Defensive Display In Defense of Another
The Redding, California Kidnapping Case
An unidentified good Samaritan thwarted a violent kidnapping attempt with a well-executed defensive display of his firearm in Redding, California on September 26, 2019. The kidnapping victim had accompanied her sister to retrieve some items from the home she once shared with her abusive husband Carl Dudley Hulsey. They didn’t think he’d be home, but he was.
Hulsey flew into a rage and began pummeling his wife. When the sister came to her aid, Hulsey hit her in the head with a brick and then forced her into his car and sped off. Moments later, Hulsey pulled into the Win-River Mini Mart, giving the sister time to text a neighbor who had witnessed the initial assault. The neighbor grabbed a pistol and rushed to her aid.
According to a report from KQMS news radio, “When Hulsey came out of the store, he was met by the neighbor, who tried to hold him at gunpoint until police arrived.” Confronted by the armed neighbor, Hulsey abandoned the kidnapping attempt and fled. He was later captured by a police dog in a nearby field.
Hulsey received an 11-year prison sentence for the pair of assaults and the kidnapping attempt. The armed neighbor faced no charges. Instead, he garnered public thanks from law enforcement. Redding Police Sgt. Brian Torum told the local newspaper, “If people are good people and they’re brave enough to do it and they see something is clearly amiss … sometimes it happens. We don’t see it a whole lot because a lot of times, crimes don’t go to a level where people feel like they need to.”
Perhaps the reason such armed third-party interventions don’t happen “a whole lot,” as Sgt Torum, says, is because there is an extraordinary risk associated with using a gun to thwart a crime -- both physically and legally. In our last article, we discussed how an armed defender’s decision to intervene should be balanced between how well they know the people in peril, how well they understand the context of the situation, and the severity of the crime in process. In the Redding, California case, the neighbor clearly knew the parties involved, and between witnessing the assault and receiving the text, he understood the context and the severity of the felony he intervened to prevent. All the elements were there.
Don West, criminal defense attorney and National Trial Counsel for CCW Safe, says that a third party is justified in using deadly force if they would have been justified in defending themselves if they were in the victim’s shoes. Also, in most jurisdictions, the use of deadly force is permitted to prevent the commission of an aggravated felony, and kidnapping typically falls within that definition. Don says, “The neighbor may have been legally permitted to shoot the kidnapper without himself being in fear of great bodily harm if he believed he was interrupting a kidnapping or some other kind of serious violent felony.” The fact that the neighbor was able to thwart the kidnapping without firing his pistol, Don notes, demonstrates significant restraint and presence of mind, and it meant he assumed significantly less legal risk.
We’ve written before about the legal risk associated with the defensive display of a firearm. Absent the proper justification, displaying a gun can be criminally charged as brandishing or even as assault with a deadly weapon. That said, we have explored cases where a defensive display has successfully resolved a self-defense scenario. Sheri McClatchy, a laundromat attendant in Mississippi, ended an assault from an angry patron with a deft defensive display. She faced no charges. We’ve also explored cases where, had the defender stopped after a successful defensive display, he likely would have resolved the conflict without facing charges. When Michael Drejka pulled his pistol on the man who had just violently shoved him to the ground, security camera footage showed the attacker begin to disengage, but Drejka shot anyway. He is currently serving a prison sentence for manslaughter.
Don West says, from a legal perspective, the risks associated with a defensive display are light years apart from the grave consequences associated with discharging a firearm. Nonetheless, knowing when a defensive display is tactically appropriate and justified can be a tightrope walk. Firearms instructor Tatiana Whitlock says, “The firearm itself is not a de-escalation tool -- up and until a certain and very specific moment.” That moment is usually the point where firing the weapon would have otherwise been justified. However, as the neighbor in the Redding, California kidnapping case shows us, if the act of drawing and aiming the firearm ends the threat, a defender doesn’t have to follow through with firing the weapon. Tatiana says, “The firearm does not have to be a finality, and it is certainly not necessary to press the trigger just because you drew the gun.”
The news radio report we referenced in the Redding, California case says the neighbor “tried to hold him at gunpoint until police arrived.” Holding someone at gunpoint once the immediate threat has been neutralized is, legally, very different from a defensive display. Don West says, “Once the imminent threat has passed, and now you’re holding a gun on someone, ostensibly waiting for the police to get there, this is no longer defense of others. This isn’t self-defense. This is a form of citizen’s arrest.” Holding someone at gunpoint carries its own set of legal risks. Don says, “you can be charged with false imprisonment or assault if your perceptions were incorrect.” Beyond legal consequences, an armed defender holding someone at gunpoint risks being shot by responding police officers -- or by another concealed carrier who doesn’t understand the context of the situation.
Steve Moses, firearms instructor and CCW Safe contributor says that “If there’s not an absolutely good reason to hold that person there, then there’s nothing wrong with letting that person leave the scene.” One “absolutely good reason,” Steve suggests, would be if the fleeing person posed a serious threat to other people, otherwise, it’s best to be a good witness and make sure everyone is safe until authorities arrive. Ultimately, that’s what happened in the Redding, California kidnapping case. Hulsey fled, and the neighbor had the good sense not to shoot him as he ran (Don reminds us that it is absolutely NOT justifiable to shoot someone for trying to run away), and in the end, law enforcement arrived to secure the scene. The crime was thwarted, no one was killed, and the cops got the bad guy. It’s a good result.
The lesson for concealed carriers is that if a defensive display succeeds in ending an imminent threat, either to you or to a third party, there is no reason to fire the weapon, and there is no reason to hold the person at gunpoint. Noted firearms instructor Chuck Haggard told us that the purpose of self-defense is to break contact with an aggressor. If a defensive display allows you to break contact, call that a victory. Be a good witness, get yourself and the people you are protecting to a safe place, contact authorities, and be grateful that you managed to save the day without having to kill anyone.
SHAWN VINCENT- LITIGATION CONSULTANT
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know belo