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The dilemma of ‘doing something’

Darryl Watson wrote in with something that is indeed a topic worthy of pondering…

I am not sure if this is a worthy topic of discussion, but the issue is gnawing at me right now, and thought I would share:

I have a ten-minute walk to my preferred parking spot, from where I work in downtown Denver. The parking lot is in a less savoury neighbourhood. While I was on my way to my vehicle, half a block away, I saw a man come around a corner quickly, pushing a bicycle. He was moving too quick to simply be going from point A to B, and I immediately knew something was wrong. As he hopped on the bike and started pedalling toward me, another man came around the corner, grizzled, a biker type, with a big beard and leather hat. He was shouting, ‘Hey! Hey!’ at the man on the bike, who started to increase his speed.

It was clear that the man on foot wanted the man on the bike to stop, and that the man on the bike was fleeing. And both were approaching me quickly.

I was immediately conscious of the motorcycle helmet in one hand, my bag of work sundries in the other, and the distance between us. There was no one else anyone else within a block. I immediately moved to block the fleeing man’s path on the sidewalk; he saw me and swerved sharply out into the street, trying to stay out of my reach.

This is the instant where I disappointed myself. If I had not hesitated, I would have been able to clothesline him and bring him to a stop, but instead I was thinking:

  1. This situation might not be what it looks like… a bicycle theft
  2. I knew without a doubt the fleeing man would have to be knocked off the bike to get him to stop
  3. I had my cowboy boots on (yes, I work in an office in cowboy boots… it is Denver) and they were terrible for running
  4. If I injured the guy, I could get charged with battery

It was option ‘4’ which caused me to hesitate and let the thief slip by. He got away, and the man on foot ran after, calling for police to no avail.

I imagine the threat of criminal charges for being decent and willing to apply a little violence to better one’s neighbourhood is a sore topic in this blog. We in Colorado have not quite gotten as bad as England, but, I fear it will come to that as people increasingly rely on authorities to rescue them when there is trouble. I would be interested in reading commentary on the issue.

22 comments to The dilemma of ‘doing something’

  • Salem_Poor

    I think you did fine. Violence is well and good when it’s necessary and you know for sure you’re attacking the right party. Neither of those were the case here.

  • Holger Danske

    Indeed you couldn’t be sure at all that you wouldn’t have been stopping someone from fleeing an assault, as opposed to absconding with stolen goods. You may have avoided taking criminal action of your own. Frustrating, but true. The law may not even have allowed you to use force to detain someone fleeing with stolen property and even if they man was fleeing with a stolen bicycle, you -still- could have been charged. I appreciate your concern and frustration in the situation – and I suggest training from a use of force instructor familiar with Colorado law.

    By the way — I’m very very frustrated that Colorado recently ceased to grant reciprocity to non-resident out of state permit holders. I got my Utah permit mostly for travel to Colorado, and within months, they rescinded it. Toss your governor for me, willya?

  • toolkien

    I suppose this is the sort of thing which leads people to want to create an institution greater than any of the three people involved in this. Unfortunately such institutions don’t end up doing much about stolen bikes and do more about invading the privacy of individuals. Simply, we trade security away for protection, and the trading of security is at the expense of freedom. And the end result is we lose our freedom and are acutally no more secure. So what I take away is I’d rather lose a bike than have a group who lord over me and my possibility of losing a bike is still about the same.

  • llamas

    You did exactly right.

    From my past life, the watchword is – believe only half of what you see, and NONE of what you hear.

    Maybe you saw a bike being stolen. Maybe you saw a person fleeing a violent attacker. Maybe you saw a thief running from his victim. You just don’t know – and until you do, you have no justification to deploy force -against anyone.

    I know, from my own experience, that confirmation bias is very powerful. I have myself made snap judgements upon viewing a scene where I knew, with 100% certainty, that a serious crime had taken place, and I thought it was as plain as day who was the criminal and who was the victim – and found myself to be completely and utterly, 100% wrong. The first couple of times that this happens, it’s a learning experience. Anyone who has trained with ‘shoot – don’t shoot’ targets knows just what I mean.



  • Bull crap.

    I would have clothselined the thief. And then kicked him in the ‘nads while he was down.

    And walked away before the cops arrived.

    If the State makes doing the right thing unlawful, then become an outlaw.

