No, Crazy Is Not A Capital Offense (Update)

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. Robert Earl Lawrence was, well, nuts.  He was a sovereign citizen, and by definition, that places him squarely in the nutjob category.  But that doesn’t mean he should die for it.

Lawrence, described as being a sovereign citizen, was attempting to turn over a stray animal at the Dothan City Animal shelter at around 12:30 p.m., Eggleston said, but he became disorderly after he was told he couldn’t leave the animal without showing identification.

The context here matters. Lawrence brought a stray animal to an animal shelter.  That falls into the category of a pretty kind thing to do.  He was being a nice guy.  Even if his politics was off the wall, that doesn’t make him a bad guy, an evil person.  He’s kind to animals.  For a lot of people, that’s a pretty good indicator of the type of guy he is.

But apparently, the Dothan City Animal Shelter has rules, and one cannot save a stray animal unless one has identification.  Sure, there is no inherent rule that all Americans must possess identification.

Indeed, it used to be considered one of the defining characteristics of America, that we did not need to show identification to enjoy a peaceful and happy existence in this nation.  We still say that’s the case, except when it comes to saving animals in Dothan City, where they have rules.

And rules are rules, you know. Even when a stray animal is involved. It’s unclear what becomes of a stray animal (notably, the article neglects to mention whether it was a puppy or a kitten, not that it matters) when the person bringing it in lacks proper identification. Do they turn the animal out on the street? Do they kill it where it stands?  After all, they have rules, and what good are rules if there are no consequences for non-compliance?

But Lawrence wasn’t your typical kind person and animal lover, who cared enough to take time out of his day to bring a stray to the animal shelter.  No, he was also a sovereign citizen, which you knew was going to come back to haunt him.  So when asked for identification, he did what sovereign citizens do.

Members of the sovereign movement don’t prescribe to the laws of the U.S. government and follow a common law.

Instead of ID, Lawrence showed shelter workers paperwork that identified him as a sovereign citizen, Eggleston said.

This, of course, made the person in charge of making sure all rules were followed very upset.  Nowhere on the checklist did it say that paperwork that identified him as a sovereign citizen was sufficient to be kind to a stray puppy.  Oh no, this was a very serious problem.  And Lawrence responded to it as one  might expect of a sovereign citizen who was kind to strays.

“After repeatedly being told to calm down, Lawrence was advised he was being placed under arrest,” Eggleston said. “A physical altercation ensued, to which Lawrence was shot in the abdomen (by an officer).”

The article fails to explain at what point the grocery clerk in charge of rules at the animal shelter felt it necessary to call police to deal with the guy with the unacceptable identification who sought nothing more than to turn over a stray animal.  If Lawrence was so adamant about helping the stray, and the shelter was similarly adamant about refusing the stray unless Lawrence presented a government approved form of identification upon demand, perhaps they could have just taken the animal, after waiting for Lawrence to happily leave, out back and shot it.

No, this isn’t to suggest that stray animals should be killed, whether by bullet or otherwise, but to note the absurdity of a situation that involves nothing more than a wacky guy without identification who only wants to help a stray animal.  This involves an animal shelter, a place whose sole purpose in existing being to protect and help stray animals.  And rules.

So Lawrence failed to “calm down” upon command of the officer, which may mean that he persisted in arguing his nutty views as a sovereign citizen or that there was some deeper crazy happening despite his kindness toward animals.

For Lawrence’s efforts to save a stray, Dothan Police Sgt. Maurice Eggleston decided that he didn’t feel like wasting the time to either hear him out or defuse the situation, but to arrest him for saving a stray without proper identification.

That’s when a “physical altercation” ensued, which like everything else in this story, provides little clue as to what really happened.  Did Lawrence refuse to cooperate in his arrest?  Did Lawrence try to flee the shelter?  Did Lawrence grapple with the officer for his gun?  It’s fairly safe to guess that it’s not the latter, as that would have certainly been a primary talking point in the police narrative, as it offered some minor justification for shooting.

While Lawrence may not have been a particularly cooperative fellow, and certainly appears to follow a particularly nutty world view, his “crime” was trying to save a stray animal without having the requisite official identification.

And, as no doubt someone will point out, the situation devolved with Lawrence being non-compliant when a guy with a gun decided that the shelter’s identification rules, his commands to calm down, his decision to arrest Lawrence for not calming down upon command, and Lawrence’s ultimate “physical altercation” in reaction to his being arrested for not being sufficiently compliant, was the cause of his demise. Oh, the horror of noncompliance.

