The street name, Whispering Woods Lane, sounds quiet, calm and bucolic, though it’s a housing development in Sparta, New Jersey. Even so, knocking at the front door at 2 in the morning is jarring. That the three boys meant to knock at the door of the next house doesn’t make it less so.
The people inside don’t know that the boys made a stupid mistake. They know that there is an unanticipated knocking in the middle of the night, when they’re asleep dreaming of perfect suburban lawns. They know that the knocking woke them up. They know that there is pretty much nothing good coming from the knocking, and potentially something pretty bad. Memo to 18-year-old kids: make sure you knock on the front door to the correct house at 2 a.m., because otherwise somebody is going to be pretty pissed at you.
But then, the boys also didn’t know that the guy coming to the door to answer the knock was Kissinger Barreau, a New Jersey State Trooper, and he had his gun.
According to the AG’s office, the trooper said he’d suspected the teens were trying to enter his home. The trooper reportedly said he entered the street to try to stop their car, and opened fire when the car didn’t yield.
Barkhorn said the teens saw a laser pointed at them before the officer opened fire.
As Barreau approached his door from the inside, the boys heard him cursing, realized their mistake, and turned to leave. When they saw the red laser dot, they jumped in their car and hit the gas. Barreau fired three shots at them as they fled, one hitting their tire. He claimed he told them he was a cop, which the boys deny.
When they got down the road apiece, the boys called their parents and the police, who swiftly arrested the boys and held them for nine hours, interrogating them to try to get them to admit they were trying to run Barreau down. They didn’t take the bait, and were released.
The “nighttime knock” has resulted in some truly horrific outcomes. Nineteen-year-old Renisha McBridge was shot to death after knocking on a door in the middle of the night seeking help after a traffic accident. Then there was Florida A&M football player Jonathan Ferrell, shot by North Carolina cops after knocking on a door following an accident in the middle of the night.
And there are similar instances of homeowners shot and killed when answering the nighttime knock, like Leta Webb. While it may well be argued that burglars don’t knock before breaking into a house in the middle of the night, that fails to address the reality that unanticipated knocking at night is not only extremely annoying, but potentially dangerous for the people on both sides of the door.
But Barreau wasn’t your usual miffed homeowner with a gun. He was a state trooper, who should have been adequately trained so as not to blindly shoot in fear as the potential “threat” fled. There isn’t any doubt these teenagers were boneheads, knocking on the wrong door in suburbia at 2 a.m., and it’s perfectly understandable that the homeowner is angry and alarmed. That Barreau brought his gun to the door, in itself, is understandable.
The only material issue in dispute is whether he announced that he was a police officer, but it’s not relevant. A cop is no more entitled to shoot at someone retreating than anyone else. The boys posed no threat, despite fellow troopers trying to get them to concede facts that would at least give rise to an arguable justification for shooting.
Yet, there has been no arrest made, save the nine hour arrest of the teens, for the shooting.
The incident remains under investigation by the Attorney General’s Shooting Response Team, according to the AG’s office.
This is a no-brainer. It’s clearly criminal to use deadly force at people who pose no threat and are retreating. To add insult to injury, the fact that the boys were boneheads is hardly the same as malevolent. They were not criminals. There was no crime perpetrated or contemplated. There was a dopey mistake of being one house off. Nothing more.
And if anyone should be fully aware of the restrictions on the use of force, the impropriety of shooting at someone fleeing, it’s a law enforcement officer. That Kissinger Barreau didn’t ask to be awoken at 2 in the morning by some dumb kids may be true, but he still doesn’t get to shoot to kill them. That he hasn’t been arrested and charged for this obvious crime is outrageous.
Yet, the secondary message of this scenario is that knocking on people’s doors in the middle of the night is a dangerous and problematic thing. If you’re a boneheaded kid, be careful to pick the right house. If you’ve been in an accident, there really isn’t any good answer as to how to approach a house for assistance without taking your life in your hands.
And if you’re the homeowner, bear in mind that the person knocking may well be a good person who had just suffered a car crash and needs some help. Or just a dopey kid who did what dopey kids do. Find out first before pulling the trigger. No matter how annoyed you are, don’t be so quick to shoot. Maybe everybody can survive to greet the next morning.