  • not the alex above

    Very true llams,

    The other day one of my friends picked up his girlfriend whilst drunk and dropped her on the floor knocking out her front teeth.

    As she lay on the floor with blood pouring out of her mouth, a chap came round the corner and ran up screaming at my friend to leave her the F alone.

    The chap thought he had stumbled on a severe case of domestic violence. He hadn’t, now if he had attacked my friend as he was threatening he’d be up on an assault charge about now.

  • Steph

    Having been in a similar situation my self, I have decided in the future to call out the words “Halt in the name of the law” and if the person refuses to stop then to use force. This sounds a bit silly and pompus, but It puts the person on notice that: a) I am a citizen interested in upholding the law and b) that he should stop or I will take action, which may provide notice and thus protection from legal action.

  • Laird

    I’m in agreement with those who have suggested that you did the correct thing. You’re right; you didn’t know exactly what was happening, and could very well have made a wrong decision (i.e., hindering someone who was fleeing a violent attacker). It would have helped somewhat if instead of saying “hey, hey” the chaser had said something like “stop, thief”. At least then you would have had a little more basis for action, but it still could have been wrong.

    Also, you failed to note that another possible outcome could have been serious injury to you, if the (presumed) thief attacked you for hindering him. You don’t know if he was armed.

    Given all the unknowns and risks, it wasn’t worth it over a mere bicycle. If someone’s life had been in jeopardy that would have been different, but not here.

  • Flash Gordon

    Physical force (but not deadly force) to prevent a theft is legal in Colorado so long as one uses that degree of force he reasonably believes to be necessary. Even if no theft was occurring, a reasonable belief would protect the actor, at least from criminal charges.

    Holger Danske, if you are a resident of Utah your Utah permit is still good in Colorado.

  • We are looking forward to tossing out our current governor…so not to worry, Holger.
    I wonder if this little incident happened in Denver near the Dem-doings….in which case, theft was certainly involved.
    I know that in Boulder, the taxpayers “bought” some bikes that were left around for anyone to use and then to leave out for anyone else to use. Guess how many of them are left? I think it was a single digit. It isn’t stealing if it was bought with legalized plunder and then taken, right?? Right?
    OH…and in Boulder, they were complaining about people feeding the geese because it was making them fat and aggressive. But they haven’t transfered their thinking to their local welfare statism.
    Yes, Colorado is a mess….and not just because we are hosting the Dem/Commie convention.

  • nick g.

    You were wise not to interfere. This was a Democrat supporter practicing pre-emptive distribution of worldly goods! And helping himself to a non-polluting means of transport, at that!
    I just realised something. I’ve heard about ‘the mile-high club’ for years, and it just means someone who lives in Denver, the mile-high city! What a let-down!

  • Sunfish

    Holger: What Flash said about residency. And we’re working on losing Ritter, but it’s taking longer than we’d like. To be fair, 2006 was a really bad year for us all around. I can’t remember the last time ALL of the good ballot initiatives failed, ALL of the bad ones passed, and we handed the reins to a collection of morons like that.

    (FWIW: you can still carry in your car “or other private conveyance for purpose of protecting persons or property while traveling” without a license. It’s better than nothing, anyway. I want to say the cite is CRS18-12-105 but I’m too lazy to look it up.)

    Congratulations: you just managed to inflict bodily injury on a person not known to you, in the midst of circumstances not known to you, in the absence of a clear threat of injury to yourself and others.

    Running away in that case would leave the other guy to make his story heard first. If you were identified[2], claiming lawful defense of another is going to be an uphill battle.

    Darryl, #4 was actually the least of your problems. That’s the one I wouldn’t worry about. #1 is what would concern me. Anyway, I carry at least one gun everywhere and have a piece of paper saying that I’m allowed to stick my nose into other people’s business, and (off the clock) I’d have sat this one out as well, for that very reason.

    [2] Given the amount of privately-owned CCTV downtown, it’s possible. If the other guy suffers a hairline fracture in his pinky, it’s a felony and even DPD might spend a little time trying to figure it out.

  • tdh

    When I think of all the times disbelief, for which I suppose naivete is not solely to blame, kept me from doing the right thing by intervening in a timely fashion, I try not to think of all of the victims. Would’a’, could’a’, should’a’ — you’ve got to hope you get it right, eventually.

    Even following up in a report to the police doesn’t necessarily help.

