Personal Defense Lessons

I recently read a posting on The Truth About Guns. This posting detailed a story related to an incident involving Joe Morelock; an Illinois Department of Natural Resources Deputy Police Chief. The incident took place in December 2012 and lasted nearly nine minutes. The aftermath lasted considerably longer.

I will try to summarize the posting. I have added my comments in RED.

The Incident

December 16, 2012, was a good day for Joe and his family…until that night. Joe was at home with his two kids, 10 and 6 at the time. He let the kids stay up late watching movies and camping out on the living room floor. He was with them in the living room late that night, sleeping, when he heard a loud noise.

Joe looked out his front door and saw a woman sitting on his front lawn, and a man standing over her choking her with both hands. Both appeared to be in their early 20s. Joe opened the front door and forcefully told the guy to go away. The guy walked to the end of the driveway where Joe’s squad car was located. He then stopped and began pounding on the woman’s car, yelling and cursing at the woman and Joe.

Try to imagine the mindset of the man. He is standing in front of a house with a squad car parked in the driveway and he is pounding on a car. Something is seriously wrong here.

Joe retrieved a gun, his GLOCK duty gun, with which he had shot thousands of rounds over the years. “It was an extension of my hand,” he said of his familiarity with the weapon.

He got on his phone and called 911.

Over the next few minutes, he provided information to the 911 operator, detailing what he was wearing, what the suspect was wearing, what the girl was wearing, etc.

He wanted the officers to know who not to shoot before they arrived on the scene.

I understand the need to provide 911 the information they need but be very careful of what you say and what is said in the background. 911 records everything that is heard over the open line.

Shortly the cursing assailant had begun trying to kick in the front door. Joe told him to stop, but the attacker wasn’t listening. Moments later, the aggressor forced his way into the house and began advancing on the woman.

Joe had his firearm pointed at the assailant from the moment he entered the house and kept giving repeated commands to the assailant, all of which the angry invader ignored. The man began attacking the woman again and Joe continued to tell him to get away, get on the ground, etc.

Joe said he was trying to buy time for responding officers to arrive. Instead of backing down or complying, the assailant stripped off his hat and shirt and advanced on Joe, puffing his chest in the classic pre-violence posturing. He kept challenging Joe to “shoot me.”

Joe kept himself between the assailant and his kids who were still in the living room and did his best to keep the girl behind him as well. Joe kept giving ground, hoping the police would get there in time.

Extra credit to Joe. I am not sure I could keep calm enough to back up.

The assailant backed him into his living room, where his kids had been sleeping. They were awake now, and the older boy was covering his younger sister with his own body to protect her, hiding both of them under a blanket. Joe kept giving verbal commands. He kept giving ground – until he stood with his children at his feet behind him.

Then Joe fired his weapon, striking his would-be assailant with a single .40 S&W round dead center mass, ending the immediate threat.

Again, extra credit to Joe. I am not sure I would have stopped after a single shot. I am not saying I would continue to blaze away, but I would have to know for sure the assailant was no longer a threat.

The girl became hysterical, of course, and ran to the dying man. It turns out she was his estranged wife, and despite him trying to choke her minutes before, she still loved him.

Joe did what he had to do when he had no other option.

The Aftermath

If you’re involved in a use of force like this, like Joe, you will be a suspect until proven otherwise. Joe knew this and complied with the officers who arrived. He was put in the back of a squad car and eventually taken to the police station.

Here is the no-win situation you may find yourself in. You want to help, but you may become your worse enemy.

As Joe sat in the back of that patrol car in his driveway, a jumble of thoughts were crashing through his head:

“I just killed someone in front of my kids.”
“I just ruined Christmas.”
“The house is ruined.”
“We can’t come back here.”

Even as a trained law enforcement officer, Joe was overwhelmed by the emotion of the incident. He blames himself, not the assailant.

He noted how the confusion he experienced just reinforces earlier advice of asking for counsel and not making any statements about the event immediately. His mind wasn’t up to giving accurate information that soon after the incident. He couldn’t accurately recall his wife’s cell phone number, much less exact details of what had just happened.

Think about how your mind would react in this type of situation. In an attempt to be helpful, will you make statements that will later make your lawyer cringe, and yes you will need a lawyer.

Follow Joe’s lead and tell the law enforcement official that you hope they understood, but you have a lawyer available and you wanted to talk to them before saying anything else. This is why you should have some type of legal defense insurance.

The Lessons

  • Counseling: don’t go it alone
  • The media are not your friends
  • Expect threats
  • It’s expensive to shoot someone, even justifiably

The full text of this posting and the 911 call recording are available at:

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