So a guy does an act of kindness by bringing a stray animal to an animal shelter and ends up dead.  Even sovereign citizens, as crazy as they may be, don’t deserve to die for committing an act of kindness.

H/T Mike Paar

Update:  According to this post by Nick Gillespie at Reason, it was a cat.  Lawrence died for trying to save a stray cat.

50 thoughts on “No, Crazy Is Not A Capital Offense (Update)

  1. JLS

    “So when asked for identification, he did what sovereign citizens do.”

    Fred Reed, an American writer living in Mexico once described taking his Mexican stepdaughter to the hospital. He said they were very efficient, no waiting and no one ever ask to see her I.D. They figure “you know who you are, what do we need to know who you are for? We just need to know what hurts.”

    Why the hell does anyone need to show an I.D. to bring a stray dog to an animal shelter in the first place? What the hell is wrong with this country that we need to see your “papers please” everytime you move or do something?

    1. SHG Post author

      Because a grocery clerk decided there should be rules. “Why” can only be understood if you’re a grocery clerk with a checklist. I am not. I don’t understand either.

      1. ecpa

        Because running a shelter is expensive, some cities and counties limit animal turn-ins to residents. The Dothan shelter’s website indicates that it takes this approach: “We accept strays and owner turn-ins from those Dothan residents living within the city limits of Dothan.” For similar reasons, my county required me to show identification before I could drop off old appliances and electrical equipment for recycling.

        In addition, should shelters really take a lax approach toward documenting their receipt of animals, which, in a place like Dothan, often are killed after seven days? I would certainly want to have the person who drops off an animal identify herself and certify either that the animal belongs to her or is a stray. Shelters are likely to be concerned about the Wicked Witch problem: just because the Witch claims that Toto is a stray doesn’t make him one; perhaps she grabbed him when Dorothy was away because she was sick of his barking. If Toto gets euthanized before Dorothy returns from vacation, there should be sufficient documentation to hold the Witch accountable.

        1. SHG Post author

          A perfectly reasonable bureaucratic reason to die. Running a shelter is expensive. Killing a guy, on the other hand, isn’t anywhere near as important as protecting a budget.

          I can understand why a shelter with a limited budget would have rules as to who can leave animals. I also understand why the rules don’t assume a level of importance that sets in motion a human beings death. The rationale is typical, petty bureaucratic nonsense, yet Lawrence is still dead. Never make a rule you won’t kill for.

          1. Turk

            Meh. Folks make rules all the time. Like you do for this blog. (I don’t know if this shelter is public or private, and if it’s public my opinion on rules would differ.)

            More importantly, first reports are often wrong, misleading or significantly incomplete. And I suspect that the 911 call was unrelated to the rule, based solely on my gut feeling. I reserve judgment until more facts are known.

            1. SHG Post author

              Sigh. No.

              Edit: A post at a new blog, Warped Sponge, discussing why this post fails the test of proximate cause for holding the shelter liable, helped me to better understand why you’re having such difficulty with the concept here. As is occasionally the case, the civil lawyer brain sees things through a very different lens.

            2. David M.

              Dang. Maybe, Turk, there’s a reason why it’s nice who people survive, even when they break rules in some petty way.

            3. SHG Post author

              Turk compartmentalizes each aspect, but by doing so, he misses the piece where it’s a continuum that can, under the worst case scenario, ultimately end up with death despite its benign beginnings. It’s not that every instance ends in tragedy, but every trivial rule has the potential to end in tragedy through the various mechanisms that follow to enforce the rule and the conduct that flows from it.

              That was why it was such a profound concept, and why it can be so hard concept to grasp. And you aren’t helping him any, you know, making jokes about me icing him for it.

            4. David M.

              Right. And sorry, I didn’t mean to use Turk as an example – I just picked a random rule. None of ’em are worth killing over, after all.

            5. Turk

              Actually, the writer at Warped Sponge made the same assumption you have: that the police were called due to the issue of ID.

              I’m suggesting that the story is bizarre enough that there is likely much more story, and that the call was made having nothing to do with an ID. In other words, that this is not part of some continuum. If someone is acting erratic or dangerous (if) then a call may be made, papers or not, kitten or not, on the premises or not.