  • Charlie

    The moral of the story is “Say What You Mean”. “Hey! Hey!” can be interpreted many different ways. “Stop that bike thief!” however, is very clear.

  • llamas

    Charlie wrote:

    ‘The moral of the story is “Say What You Mean”. “Hey! Hey!” can be interpreted many different ways. “Stop that bike thief!” however, is very clear.’

    It is indeed very clear – but you have no way to determine whether or not it is true.


    a) lie without compunction, and sometimes very convincingly
    b) are often highly situationally-aware, and know exactly what to do or say to play upon your sympathy, your empathy or your moral imperatives – to get you to do what they want.

    So the guy who yells ‘Stop that Bike Thief!’ may want you to hinder the man on the bike to stop him getting away with a stolen bike. On the other hand, he may want you to hinder the man on the bike so that he may recover the drugs that were just snatched from him, or so that he can finish the beating he just started to administer, or just because he didn’t take his lithium today and he enjoys sic-ing complete strangers onto other complete strangers.

    In fact, if I were in this situation, I’d likely take more note of the ‘hey, hey, hey . . . !’ than the shouted specific instruction of a complete stranger – ‘Stop That Man!’. I’d suspect a set-up in the second case, not so much, perhaps, in the first.

    Holger Danske is right to be concerned about out-of-state CCW. We had a case here where an out-of-state CCW holder was pulled over for some traffic infraction. His state has reciprocity with this state. But, it seems, he gave the officer a firm attitude – would not consent to a search of his vehicle – and the next thing you know, he is arrested and booked for CCW.

    He’s let out of jail the next morning, of course, because the prosecutor says ‘no case here’. But now his pistol has been impounded and sent off to the state crime lab for forensic tests and a serial number check. Oh, by the way – that takes 6-8 weeks, and since you are not a state resident, we can’t send it to you when we’re done – we can only release it to an in-state FFL holder, who will ship it to an FFL holder in your state. All at your expense, of course. Or you can come back in person and pick it up . . . .

    He was, in other words, thoroughly harassed and victimized by selective enforcement. The officer, of course, has the perfect out – he did not know whether or not state X has CCW reciprocity with this state, and the duty sergeant was unavailable at that moment – he had no choice but to arrest the man to sort it all out. And then, of course, the fact that the pistol was taken away for criminal records checks is not his fault – that’s state law!

    CCW and ‘reciprocity’ are such a mishmash of conflicting connections that they form the perfect opportunity for capricious or malicious enforcement. Time for a Federally-harmonized CCW.



  • n005

    Stopping a random, incidental property crime is no justification for breaking into due process.

    Unless we want to live under constant threat of potentially deadly force being unleashed against us, at any moment, out of any random misunderstanding, we must defer to official standards for what constitutes a crime, and what constitutes proof. True, we can’t just let criminals roam free and terrorize at will, but rampant misguided vigilantism won’t do either, so justice will just have to wait until we are damn sure.

    You were better off just letting it go.

  • Sunfish

    Suddenly I get the urge to expand on this a little. Everybody might as well pour a drink and put your feet up.

    Let’s look at the facts and circumstances, as Darryl knew them at the time: He saw that something was not right. He didn’t know what it was. Once person chasing another and yelling, in a place and time where chasing and yelling is abnormal behavior, would allow a reasonable person to infer that some sort of crime or disturbance was afoot.

    There’s a standard in US law for stopping someone. It’s called “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has occurred, is occuring, or is about to occur.[1] It’s not a very high standard. What it does is, it allows the actor[2] to prevent a subject from leaving the scene, possibly to restrain the subject, and possibly to search the subject for weapons (scope of search limited to places where the actor can articulate that weapons may be found: google “elephant in a matchbox.”)

    So Darryl couldn’t help but notice that something strange was afoot. A peace officer would be on very firm ground ordering BOTH to stop in order to find out what was going on. A private citizen, somewhat less so. The power to detain on RAS, as enjoyed by private citizens in Colorado is basically non-existent except for certain special relationships (retail wrt shoplifting, adults wrt to children, etc.).

    Now, a private citizen can make a citizen’s arrest here for any crime has been committed in his presence. (CRS 16-3-201). The “in presence” requirement of this section is met if the arrestor observes acts which are in themselves sufficiently indicative of a crime in the course of commission. People v. Olguin, 187 Colo. 34, 528 P.2d 234 (1974). We’re not there, right now.

