When a citizen’s arrest is like a box of chocolates
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, confronting a criminal is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get.
On a recent sunny September morning, a busy interstate frontage road in Albuquerque was the scene of a brutal hit-and-run between the driver of an SUV and a bicyclist. With the cyclist apparently knocked free of the bike, the driver continued to the next exit as if nothing had happened, though the bike was still being dragged under the vehicle.
But then, something did happen. An armed man stepped out of his ride, apparently while traffic was stopped, and confronted the reckless driver, Henry Martinez. Some of the event was caught on camera by yet another driver (ever wonder at the fact that citations for violating cell phone ordinances in the name of recording a newsy event are never mentioned? But I digress …).
As seen on the video and reported by witnesses, the armed citizen is apparently calling 911 with his left hand while holding a handgun in the low ready position with the right. Martinez gestures with his arms while, reports say, begging the unidentified man not to shoot.
Martinez was charged with driving on a suspended license and leaving the scene of an accident with no grave bodily harm—the bicyclist will reportedly cover from injuries sustained in the assault. Martinez has pled not guilty to both charges; his hearing will be later this month.
Was the armed citizen legally justified in confronting Martinez? Yes, at least according to the laws of New Mexico, which include a clause for a citizen’s arrest.
Was the armed man wise to confront Martinez? That’s a matter of interpretation, presented here for other armed citizens to ponder in advance of the day such an occurrence may happen in their presence.
In the video, Martinez is sort of keeping his distance, but appears to be closer than that critical 21 feet away, which is said to be the approximate distance a determined person can cover in 1.5 seconds. Martinez is showing both hands, palms exposed now and again, so he was probably not armed at the time—but we have no real way of knowing.
Even unarmed, can bare hands kill? Sometimes, yes. As Breitbart News recently pointed out, unarmed people were responsible for twice as many deaths (595) than were people with rifles in 2015. And that figure is an average one.
What the citizen couldn’t have known is that Martinez, though he appears the smaller of the pair, is likely quite capable of wreaking serious damage with bare hands. He retired from a successful UFC career less than three years ago.
There are legal and physical risks to playing the hero as Mr. Citizen did. Is pursuing and/or detaining a suspect something a non-cop can do in your state? This link has a directory of each state’s citizen’s arrest statute, if any. Obviously, Martinez could’ve fled rather than submit to the citizen’s posturing, so this wasn’t a true arrest. There’s room for interpretation here; from information available online, the armed man in this instance is facing no charges. That might be different in another jurisdiction.
Too many times, a person acting in defense of another has sustained severe or fatal injury in the process. Would your opinion of the armed man’s actions change in this case if Martinez had body-slammed him to the pavement and knocked him unconscious, or worse?
In my estimation, the armed driver exercised good judgment in keeping the firearm in the low ready position while waiting for police. The unspoken message, as seen in the video, goes something like, “if you play fair, I will too, but don’t rush me or I’ll shoot.” Consider the difference between this posture and keeping the muzzle trained on the bad driver’s chest.
Understand, even from this kinder, gentler low ready position, Martinez would likely have had time to reach Mr. Citizen and do at least some damage—it’s just less likely that said damage would be lethal if he had to deal with being shot in the process.
Consider, please, a philosophy held by many who carry concealed, which is that if the gun is drawn, it’ll be fired, no exceptions. Here is a perfect example of an appropriate exception. Since the armed man volunteered to be Lawman For A Day, the act of drawing to low ready and not firing was a good decision. Had Martinez opted to pounce, he would’ve been able to deflect the attack by shooting. Had the gun stayed holstered, it’s unlikely there would’ve been time to draw and fire.
There is never a guarantee that the sight of a gun will stop an attacker. In this case, it worked well. In another, it may have simply lit up the criminal’s aggressive side. If you’re going to carry a firearm, you must be willing to follow through with firing in the face of an inescapable, deadly encounter. If you’re not, there’s a chance the bad actor will proceed to disarm you and possibly use your own gun to shoot or hit you.
Most people who are reading this understand these choices. As a concealed carry instructor, I’ve encountered a few who don’t realize that not all criminal minds are dissuaded by a gun in the hands of a good citizen. I’ve encountered many more who believe they won’t draw until firing is the only choice. If you fall into either of these categories, I hope this article and accompanying video inspire you to reconsider. The chocolate you get may not be your favorite.
Would you have stopped the guy in the SUV? Let us know in the comments. Also, make sure you like our Facebook page.
Image from KRQE-TV