              Which is why I would want to hear the 911 tape and what a shelter worker had to say, and would withhold judgment at this point.

            6. SHG Post author

              That’s not at all the assumption, nor is it relevant to the concept. I assume the police were called because Lawrence became upset, argumentative and refused to leave. You see this as an independent, intervening event, unrelated to the cause for Lawrence’s coming in (the stray cat) and an outcome that could have happened regardless of any rule, such that the rule is irrelevant. You’re stuck here, which I attribute to your inability to see beyond proximate cause, and then becoming needlessly defensive about your position rather than trying, or conceding, that the concept that’s clear to others eludes you.

              I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you. You can ask why everyone else here seems to get it, even though you persist in fighting, but I suspect you see this issue as you’re right and everyone else is wrong. I think you would be able to see it clearly if you could let go of your slavish adherence to proximate cause, but I’m similarly confident that you will just continue to defend your position rather than consider that there is a more expansive view of how interactions spiral out of control, and that these “independent, intervening events” are set in motion by the enforcement of rules at the outset. But then, we’ve long seen how civil lawyers struggle greatly with criminal law concepts, and are often unable to grasp them.

            7. Turk

              1. I have no idea if I’m right or not, hence my continuous use of the word “if”. Just a very strange story that this juror wants more info on.

              2. I’m all too aware of The First Rule of Breaking News Stories in that they often get things wrong or omit critical facts.

              Done. Typing on an iPad sucks.

            8. SHG Post author

              Glad that you’ve decided to stop digging. Sad to see you stuck in such a deep hole. I consider it my failure for having been unable to explain things better.

            9. Sad Turk Tears

              I’ve seen a lot of bloggers, particularly Scott, who have spoken very highly of Turk, to the point where he’s become a blogging hero in my eyes. This exchange, however, really makes me sad. I don’t understand why Turk found it impossible to understand what Scott and others were talking about, but what really bums me out is that he kept arguing rather than trying to understand why he wasn’t getting it.

              It’s like watching a star fade right before my eyes. It makes me sad.

            10. SHG Post author

              First, don’t get too melodramatic. So Turk misses one. Who doesn’t? And he argues his point, because we’re lawyers and that’s what we do. And he argues here because he’s among friends. Cut him a break. If I need a PI lawyer, he would be the only one I would go to. Period.

        2. JLS

          That makes sense. Because in America every infraction of every rule is a potential capital offense.

        3. Scarlet Pimpernel

          You had the potential for making a somewhat compeling arguement, services being restricted to those paying for them but had to go and ruin it. The Dorthy example is only slightly more sensical than stating they needed the ID in case the person dropping off the animal gets hit by a meteor walking out the door.

          1. SHG Post author

            There are two perspectives toward “rules,” and I put rules in quotes because some people see them as absolutes while others see them relative to their underlying purpose and the harm they can cause. Ecpa’s point sounds reasonable, that the shelter costs money to run and the municipality funding it only wishes to pay for its own citizens, so they want to know where the people dropping off the strays live. So far, fair enough.

            Normal government issued IDs are one way. There are plenty of others as well, provided the “rules” allowed for them. Or there is ultimately discretion. Even if staff at the shelter lacks the authority to accept alternate IDs or exercise discretion, they have the ability to de-escalate the situation by accepting the cat rather than going to war over an ID, and addressing any budgetary issue after the guy leaves. In other words, was the ID worth going to war over; was the fight about the ID worth calling the cops over; was the “rule” so important that enforcement at all costs, with the escalation of anger, tension, etc., worthy of what would follow under the worst case scenario.

            Is the need for an ID a “compelling argument”? To those who see rules as absolutes, yes. They similarly don’t see how Lawrences’ death had anything to do with them, as they were just applying the rules. Yet, once the wheels are set in motion, the outcome flows, and in this case, the outcome was death.

            As for the Wicked Witch problem, you are obviously right. Cool name, though.

            1. ecpa

              You can Google “Richard Desantis cat killer” for one nonfictional Wicked Witch example resulting in a guilty plea. But it may well be that the Wicked Witch problem is not a serious concern in the shelter business. On the other hand, I suspect that the euthanization of strays that turn out to be someone’s beloved pet is a more common problem. I would expect shelters to take a certain amount of care, including appropriate documentation, before taking a stray’s life: who delivered the stray to the shelter, where was the stray found, and why does the person making the delivery believe that it is a stray?

