Shooting in Self Defense: What to Do When the Police Arrive
After surviving a fight for your life, the next most dangerous moment will be when police respond. Here's how keep yourself and the cops safe after the fight has ended.
What to say on the phone when you call 911 and when should you call? What should you do with your self-defense firearm once the threat is eliminated? How should you behave when police arrive? What can you do to make it safer for responding officers? You train and prepare for a defensive gun fight, but how do you train for the unavoidable interaction with law enforcement? How do things change in a home defense situation vs. a concealed carry defensive shooting? Early one Sunday morning in November, 2018, police responding to reports of gunfire at Manny’s Blue Room Lounge in Robbins, Illinois shot and killed an armed security guard. As with most violent encounters, facts remain murky to this day. Not because of a conspiracy or cover-up, but because things happen fast in the heat of the moment and witness reports are almost always unclear and frequently contradictory. We’re not here to pass judgement, in part because that’s impossible at this point in the investigation. Instead, we will endeavor to show just how easily the good guys can get hurt, or even killed, in the heat of a gunfight that ends with armed police response. The Jemel Roberson Shooting During the evening spanning Nov. 10 and 11, a fight broke out in the club. Sometime later, one of the verbal assault participants opened fire and shot four people. Two security guards, Dorian Myrickes and Jemel Roberson were involved in the encounter. Some reports indicate that Roberson was dressed all in black with no visible “security” markings. Other reports say he was wearing a hat embossed with “Security.” There seems to be general agreement that Myrickes and Roberson were in fact doing their job trying to maintain order and protect patrons of the bar. Roberson possessed a Firearms Owners Identification card and a Security Guard license, so he was legally armed. What’s still murky is whether the club in question was an authorized security employer. To make a long story short, the initial altercation ended with Roberson holding a gun on the suspected shooter when police arrived. Soon after, a responding officer shot Jemel Roberson, who died on the way to the hospital.
Some witnesses say the responding officers gave Roberson commands to drop the gun. Other witnesses indicate that he was shot within seconds of the officer showing up on the scene and that few if any commands were issued.
Add to the mix that Roberson was black and the responding officer was white and we have all the ingredients for a highly charged situation that will make any objective investigation difficult if not impossible, and make for national headlines that are still swirling around social media. By most accounts, a good guy with a gun is now dead because of being shot by responding officers.
Were the cops wrong? Maybe, maybe not. Did the victim make a mistake? Maybe, maybe not. Did the absolute chaos create the conditions for the increased likelihood of a “bad shoot?” Absolutely.
We don’t know exactly what happened in those few crucial seconds and the odds are good that the witnesses present don’t have a clear picture either. That’s evidenced by the numerous contradictory accounts of the event.
Here’s what legally armed citizens can learn from this case and others like it.
If you use your gun for all the right reasons in a self-defense encounter, you might still get shot. If not by the perpetrator, maybe even by the police. Think about it.
Officers are responding to a chaotic scene with reports of gunfire and multiple victims. They burst into a room and see injured or dead on the floor and someone standing there with a gun. The armed citizen is in the middle of a fight for their life. Do they see or hear the officers bursting into the room? Are they in a position to hear and respond to shouted commands from responding officers? Do they instinctively turn towards the first responders, not realizing that they are holding a gun? Do those first responders see only a confused person amped up on adrenaline turning towards them with a gun?
There are a million possibilities, but you get the idea. It’s far too easy for people with good intentions on both sides to fire on each other.
With all that said, there are actions you can take to reduce the risk of tragedy in the immediate aftermath of a self-defense shooting. Let’s consider some of them.
Know Police will be Responding
Yes, you just survived a fight for your life. Yes, you may have just shot or even killed someone. Yes, you are probably shaking like a leaf and wondering what the heck just happened. Regardless, it’s up to you, and you only, to get your act together to prevent any further tragedy. When you are safe and the threat is no longer imminent, you must shift mental gears and think about what will happen next.
Police will show up.
They will have guns drawn.
They will have little if any information about what’s going on. It’s a near certainty they will have no clue who is a good guy and who is the bad guy.
They will have an immediate priority of securing the scene. That means that everyone holding a gun will be considered a threat until they can sort out the details of what happened. They will, by necessity, view YOU as a potential threat until proven otherwise. You telling them you’re the good guy will mean absolutely nothing in the heat of the moment. You know what happened, but they don’t, at least not yet.
The odds are good you’ll be taken into custody and arrested. That’s normal and there will be plenty of time later to sort out the truth. Remember that the officers responding to your call have heard it all and they must verify everything you (and your attacker if available for comment) say.
So, it’s up to you to improve the odds of a safe and uneventful officer response as soon as you are able. Part of that process is for you to take all actions necessary to make yourself as non-threatening as possible.
If you’re in public, the odds are good that others are already calling 911 if shots have been fired. If you can safely do so, call 911 yourself. You’re the good guy after all and want to get help for yourself, your attacker, and any other victims. You also want to establish that you are in the right by immediately requesting police and medical assistance.
Stick to the high-level information that responding officers need to know like the fact that someone attacked you, shots were fired, the attacker is down, whether you need medical assistance, your description, and any other relevant information.
Do not attempt to try your case over the phone and do not provide too much information – you won’t be able to accurately do so until you’ve had time to calm down.
Secure Your Gun
As soon as you are able, secure your gun. If you’re using a proper holster, you should be able to do this with one hand. If you can’t, or you’re using a holster that requires multiple steps to re-holster safely, you can always set your gun on the floor and stand on it.
