aunts house where he was later arrested while preparing to take a shower.

    According to Tyeric’s Aunt Tyeric has had no run ins with the law but if you check out the Douglas County sheriffs warrants page NE, Tyeric L Lessley has a Contempt of Court warrant that was issued Jan. 2nd 2008. I have no idea what the original crime was, (could be parking tickets for all I know) but he has been wanted by the sheriffs department for the last three months. Tyerics Aunt also states that Tyerics face was bloodied by the swat team when he was arrested. Did Darby even punch him in the face or did the cops bloody his face?(He only had a small rash under his right eye in his booking photo). Tyeric’s cousin (On a blog discussion thread) admitted that the gun was not registered! Did he have a conceal and carry permit? I am almost positive he didn’t. (but I don’t know for fact) Tyerics family is making this into a issue of race both on blogs and in the newspaper. In my opinion this issue was never about race. It was about accountability for the Hit and run and getting compensation for the damages to the truck. It is clear to me that Tyeric was trying to get away for a reason. Was the reason because the warrant he had back in NE or was it because he knew the cops were going to be at the scene shortly and he had an illegal firearm. Anyway, it is very unfortunate that this event ever occured and over a fender bender! lots of people have become affected by it. It’s now in the hands of the Courts to make a decision.

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