              More generally, I have my doubts about the “[n]ever make a rule you won’t kill for” standard. It’s hard to build an institution like an animal shelter (or a school or a hospital or any other similar institution) without rules that, in isolation, might seem to fail this standard. I think one needs to consider the costs and benefits of living with or without any set of rules. In a nation of more than 300 million, I’ll choose an effective bureaucratic system over the alternatives.

              That said, I’m all for attempting to de-escalate confrontations that arise.

            2. SHG Post author

              An effective bureaucratic system wouldn’t result in people being killed over petty rules. You can have your doubts; it doesn’t bring anyone killed for failure to adhere to a rule back to life.

              As for Richard DeSantis, should we enact laws to restrict everyone to make sure that no nutjob outlier ever causes harm? That would be a lot of laws. Millions and millions of laws. And it still won’t work.

        4. Patrick Maupin

          For similar reasons, my county required me to show identification before I could drop off old appliances and electrical equipment for recycling.

          The city where I live used to ask for ID for hazardous waste disposal. I think someone finally twigged to the fact that it’s probably best not to upset a guy with a truckload of hazardous chemicals who is already, you know, in the city — with the chemicals.

          So there’s a bit of common sense at the hazardous waste facility, but it’s still missing on the 311 line. I called to report a bag of trash in the middle of the street, thinking it would save labor if they collected it before someone hit it and scattered it all over. The lady asked for my name, address, and phone number, and I said I need to hang up because I’m driving, and she said she couldn’t turn in the report unless she had all that info. Just in case I was SWATting a stretch of empty road, I guess.

  2. Dan Weber

    The rule of “before you enact a rule, ask yourself if you are ready to have people die to enforce it” really comes into play here. :

    1. Turk

      The rule of “before you enact a rule, ask yourself if you are ready to have people die to enforce it” really comes into play here.

      Except the animal shelter isn’t in charge of law enforcement. The two shouldn’t be conflated.

      I’m willing to bet that the 911 call from the shelter — assuming there was one — had nothing to do with rule violations or sovereign citizen nonsense, and much to do with conduct. I wouldn’t be too quick to bring back a verdict just yet.

      1. SHG Post author

        The application of the maxim has nothing to do with whether it’s an animal shelter, a school, a government office or anything else, or why the call was made to 911, or what was said.

        That’s the point: Ultimately, when enforcement of governmental rules slides down the slope until it comes to enforcement by the cops, death may result. This scenario is a perfect example.

      2. Myles

        Another maxim comes to mind here: Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.

        It’s okay not to understand the concept, but wouldn’t it be better to keep that to yourself?

  3. Anne Krone

    I have to object. I know a handful of sovereign citizens, and they are not crazy. They are naive. They truly believe the high school civics propaganda is real. They operate from two wrong premises. The first is that the government obeys it’s own rules, therefore if the Sovereign finds a loophole in those rules, they won’t be crushed like a bug . The second is that government derives its just authority from the consent of the governed. Since they did not/do not consent , they are not subject to its authority. Of course, anyone paying any sort of attention to the nuts and bolts of government actions knows these premises are false, and any actions taken based on them will not turn out well, but that’s where they are coming from.

    1. SHG Post author

      Their faulty premises go a great deal further than that, but regardless, this won’t devolve into a discussion about the “biggest problem” with sovereign citizens. Let’s try to focus on the dead guy rather than the merits of the dead guy’s politics, okay?

  4. Jack

    Well, the raw story report linked to and quoted by Reason just confirmed to me that this has an exceptionally high chance of being a bad shoot, without even having to hear what the “physical altercation” was. Why? Besides everywhere referring to him as a sovereign citizen (without anyone being quoted), right at the top we have a nice “prosecutors say” block narrating out every single contact he had with the law and that he had strong anti-government views without any other details…

    We know absolutely nothing about the shooting except this man was literally trying to save a stray kitten, yet we know everything this man has done wrong in his entire life and his political views. The only new information we got was the update from “non-life threatening injuries” to “he’s dead”…

    Who knows, maybe he was selling loosies before trying to save kittens…

      1. Jack

        Exactly – but normally the more reasonable the shoot, the higher the FACTS:SMEAR ratio is. In this case the facts are exceedingly thin, yet the smear is approaching critical mass.

