Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tigh Croff: Tragic Hero or Urban Vigilante

In literature, a "tragic hero" is the principal character in a tragedy whose downfall is caused by the commission of a huge mistake. Unless you have been living in a cave over the past couple of weeks, you are aware of the fact that Mr. Tigh Croff, a 31 year old Detroit resident, has been charged with Second Degree Murder and Felony Firearm as a result of his shooting of a fleeing trespasser at his residence.

This case has garnered a lot of publicity. Some are hailing Croff as a hero who deserves a medal while others are condemning him as being an urban vigilante. Vigilantes are individuals who serve out "street justice" outside the clearly defined boundaries of lethal force law, as characterized by a Charles Bronson character in a franchise of films released in the 1980's.

Not many critical facts surrounding the case have been officially released but that is not a requirement for the Court of Public Opinion to try a case. As such, I am going to recap what I have read about the case in the media, offer my input, and deliver my verdict in this popularity contest based on what I know now.

The Case "Against" Tigh Croff

Aside from the fact that the police confirmed that Croff had a permit to carry a concealed pistol, most of the released information surrounding this case has been apparently damaging:

  • Croff's residence had been burglarized three times in the past week. This tidbit supports the opinion of many that he was fed up with being a crime victim and wanted to even the score with the "bad guys."
  • Croff admitted to police that he chased the trespasser for a block. At that time, allegedly, the chase ended with the trespasser raising his hands while taunting and daring Croff to shoot him.
  • Croff admitted to police that he shot the trespasser, who was discovered - at some point in time - to be unarmed.
  • Assistant Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee, who presumably knows more about this case that has been reported in the media, weighed in on the case by stating in the media that, "There is a Dirty Harry element to this."


In the absence of any other information, this scenario looks like it is going to play out like a "slam-dunk" conviction of a fed-up crime victim, who took the law into his own hands and killed a man in cold blood.

The Case "For" Tigh Croff

While some may question the motives behind Croff chasing his alleged trespasser for a block, it was certainly not an illegal act to do so. If it is true that his home had been burglarized an incredulous three times in the past week, it is reasonable to assume that the Detroit Police Department (DPD) had better things to do than babysit his residence while he was at work. Certainly, a plausible justification for the chase could include either trying to get a good identification of the suspected burglar, making a citizen's arrest, or both.

Further, if Croff had fully intended to exact revenge on the trespasser, he certainly had an opportunity to shoot the "bad guy" in the back - at least once - during the chase. Moreover, in my opinion, it works to Croff's favor that he only shot the trespasser once - albeit in the chest - just like Detroit Police Officers are trained to do. Obviously, at that point, the trespasser was no longer a threat and he didn't shoot again. Sounds like a calm law-abiding citizen to me.

I am no criminal psychologist, but if Croff had "lost it" in the heat of the moment, he would have had no problems with either shooting the guy in the back or - when he had the opportunity - to "unload" his entire gun into the "bad guy's" chest. Croff did neither.

Moreover, much talk in the Court of Popular Opinion centered around the trespasser being unarmed. There has been no mention in the media's accounting of this story as to when Croff discovered that the "bad guy" was unarmed. It is totally plausible that this fact was not known until the attending police officers frisked the body.

If a person has the stomache to read the daily newspaper in this town, he would know that it is not uncommon for home invaders to be armed with weapons. It would be wise to assume to this to be a fact until it is proven otherwise. I wouldn't be surprised if Croff assumed the trespasser was armed.

Yet still, I seem to recall a story in the media recently about DPD cops shooting at suspects during a car chase. In that accounting, DPD said that the "perps" must have thrown it from the car at some point. Cops don't lie, right?

Well, in that same vein, it is certainly possible that the trespasser had a gun -loaded or not - and tossed it just in case Croff - and eventually - DPD caught him with it. I haven't heard any info about the trespasser's background, but he could've been a felon not wanting to catch a "Felon-In-Possession" felony charge.

Lastly, we have the reported portion of the story about Croff being taunted when the "bad guy," presumably, was too tired to run any more. In a bona-fide Personal Protection Class, such as the one Croff had to attend before applying for a Concealed Pistol License (CPL/CCW), it is taught that bad guys have three options when captured: run, surrender, or attack.

