It was April 17, 2008. Columbus Ohio. A drive-through business owner was investigating his burgular alarm that was set off at his place of business after he had closed the doors for the night. The time was approximately 10:37 PM, thirty-seven minutes after closing time. An intruder had entered the building.
The owner, after investigating the outside of his building and finding nothing amiss, believes he is dealing with a false alarm. He goes inside, and turns on the lights. The intruder is in the owner's office down the hall.
Alerted to the owner's arrival by the lights being turned on, the criminal leaves the office. The two men encounter each other in the hallway. The owner is fortunate to have a firearm. He knows that stored in his office, which the criminal has emerged from, he keeps a .45 automatic and a 12 gauge shotgun. The likelihood that the criminal has found them is extremely high.
The owner's first reaction is to defend himself, and he raises his fists telling the criminal to get on the ground. The criminal refuses, advancing towards the owner. The property owner takes a couple of steps back, draws his gun, and takes control of the situation. The criminal goes to his knees and acts as though he wants to comply as he lies about why he is there. He claims he was locked in the building by mistake. The property owner knows better as he begins to call 911 from his cell phone. Then the criminal gets to his feet again, refusing to comply with the owner's verbal commands at gunpoint to go prone. While the owner dialing the cellphone, the criminal advances towards him, lifting his shirt, obviously trying to close the distance so he can attempt to disarm the property owner.
The armed defender/property owner wisely steps back, maintaining his distance to counteract the criminal's advance. He points his firearm at the criminal's head, again commanding him to back off and get on the ground. The criminal turns around, and walks away while displaying the universal "I'm a felon" sign, placing both hands on the back of his head, fingers interlaced. The criminal goes prone and the owner finishes dialing his cell phone.
A Columbus 911 operator answers. "I've got a gun on a guy that's in my business," the property owner informs her immediately, "Get the cops here."
Realizing he will not be talking his way out of this one, but also that the property owner is distracted, the criminal again gets to his feet. He paces, trying to quickly formulate a strategy as he advances on the business owner. The business owner gives the operator his address while backing up, maintaining distance between himself and the criminal. Quite obviously, the only thing preventing the criminal from attacking the property owner is the prospect of a loud injection of lead to his body.
After having been told why, the operator asks the property owner "Why do you have a gun on him?" She is again informed of the dire situation the property owner faces. Trying to again take control of the situation, the owner begins to give the advancing criminal verbal commands, telling him to back off and get on the floor. The operator, incomprehensibly, begins to give a few commands of her own. "Sir," She says, "You need to talk to me....You need to talk to me...Who is this gentleman that's in your business?... Hello?"
The criminal can barely be seen moving against a background of stock. At one point, it appears he sits on it, and then he appears to be getting on the floor, closer to an escape route, between the pallets of stock, this time. The business owner turns his attention back to the uncomprehending 911 operator. "Yeah, what can I do for you?" he asks.
"You need to talk to me and tell me why do you have a gun to this man's head!" the operator demands. "Is the business closed? Did he break in?" After having been told previously exactly what the business owner was facing, the 911 operator amazingly thinks the property owner may have a gun to a clerk's head. At this point, the property owner is in grave jeopardy, if responding officers have a false impression of the situation created by the 911 operator.
Fortunately, the property owner corrects her. "Yeah, my business is closed, I was here a half hour. He was hiding in here. I shut the door and then my alarm went off. I come over here and the guy's in my business," he says.
"Stay on the line with me," the operator replies. "I have officers en route." Over a minute has elapsed, with a resistant criminal advancing time and time again on an armed citizen. Each time, the property owner has shown amazing restraint in not shooting the advancing man. Then the operator tells him "When an officer gets there you have to put the gun down. Do you understand that?" The property owner states his understanding.
Next, the criminal, being closer to an escape route, puts his plan into action against the distracted property owner. The criminal introduces another threat to deal with. He lies. Desperate criminals have been known to lie in the past, and this one is no different. The criminal fabricates an illusion out of thin air. He either lies or he speaks aloud to an unknown party, giving the property owner the impression he has an accomplice. As the 911 operator asks for the property owner's name, he responds "There's two of 'em in here."
Now, the playing field has shifted. The armed defender must be prepared for an unseen attack from any direction. His focus must be divided between the man he has on the ground between pallets of stock, an unknown threat, and the 911 operator. He can be seen backing up, scanning the area. Meanwhile, his daughter arrives outside in her automobile, alarmed that it has taken him this amount of time to return home. She toots her horn outside. The criminal, hidden from view in the security video apparently again rises to his feet, with the property owner commanding him to get back down.
Then the 911 operator inexplicably asks, "Do you have a permit for that gun, sir?" No permit is required to own a handgun in Ohio. The man has already informed her time and again that he is on his own property.