    Let’s change this a little bit. Let’s pretend that OP saw the guy on the bike hit the other guy with a Slurpee. What next?

    It’s a crime. At the low end, it’s (presumably) unwanted physical contact, which is Harassment (CRS 18-9-111), and is Assault-3rd Degree (CRS 18-3-204 IIRC) if the victim suffered bodily injury as a result. Either way, he can now make a citizen’s arrest.

    Here’s the rub: he can use force to protect himself. He can use deadly force to protect himself from a threat of death or great bodily harm, with no duty to retreat. He can use (non-deadly) force to prevent a crime against property. And he can use force to protect others, just the same as if he were the one threatened.[4]

    There’s no separate provision allowing him to use force to effect and arrest or prevent escape. Meaning: if the “arrestee” keeps running without threatening OP, legally he doesn’t have much to work with.

    [1] SCOTUS first articulated this in Terry vs. Ohio, 1968. A cop in (Cleveland? Canton?) Ohio saw two guys acting in a way that looked like casing a store, preparatory to robbing it. He grabbed one, found a gun, and arrested him. SCOTUS held that the officer’s actions were appropriate in view of the 4th Amendment prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure.

    [2] Some states allow only peace officers to detain on RS. Others extend that to private citizens to some greater or lesser degree.

    [3] This standard shows up a lot in 4th-Amendment case law. In context, it’s “Facts and circumstances which would persuade a reasonable person that a crime had probably occurred and that the person involved had probably committed it.”

    [4] The statute says “any crime.” The statute allowing warrantless arrests by peace officers doesn’t allow arrests for petty offenses, misdemeanors, or most felonies, unless certain other factors (risk of flight, risk of continuing danger to the public, etc) apply. Thus creating the unusual situation where Joe Public has greater arrest power than Officer Sunfish.

  • Sunfish

    Smited twice in one thread of under 20 total posts? Is it my shifty eyes or my furtive manner?

  • llamas

    Sunfish wrote:

    ‘Smited twice in one thread of under 20 total posts? Is it my shifty eyes or my furtive manner? ‘

    (to the tune of ‘Folsom Prison Blues”)

    I hear that smite a comin’
    It’s comin’ ’round the bend,
    I’ve been at Samizdata,
    Since, oh, I don’t know when, but
    I’m stuck here in Smite Limbo,
    And time keeps draggin’ on,
    But Samizdata keeps rollin’,
    On down to San Antone.

    When first I started bloggin’,
    My Mama told me, “Son,
    Always be a good boy,
    Or they’ll surely Smite you down,”
    But I blogged a man in London,
    Just to watch him die,
    and when I see that old blue Smite screen,
    I hang my head and cry.

    I bet there’s rich folks bloggin’,
    In a fancy dining car,
    They’re probably runnin’ Linux,
    With great big avatars,
    But I know I had it comin’,
    I know I can’t be free,
    But those people keep a-bloggin’,
    And that’s what tortures me.

    Well, if they freed me from this prison,
    If that URL was mine,
    I bet I’d move out a little,
    Farther down the line,
    Far away from this Smite Limbo,
    That’s where I want to stay,
    And I’d let this lonesome keyboard,
    Blow that Blue Screen away.

  • Excellent, Llamas!!!

  • Laird

    Samizdata should post that song (or at least a link to it) on the Smite Control page! Brilliant!

  • Darryl Watson

    I thank you all for the thoughtful commentary on this issue. The consensus seems to be that although it was clear a crime was being committed, I was wise to avoid interference, for legal reasons.

    I have had some time to distance myself from the situation, and my summation is that it fucking blows that we worry about legalities here. I was thinking like a cop, but without police powers.

    That was a bike theft. I have no doubt in my mind now, as the guy on foot ran past me and yelled to passing policemen in large, shiny new vehicles (paid for with federal protection money), who were doubtless focused on the convention, ‘help, police!’ They kept going, although I saw that one of them looked over our pedestrian and decided he wasnt important enough to stop for.

    I am sad and sorry that I did hesitate when it counted, and having thought about it now, rewinding the incident and playing it over, I would have stopped the bike thief. Of course he might have been armed, which, would have only made me more determined to put him down until I could get someone to haul him to jail.

    This is what I take away from the experience. This is our community; if we are not willing to manage our own trash, who will? And, at what cost?