It is wholly possible and reasonable that the conduct of the trespasser, characterized as mere taunting in the media, had risen to the level of presenting an imminent attack on Croff. It could have been "put up or shut up" time. The "bad guy" could have been making his move to rapidly and aggressively close the distance between the two of them and to try to take Croff's gun.

In the state of Michigan, lethal force is authorized if the victim (i.e. Croff) is somewhere he has a legal right to be, is not in the commission of a crime, and has a reasonable and honest belief that he is in imminent jeopardy of severe bodily harm. It's a forgone conclusion that a responding police officer to this scene is going to arrest the person left standing until the circumstances of the shooting can be determined.

Did The Hero Make A "Tragic" Mistake?

As a credentialed Firearms Trainer who conducts CCW/CPL Classes, I provide a criminal defense attorney to my students to cover all relevant aspects of Michigan Firearms Law as it relates to carrying a concealed handgun. Among those aspects that are taught in my class include, but is not limited to, Lethal Force, Self-Defense, and Statements To Police.

We teach students in my class to not make any statements what-so-ever to the police in the aftermath of a shooting until they have had an opportunity to counsel with their attorney.

Nothing would have been objectionable or suspicious about Croff doing just that. He was going to be arrested regardless of what he said. The job of attending professional police officers at a shooting is to secure the scene of an alleged crime, preserve evidence, interrogate witnesses, and arrest suspects.

In fact, during "officer involved" shootings, I have never recalled the police making an immediate statement about the shooting. The shooting officer is given an opportunity to speak with designated representatives before he gives his official accounting of the story.

While we are talking about it, I don't seem to recall hearing DPD's version of the shooting of a suspect who generated "attention" by impeding traffic; he was walking in the street. All-too-often, the next day's menu of Detroit-style violence has crowded out our interest in what happened yesterday.

So, why do we advise CPL licensees to "lawyer up?" It is very difficult to clearly articulate the legality of your actions during the aftermath of a shooting. Victims, who have been attacked by criminals are undergoing scientifically documented mental and physiological effects that may cause their accounting of events to be inaccurate to what really happened.

You have only have one opportunity to make a first statement. If that statement does not fully incorporate all required elements that have to be present for a valid self-defense claim, the shooter will in all likelihood be charged with a crime. Additionally, police officers can use subterfuge to get a "victim" to confess to a crime: tell out-right lies, run psychological games, and make promises they have no authorization to make or keep. Yep, they can pretend to be your friend all the way up until the time they arrest you and announce in the media that you have confessed to a horrific crime.

That's the way it goes down, especially in a town that is repeatedly crowned the "Most Violent City in America," and has a violent crime case closure rate under 33% - worst in the nation of big cities.

Hopefully, by now Tigh has legal representation to help him articulate the legality of his actions. However, the damage is done. DPD will claim that he is changing his story and that he is lying to "save himself." Tigh might be what is known as "rail-roaded" - being sent to prison for a long time even though he did not commit a crime.

This whole situation is really tragic. The "bad guy" is dead and unless there are any eye-witnesses to what actually transpired, there is only one person that can make a statement about the case - Tigh. He may have "hung himself" by his own words. In fact, I believe even in the absence of with-held facts about this case that he felt that he was doing the right thing by being cooperative with police. He couldn't have been more wrong.

How does a tragedy like this happen? I haven't confirmed it, but it is my belief that he took a CCW Class in which the legal portion was conducted by a law enforcement officer. Cops tell students to make certain admissions to investigators on the scene. I have seen cop-conducted classes with my own eyes. This practice, as in the Tigh case, has already shown, can lead to tragic circumstances. Your rights are being trampled with your future hanging in the balance.

All citizens in this country have rights. Among those are the right to be silent and the right to have legal counsel. Use them, especially in the aftermath of a shooting, even if you are justified and confident in the legality of your actions.

Persons, who believe like I do, believe that Tigh is being railroaded, can make donations to his legal defense fund. The address is listed as the following address:

Legal Defense Fund
National City Bank
17101 Mack Avenue
Detroit, MI 48224
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