"Yes I do," he replies, referring to his concealed handgun permit, "And I'm on my own property," he informs her again.
Now the 911 operator decides to get testy. "OK, well, you need to answer my questions and stop being brief to me," she tells the citizen who is trying to defend himself against a repeatedly advancing, noncompliant criminal. "What is your name?" she asks.
Apparently auditory exclusion has diminished for the property owner and he hears his daughter honking the horn outside. He believes it is the police and he moves to unlock a door to allow them in. The criminal immediately seizes the opportunity, rises to his feet and darts out another door. "Get back here!" the property owner vainly shouts into the darkness outside.
The 911 operator asks for a description, and can finally be heard relaying the information to someone else. "Obviously I've got an emergency situation. I have a gentleman with a guy at gun point," she says, with the alarm blaring in the background. The property owner lets the criminal disappear into the night, turning his attention to the second threat, an illusion the criminal created of an accomplice. Apparently, the 911 operator still has not grasped what is occurring on the other end of the line. She has been told time and again exactly what is occurring, but her own prejudices are coloring what she is telling others, placing a citizen who is defending his life with admirable restraint at risk for being gunned down by responding officers. "We have officers en route. They're still en route," she tells the property owner, "You called the Columbus police department so we're having to relay the information to the county if you could stay on the line with me."
The property owner is vainly searching for the imaginary second intruder. He shuts off the alarm. "I'm here," he informs her, letting her know he is still on the line.
"I understand that sir," she replies, getting defensive and again showing her inability to understand what she is being told. "I'm, ah, we're trying to get the county out there. You called the Columbus police department."
"I called 911," the property owner corrects her.
"You've called the Columbus police department. Your cell phone has come to the Columbus police department. We're getting on the phone with county to have them respond sir," the 911 operator argues defensively.
Know what lady? Who gives a damn? "I'm glad there were no shots fired," the legally armed business owning citizen observes dryly.
"OK, sir, do not be angry with me," he is told. The business owner continues to search for the second imaginary threat telling the 911 operator "He's in here somewhere."
Four minutes have passed since 911 picked up the phone. "I'm going to patch you through to the county. They are en route. I'm gonna transfer you there. You need to stay on the line," she tells the citizen. Then she places the icing on the 911 cake. "Don't do anything stupid," she says.
A cruiser can be seen finally arriving outside the building as the first police officer arrives on the scene. Meanwhile, the two 911 operators discuss the incident. The first 911 operator tells the other operator that the caller "had a gun on these people that were inside." Fortunately, a quick thinking uniformed officer is already on the scene to prevent the property owner from being killed because of the 911 operator's misinformation. Obviously, the first responding officer grasps the reality of what is occurring. He does not make the property owner go prone. Indeed it can be seen that he allows the armed defender to retain his weapon in the face of a possible hidden criminal in their midst. They join forces to search the building for the imaginary accomplice, guns drawn.
Several lessons can be learned from this 911 debacle.
First and foremost, when a citizen is trying to preserve their life against a very real threat, they do not need an incomprehensibly dense 911 operator berating them with questions and spreading misinformation of what is occurring. Dividing one's attention between the threat at hand and a cell phone link to a 911 operator's demands places the citizen at grave risk.
Each time the property owner's attention was diverted away from the intruder, the intruder responded by getting up from the floor, advancing, and gaining advantage. I have little doubt that had the intruder discovered the firearms that the owner had kept in his office, he would have shot the property owner to escape. Instead, because the intruder was not armed, he willingly placed his life at risk again and again to gain advantage while he formulated an escape plan to put into action. When he was in the right place, and the citizen was distracted, the criminal upped the ante, making the citizen believe there was an additional threat. Finally, with the citizen's attention divided between a real threat, an imaginary threat, and a demanding 911 operator, the criminal escaped into the night.
The property owner did everything right. He maintained his distance. He did not try to restrain the criminal, only detain him. When the stressors became to much too endure, he kept his focus on staying alive in the face of the imaginary threat and allowed the known threat to escape into the night. He gave a good description to the county dispatcher. The only thing he could have done better would be to initially give the 911 operator his location, a description of the criminal and then one of himself so they could be differentiated by responding officers, and then put the phone down with the line remaining open to record the incident. The property owner did not need the 911 operator's input, nor her defensiveness and judgemental attitude. She was intent on screwing up anything she was told with her own bias anyway. Far better to deal with one real threat and the possibility of another without the additional distraction of a 911 operator clouding your judgement and diverting your attention. It is not a crime to provide the information necessary and put the phone down. Doing so may be the best course of action.
Kudos to the quick thinking responding officer.
Thank you to Oleg Volk for the use of his images.