        If it was a good shoot, the narrative would feature accolades about the shooter (827 year veteran, kisses babies, volunteers at leper colony) along with the favorable facts (had a gun, knife, or a reasonably pointy stick) along with the requisite smear about the shootee.

        We seem to be missing the numerator from my ratio.

        1. SHG Post author

          Interesting. I never thought about it before, but I suspect you’re quite right that there is a direct inverse proportional relationship between facts supporting a justifiable shooting and the need for smears.

          Then again, they could just throw in the smears for fun. After all, it’s there anyway.

          1. Patrick Maupin

            The good shoots are where they float the new smear prototypes as trial balloons. They then carefully monitor the letters-to-the-editor and this website afterwards, to see which ones look the stupidest to the proletariat. For this to work, they have to keep the the number of smears on the good shoots down, else it’s hard to do the math to tease out which ones caused the anger.

            The stupidest ones make the cut and are recycled for the bad shoots. Some think that’s because of a contest they have down at the precinct house, but it’s obvious to me that the cops have merely figured out that once somebody’s blown all their adrenalin on the stupid excuse for the shoot, they’ve forgotten all about the the shoot itself.

            1. JLS

              The excuses are not only for the press and public but for maybe even more so for the cops themselves.

              They have to dehumanize the victims as much as is humanly possible in order to live with the guilt. If the guy you just killed was a very bad horrible person or non-person as the case may be, there is no atrocity that you cannot in good conscience inflict upon people.

              So the more unjustifiable the kill, the more there is a psychological need for some lame ass excuses to make you feel ok about it.

  5. Patrick Maupin

    This starts with our own laziness. We unthinkingly give the information to the grocery clerk. We may occasionally challenge her, but we never sit down afterwards and write a letter to her boss asking why the information is needed and what happens to the kitten if it isn’t provided.

    I view people like this as self-selected canaries. It’s always incredibly sad to see one of them die, but it’s even sadder if we don’t take the right message from the death. We need to sink more ventilation shafts, not simply avoid the area of the mine with the noxious air. Thanks for this post, which both reminds me of a letter I need to write to my city over a very similar ID policy, and provides an excellent example of what can go wrong when poorly thought out policies are implemented by the uncritical, unimaginative, unempowered, yet not unafraid.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Perhaps but there are several boxes that must be checked if you want to have a garage sale in Dothan and stay alive.

        So, if you think having to produce a government issued ID to drop off a cat at the city animal shelter is a little extreme you definitely don’t want to read Dothan’s garage sale ordinance or sign the permit application let alone read the mission statement of the police department.

        P.S. Did you know Dothan is the peanut capitol of the world?

        Don’t be a peanut… if you want peace and order, produce your identification and comply…

    1. SHG Post author

      Tasers aren’t non-lethal, but less than lethal. And yes, but that would require facts in the underlying story that weren’t provided.

    2. JLS

      Not sure why we accept it as normal that someone needs to be subdued for being upset in the first place but like Scott said that would require facts that weren’t provided.

  6. Curtis

    You called the police, what is going on here? He refused to show you I.D. for bringing in a stray cat? Seriously? That’s it? And you are going to push that? Are you going to take the cat or not? Yes? Mr. Lawrence, you are free to go.

    Space/time continuum — > Snap-crack-boom!

    Let’s just turn this into a bigger issue than it really is.

    Comply. Comply. Comply.

    If only those dead old white guys had complied with every jot and tittle.

    Here we are. Imagine where we will be.

  7. bacchys

    Contra the blog title, crazy is very much a capital offense, and dozens upon dozens of headlines around the country support it.

    It’s dangerous to be crazy in America these days. Only the insane would choose it.

  8. John Barleycorn

    You know the nearer your destination. The more you’re slip slidin’ away…

    CDL’s grabbing, Shield deaths are a riding. Who will find the objective way? Bang, bang is it enough to find your rage?

    …a good day, ain’t got no rain…

    a bad day’s when I lie in bed
    and think of things that might have been…

    And I know a fa-ther
    Who had a son
    He longed to tell him all the reasons
    For the things he’d done

    He came a long way
    Just to explain
    He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
    Then he turned around and headed home again.

    Bang bang.

    Fuck finding. Make room for the objective way.

    (-have a white cover on the picnic bench, for the train ride-)

    All aboard the prism train…-whitey.-

    Will bed descending with some very
    -black- funk….depending on your Sunday Operetta.

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