Whatever you do, take all possible measures to make sure there is not a gun in your hand when police come through the door.
Here’s why it’s so important to build good gun handling habits at the range. When things go bad in a self-defense shooting, the last things you’ll be thinking about are details like re-engaging a safety lever or de-cocking a double-action pistol before placing it back in your holster.
Trainers harp on building muscle memory for actions like keeping your finger off the trigger, re-holstering safety, and de-cocking (or applying the safety) immediately after firing. This is the reason. In the heat of a lethal force encounter, these types of “habits” might just save your life.
Hands Visible and Up
Once you have your gun secured, you’ll want to do whatever possible to appear compliant and non-threatening. That means showing your (preferably empty) hands. If you are able, and the situation is secure enough to do so, keep your hands raised, visible, and in the air.
Be Instantly Obedient
This isn’t the time or place to explain yourself or try to control the situation. Do what the police say – immediately.
Don’t try to explain that you’re the good guy. Don’t ask them why you have to get face-down on the ground. This can be harder than it sounds.
Analysis of past cases shows that conflicting commands can be a real problem. If one officer is commanding you to, “Drop the weapon” while another shouts, “Hands up!” your hesitation and confusion can easily be interpreted as non-compliance. Yet another reason why it’s so important to stow your gun before they arrive.
You’re also fighting something call auditory exclusion, which is the auditory equivalent of tunnel vision. When stress is high and your body just dumped a ton of hormones like adrenaline into your system, its possible to literally not hear things around you, like commands from police. Training and preparation can help minimize the effects of auditory exclusion, so this is also something to consider.
What if You’re at Home?
A home-invasion self-defense encounter may be even tougher to navigate. Odds are good it will occur in the middle of the night, or at least after dark. You may have family members, including children, present and potentially hysterical.
Responding officers will have to make a safe entry into your home under these conditions with the same lack of knowledge as a public encounter.
Maintain constant communication with the 911 dispatcher until the police arrive. Keep the conversation simple and do not try to relay the specific details of what just happened.
Stick to the high-level facts that the dispatcher needs to know to get medical and security assistance on the way. You’ll have plenty of time to explain the situation after officers arrive and you calm down.
If you made the initial call, you might need to pass off the phone to your spouse so they can do so while you attend to the scene and secure your weapon.
It should also be mentioned here, if you have time, to make absolutely certain that your attacker is no longer a threat.
Be sure you share as much “logistical” detail with the dispatcher as possible to include descriptions of the homeowners and what’s going on at that moment.
“The intruder is down. My husband is wearing a white t-shirt and boxers. My husband has placed his gun on the floor and has his hands in the air. We have two children in the house, and they are currently in the master bedroom…” You get the idea. You want to prevent the responding officers from being surprised by anything.
Increase Visibility for Responders
If you’re confident that the scene is safe and that the intruder was acting alone, you might turn on the porch light and open the front door to give responding officers increased visibility as they enter.
If you’re able to do things like this, be sure to continue communication with the dispatcher so that information can be relayed to responding officers:
“We’ve turned on the porch light and left the front door open. My husband is in the living room to the left watching the intruder. I’m in the master bedroom to the right with my two children.”
If you do not feel that the scene is safe, leave! Go to a more secure part of the house or to a neighbor. Whatever you do, communicate your actions to 911 dispatch.
Securing the Firearm
We’ve mentioned it a couple of times before, but the home-defense scenario is the classic case where putting your gun on the ground may be the best option. You’re not likely to be wearing a holster, or much else for that matter.
If your attacker is no longer an active threat, there’s no reason you can’t safe or de-cock the gun, put it on the floor, and stand on it.
That strategy will make sure the gun stays under your control in case your bad guy gets a second wind, while keeping it from being a perceived threat by responding officers.
What Do You Say on the Phone?
How to provide information to the dispatcher and responding officers is a topic worthy of its own book. It’s also chock-full of variables and subjective legal ramifications, so we can’t provide explicit instructions here. However, consider these tips.
Indicate that you want to cooperate – fully. But ask for time to calm down and to call your attorney. You’ll need to lose the adrenaline and process a life or death event. Most people involved in shootings can’t recall seemingly simple facts like the number of shots they fired. Trying to be helpful before your brain has processed what just happened may end up getting you in trouble even if you did nothing wrong. If you say you fired twice but forensics later shows that you fired six times in the heat of the moment, it might not look good for your case. It’s more important to relay the facts accurately than immediately.
Be clear that you were attacked. Many trainers recommend saying that you’re willing to sign a complaint. That shows that you are the victim, not the aggressor. Of course, it will all have to be proven later.
Consider identifying and getting on retainer with a local attorney experienced in self-defense law – now. You won’t want to be looking for professional assistance at 2:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning while you’re on your way to jail.
Better yet, join a self-defense protection network. As an example, the USCCA offers membership plans that provide immediate 24×7 legal assistance, bail funding, legal funding, and much, much more. There are several similar plans on the market, so do your homework on the best fit for your needs.
The list doesn’t end here. As every defensive encounter is different, with myriad potential variables, there’s a lot more to think about. What if innocent bystanders are injured? What if the perpetrator needs medical attention? What are you going to do? Will offering aid increase the threat level all over again or is it the humanitarian thing to do? The most important planning element is to think about these types of things ahead of time. The more you plan in advance, the less you’ll have to improvise on the fly.
DISCLAIMER: We are not attorneys and this article is not meant to serve as legal advice. If you have any questions or concerns from a legal standpoint about what you should do if you are involved in a self-defense shooting, it’s always best to consult legal counsel.