The Dangers of Night Knocking

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.

But shooting?

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.

23 thoughts on “The Dangers of Night Knocking

  1. Martin Goodson

    Second paragraph : “make sure you know on the front doo” – is that intended to be “make sure you knock on the front door”, or some kind of really weird euphemism?

  2. Noxx

    I’ve been following this, and it makes me exactly as irate as the the stories that have come before it. Absolutely foolish confrontations, all. The things I care deeply about, my wife, my dogs, are inside the house with me. The things outside the house… Cars? I guess, are insured.

    Sure I arm myself, but what I don’t do is open the damn door, doing so has almost no possible positive outcomes. Who are these morons rushing outside at 2am, where do they come from, and more importantly, where can we send them to?

    1. SHG Post author

      This scenario is made for disaster all around. But what about the car crash scenario? That’s what makes it so troubling, is that there are good reasons to open the door, to help someone in need, and good reasons to go nowhere near the door.

      What there is never a good reason for is to shoot at someone heading the other way.

      1. dm

        The ubiquity of mobile telephones has likely decreased the reasons why a homeowner would view a 2:00 AM knock as necessary. Nonetheless, shooting at a fleeing suspect is, obviously, illegal except in that narrow set of circumstances where it is not for LEOs (unfortunately, most media reports on this case do not indicate where the shell casings were located or which tire was hit (front or rear)).
        Notable I think, is that allegedly the local PD transferred the suspects to the nearest state trooper barracks where the lengthy interrogation took place (notable because the homeowner was a state trooper). This story brings out my inner prosecutor (against the homeowner/trooper).

    2. Patrick Maupin

      Sure I arm myself, but what I don’t do is open the damn door, doing so has almost no possible positive outcomes.

      I guess I’m naive, but since most houses are practically made out of cardboard, the first thing I think of when I hear a loud knock on the door is that someone outside is in trouble, not that someone forgot their boxcutter and needs me to let them in so they can harm me.

      There have been a few times I have opened the door at 3:00 AM, and I’m none the worse for it. The most memorable were the times the neighbor with Alzheimer’s was agitated and certain that someone was out to get him.

    3. delurking

      I will answer the door every time, unarmed (I don’t own a gun). It is overwhelmingly more likely that someone knocking on my door in the middle of the night is looking for help, and seriously in need of it, than that they are out to harm me. I urge you to do the same. It will make society a better place.

        1. SHG Post author

          As Ronald Reagan famously said, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. There is far too much fear in the world, but we can help others and still be prepared so that bad things don’t happen. Maybe we will never find perfect equilibrium, but we can surely try.

    4. L

      “Sure I arm myself, but what I don’t do is open the damn door, doing so has almost no possible positive outcomes.”

      Your ‘almost’ is a too-small concession to the restive ghost of Kitty Genovese.

  3. Patrick Maupin

    It’s clearly criminal to use deadly force at people who pose no threat and are retreating.

    It may be clearly wrong, but at least in Texas, it’s not clearly criminal. Even non-cops get away with that here — you can often use deadly force to protect your stuff, and sometimes even your neighbor’s stuff.

      1. Patrick Maupin

        I can’t believe that attitude after all we do to entertain you. What other state has its Attorney General under indictment?

        1. SHG Post author

          Wasn’t he the last public official in Texas to not be indicted? He probably felt left out. Poor Ken.

          1. Patrick Maupin

            Now that you mention it, I have to confess I’m not quite sure how to apply Hanlon’s Razor in this case.

  4. Mort

    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.

    If I were allowed to shoot people who angered and/or annoyed me, I would have spent a fortune on bullets by now…

  5. KP

    “There was a dopey mistake of being one house off. Nothing more.”

    I thought that mistake was copywrited to SWAT teams, and the idea was going IN at 2am to shoot innocent people!

    So there is no prosecution of The State in either direction, citizens are always wrong.

  6. Capt. Ahab

    There is a particular double standard in Los Angeles. Deserving citizens are denied carry permits. But favored bureaucrats such as D.A. employees and judges are issued CCW without ANY training or need. I saw this firsthand when I met a newly-hired Asst. D.A. who asked me (I am an expert) to tell him whether his new gun was fully-assembled and ready to use. He also didn’t know how to load it or know if it was loaded. And HE had been issued a carry permit when he was hired, as a perk of office.

    The famously idiotic Judge Lance Ito, who presided over the O. J. Simpson trial, was also famous for “playing” with his pistol in his chambers. On at least one occasion, while playing “fast draw,” he accidentally fired a round. He also, had a CCW without any good reason or training or testing.

    1. SHG Post author

      Alright, you got me. How in the world do you leap from this post to your comment, which has zero to do with the issuance of carry permits. Let me guess: post mentions a cop shooting his gun in New Jersey, so guns, so double standard of issuance of carry permits in LA? Amirite?

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