This week, a grand jury in Texas declined to indict a man for shooting and killing another man who was actively robbing patrons in a restaurant. You may be familiar with the specific incident, as surveillance from the shooting quickly circulated online. You can watch the relevant clip below:
Houston Taqueria Deadly Force Shooting-
The video sparked a conversation about using deadly defensive force legally, and when that force becomes excessive and criminal. We've published a lot of content on the subject. I've included a few links to those articles that include some legal considerations for self-defense in the links below.
- Why Do We Use Deadly Force?
- The Moral Component of Deadly Force
- Episode 434: Behind the Scenes of a Self Defense Trial; Don West
- When is a Punch Considered Deadly Force?
But back to the Jan 5, 2023 shooting at The Ranchito No. 4 Taqueria in Houston, Texas.
Let's start at the point where most readers would agree. The guy who shot the robbery suspect—we will call him “armed defender” had reasonable belief that the robbery suspect who was waving a gun around and threatening people in the restaurant was using force likely to result in death or serious bodily harm. And that the robbery suspect had the means and opportunity to use that force against the armed defender or anyone else in the restaurant. So the armed defender had legal justification to shoot the robbery suspect.
Practically, When Does Force Become Excessive?
Now where the point of departure is for some is that, while state self-defense laws vary, most still require that the force used in self-defense be proportionate, and not excessive. So here, some would say the force the armed defender used was appropriate initially but became excessive when he stood over the motionless robbery suspect and shot him. The question here is, did the robbery suspect still pose an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm?
Consider some of these videos I pulled from the Active Self Defense YouTube page.
Deadly Force In the Street-
Here is an incident that is similar to the one mentioned above.
The man who ultimately died seemed to be the initial aggressor. The shooter definitely had legal justification for using deadly force against the attacker. But when the attacker ran off and fell on the ground after being shot, was he still a threat? The shooter walked over and shot him as he laid in the street? Justified use of force?
Is it much different from the Taqueria shooting? One difference is that the suspect in the Taqueria was still inside the restaurant. Innocent people would have to go past him to flee, whereas the man in the above shooting could have left in his truck without exposing themselves to additional danger anytime.
Cell Phone Store Shooting-
What about this video from a cell phone shop. Is this one excessive force? Some would say yes, others argue the clerk was justified in every shot.
That clerk unloaded quite a few rounds, even after the suspect went down. Is it excessive?
Again, the confined nature of the location, the visible firearm and the fact that the clerk had to expose himself to additional danger to exit all play a factor in the reasonableness of his force.
Bad Blood, Bad Ending-
Let's look at this video from a parking lot, where two men who knew each other got into an altercation. There was a history of bad blood between the two, and both men use deadly force against each other. At one point, the shooter is justified, and then he isn't. You'll see when he crosses the line in this video.
Pharmacist Goes Too Far-
How about this one, showing an obvious example of excessive force? This is a classic video that is a textbook display of what not to do. In this one, a pharmacist is initially justified in using deadly force, but then becomes the aggressor and executes one of two suspects.
So it might appear shooting someone on the ground is usually a bad idea? But in certain instances, it is completely reasonable. The key element is to consider does the person still poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm? Here is an obvious example of that.
When The Downed Threat is Still a Threat-
Going through those videos might provide some reference for when it is justifiable to shoot someone and when that force becomes excessive.
Is This an Example of Proportionate Force?
Now back to the point of all of this: the grand jury's decision not to charge the armed defender in the Taqueria shooting. While the video provides a lot of information, it likely isn't the only evidence the grand jury took into consideration when making their determination, and I don't have that information.
So the shots that the armed defender fired into the suspect as he laid on the ground criminal? A grand jury didn't think so, and in this case, that's all that matters. At least criminally.
My opinion is that at the very least, the shots fired as he stood over the suspect were unnecessary. And while the armed defender won't face criminal charges, in another jurisdiction or with a different jury pool, he easily could have. Do you want to open yourself up to that type of jeopardy?
Consider that it's been a year since the shooting. The stress that must hang over someone as they wait to see if the state will charge them with crimes that, if convicted, could put them in prison for a long, long time. And we shouldn't overlook the financial burden. A good legal defense costs money, and lots of it. Do you want to roll the dice with a public defender defending you in a murder trial? That isn't a knock on public defenders, only that you don't get to pick and you may get a good one, and you may not.
The lesson here is that even though it worked out for this armed defender, this shouldn't be the prototype. Is self-defense insurance right for you? Below are some articles to help you decide and compare different companies.