Vincent Nesta Trotter. an eastside Saint Paul homeowner who shot a guy who was alleged to have crashed a stolen car and fled from police, has given us an object lesson on what not to do in a self-defense situation.
Remember – when claiming self-defense, you have to prove you were in reasonable, immediate fear of death or great bodily harm, you tried to disengage, you used only the force you needed to end the lethal threat, and (when outside your home) made a reasonable effort to disengage.
And if, heaven forfend, you are in a shooting that you believe fits those criteria (and in Minnesota, it had better)? My first carry permit instructor, the late Joel Rosenberg, drilled it into his students’ heads; when talking to the police, say only:
I want to talk to a lawyer. I don’t consent to a search.
That – and pointing out evidence and witnesses who attest the fact that you met those four criteria above – are all you say.
You do that so evidence that you violated at least three of those four criteria doesn’t wind up in front of the entire jury pool in the local media. As it seems to have done for Mr. Trotter:
The complaint says Trotter followed police instructions and put the gun on the ground, telling officers, “I pull up and he’s by my door.” The complaint states he also said, “I told him don’t move, he moves, and I let 3 or 4 rounds go. I see blood, so I think I hit him. I tried to hit him. I carry a 45.”
Officers identified the man who was shot as the suspect in the auto theft incident, and believed that he had fled police not long ago. He denied that, but told police that he was walking through the yard at Trotter’s address when a man pulled up in a vehicle and began yelling. He told police he heard shots and got on the ground. He said he was walking away and the man yelled, “Don’t turn around,” then started shooting.
And as if that’s not bad enough:
Surveillance footage shows the shooting victim walk up onto Trotter’s porch and sit down, never attempting to get inside the home. When Trotter’s vehicle pulls up five minutes later, the video shows the victim walk down the porch steps and take about two steps toward Trotter. His hands are visible and away from his body.
The video then shows the man walking away from Trotter, “looking back over his left shoulder as he retreated,” the complaint states, and then Trotter advancing and a muzzle flash from the gun.
Trotter continues to advance with his gun in a “high ready position” while saying something.
“It is clear from the video that (the victim) was retreating away from Trotter as Trotter fired his handgun,” the complaint says.
I’m no lawyer (dear God, thanks) and Mr. Trotter is innocent until proven guilty.
But to the casual observer, it’d seem that Mr. Trotter was not in immediate threat of death or any kind of harm – the guy was walking away and seemed (according to the media report) to show no signs of being armed. He made no effort to retreat – quite the opposite.
We don’t know how the trial (or plea-bargaining) is going to go, but the moral of the story is this: if you’re going to carry a firearm for self-defense, learn the law. And figure out if it’s something you’ve got the temperament to do.