Monday, January 24, 2011

The Tigh Croff Case: It Could've Happened To Me

I have followed Tigh Croff's saga through the criminal justice system with active interest, from the time he was first arrested and charged in connection with a shooting in 2009 - all the way until his eventual manslaughter conviction by his second jury last week. My interest in his case stems, in part, because the events that happened to him could have easily happened to me if only a few entirely possible events had transpired.

If you're not familiar with my other posts on his case, let me get you up to speed. At the end of 2009, Croff a 31 year-old Detroit resident with a Michigan Concealed Pistol License (CPL) arrived home one night to discover that two criminals were burglarizing his residence. It was widely reported that his home had been "broken into" a few times in the prior week.

According to testimony by the police, Croff chased Silas down the street with one firearm in each hand while "letting off" shots - some of which not only missed his target but hit neighboring homes. Some time thereafter, a winded Silas, stopped running and raised his hands to surrender.

Silas, reportedly, asked Croff mockingly, "What are you going to do shoot me?" It was then at this point that Croff confirmed his response by shooting Silas in the chest one time with a 9mm caliber handgun. Silas died and Croff was carted off to jail to face criminal charges.

Croff's jury in the first case ended in a hung jury. Half of his peers, on a panel of twelve, refused to convict him. In fact, the jury's foreman was so bold as to predict that no subsequent juries in any future trials would ever convict Croff. Of course, we know today that the foreman's prediction was false. However, at the time I actually agreed with him.

I am well aware of the state of Michigan's statutes on the lawful usage of lethal force. It is my honest opinion, that Croff crossed the line when he chased down Silas and shot him dead. However, as a life-long resident of the city of Detroit, I am also aware of the high level of frustration that law-abiding citizens here have with crime and an apparent broken criminal justice system.

The working theory on Croff from many observers, on his actions on the night of the shooting, was that he mentally snapped "in the heat of the moment" and made an emotional decision to depart from lawful conduct. That theory, applied to he specifics of Croff's case, is a textbook example of the crime defined as manslaughter.

I have a different take on Croff's behavior on the night of the shooting. I believe that his conduct was willful and conscious, but ill-informed. I believe that his actions on that night is indicative of a person who did not know the laws on lethal force and self-defense.

You're probably wondering at this point, how would Croff - a CPL holder - not know the law? After all, the laws on lethal force and self-defense are taught in the class that a person has to take before they can even apply for a CPL. That eventuality can happen in one of two different ways: he either knowingly or unknowingly took a bad class.

Some people knowingly take a "hook-up" class that is obviously deficient to the state of Michigan statute which governs the issuance of CPLs. Many times, these shady operators will "sell" a certificate to a buyer for as little as $50.

I've heard many rumors, none of which I can substantiate, that members of the law enforcement community are the chief providers of this "service." I can't prove it; it's just what I have heard from a litany of folks, over the years, who confessed to me that a "cop hooked me up."

Some of these "crooks" will even give the buyer a general overview of what a person should learn on their own later. It should be noted that it is a four year felony to knowingly present a fraudulent training certificate to a County Gun Board. It is also a four year felony to issue a fraudulent certificate to a CPL applicant. Both acts are also subject to a fine not to exceed $2,500 per offense.

Moreover, it is also possible for a person to unknowingly take a "bad" class. Several years ago, I personally and unknowingly took a bad class. At the time, I had been recently robbed at gunpoint in my own driveway and was looking for a service provider to train me. The very first one that I saw advertising this training was on a vehicle in front of me at red traffic signal. I called the number, got the info, and went to the class on the very next day.

Knowing what I know now, I would have done my homework. I should have actually taken the time to read the law and compared the statutorily defined requirements with the agenda of the class that I was considering as a training option. However, I didn't. At the time, I didn't realize how much that I didn't know. I blindly trusted the training service to provide with me with state of Michigan compliant CPL training. The guy I trusted to train me, lied to me. I just didn't know it then.

The actual training class I took was a "real" class; it just wasn't the right class. During the class, which was at least eight hours long, I learned a lot of things about firearms that I didn't know. So, it wasn't a total loss. The down-side was that I didn't learn what I was supposed to learn. The most important of which was learning the state of Michigan's laws on lethal force and self-defense.

Thus, when I actually received my CPL in the mail from the County Clerk's Office, I was just one ill-informed "incident" away from being where Tigh Croff sits today - out on bond awaiting sentencing on a pair of felony criminal convictions.

On the night of Croff's shooting incident, he allegedly did some things that I confidently feel that I wouldn't have done now that I know the law. He reportedly chased a man off his property and continued to chase him for a full block or more while shooting his handguns.

He also shot a man, who reportedly by his very own admission, who did not pose a threat to his safety. Furthermore, he fully cooperated with law enforcement officers and made statements without an attorney which were efficiently used against him during both of his court cases.

These actions, in my opinion, do not ring congruent with a person who took a bona fide CPL Class. They sound like the actions of a man, armed with two handguns and a CPL, who acted in accordance to what he thought the law "should be" instead of what it actually states.

His full cooperation with investigating police officers without counsel is proof, to me, that he thought his actions were justified. They weren't. They were so over the top unlawful that at the time of the shooting, Assistant DPD Chief Ralph Godbee was quoted in the media as saying, "There's a Dirty Harry element to this case."

In the end, I believe that Croff was a victim too. By all accounts, he is a "stand-up" guy who worked as a security guard, maintained a residence, and was active in his local community. He was concerned about the possibility of being a crime victim and did the responsible thing for a person wanting to assume responsibility for his personal safety - take a firearms safety class and get a CPL. In my opinion, he probably got scammed into taking the wrong one and now faces up to 15 years in prison for his manslaughter conviction.

Don't get me wrong, his actions, in my opinion, were wrong. I also believe that he didn't know that his actions were criminal. He's a victim too.

What happened to Tigh Croff could've happened to me. I was lucky. I continued my firearms education and training. I eventually became an National Rifle Association (NRA) Credentialed Firearms Trainer. I addressed and corrected my deficiencies.

How many other Tigh Croffs are there among us?

Are you potentially one of them?

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