Richard McGee got drunk, which occasionally happens with 3Ls, whether at Whittier Law School or elsewhere. Richard McGee did something foolish when he was drunk, which often happens with guys who are drunk. Richard McGee was shot and killed for it. That doesn’t often happen.
Jonathan Wade, who lives at the Residence at Canyon Gate, was hosting his friend the night of the shooting. He said his buddy wandered off and mistakenly knocked on the wrong door — a decision that would cost him his life.
Richard Rizal McGee, 31, died when he was shot by his friend’s neighbor at the apartment complex, near where Sahara Avenue and Fort Apache Road meet.
Police on the day of the shooting said the couple at 2200 Fort Apache Road, who Metro have not identified, feared for their lives as McGee pounded on their door just before 5 a.m. while screaming and yelling.
McGee’s screaming and pounding on the door at 5 a.m. must have been hugely annoying, especially to ordinary people who are asleep at home. His drunken night didn’t become their problem. But much as they might have thought to themselves, “I could kill this guy,” they instead decided to put their anger into practice.
They couldn’t see the man behind their metal door with a small peephole. After warning him that they were armed and telling him to stop trying to enter their home, the woman called 911 for help.
But before police could arrive, the man who lives in the apartment shot through the door multiple times, killing McGee on the other side.
McGee could have chosen the right door. McGee could have stopped screaming and banging, especially after being told to stop. But he didn’t. It was a poor decision, but drunk people often make poor decisions. And he died for it.
The core concept of the Castle Doctrine is that a homeowner should have the right to defend himself and his family from an intruder without the requirement that he retreat, if safe retreat is possible. It’s an exception to the rule that the defense of property is not worthy of the taking of a life, an acknowledgement that a person’s home is his castle, and it’s a line that should not be crossed.
But Nevada’s Castle Doctrine takes it further.
1. Justifiable homicide is the killing of a human being in necessary self-defense, or in defense of habitation, property or person, against one who manifestly intends or endeavors, by violence or surprise, to commit a felony, or against any person or persons who manifestly intend and endeavor, in a violent, riotous, tumultuous or surreptitious manner, to enter the habitation of another for the purpose of assaulting or offering personal violence to any person dwelling or being therein.
2. A person is not required to retreat before using deadly force as provided in subsection 1 if the person:
(a) Is not the original aggressor;
(b) Has a right to be present at the location where deadly force is used; and
(c) Is not actively engaged in conduct in furtherance of criminal activity at the time deadly force is used.
The language, “endeavor, in a violent, riotous, tumultuous or surreptitious manner, to enter the habitation of another,” gives rise to the problem. McGee was certainly endeavoring to enter, though his purpose of doing harm was purely speculative. Yet, the perspective is that of the shooter, the homeowner, whose claim of fear of harm is sufficient to overcome the limitation of an unknown and unprovable purpose.
But its greater extension is that it permits a homeowner to shoot, to kill, before a person gains entry, such that the zone of killing extends beyond the walls of the home into the curtilage.
So long as the occupants can claim a reasonable fear that McGee was trying to break into their home, the shooting is treated as justified. Moreover, Nevada like some other states allows for the use of the power not just in the home but around its immediate exterior or curtilage.
This isn’t the first time a shot through a door has killed someone. Nevada isn’t alone in its extension of the Castle Doctrine. Indeed, it’s downright modest in contrast to Texas, where it’s cool to shoot and kill a person running away, whose potential threat of harm to anyone inside a home is clearly past.
But when guns are in the hands of people who either misperceive the threat, or misapprehend the scope of the law, or are just too stupid to know when to shoot and when not to shoot, the likelihood of a mistaken killing, a combination of poor choices, availability of force, excessive fear and laws that enable people to feel confident that they can shoot and kill even when there is no actual threat to their safety, increases dramatically. Expect dead bodies.
The contention that the Castle Doctrine is well-founded, that people should have the ability to defend their homes and families from harm, is not the question. The question is how far that authority should go. Did Richard McGee present a real threat to the safety of the inhabitants of the apartment, or merely an inchoate threat, with one steel door between the homeowner and the drunken law student? Was McGee’s purpose to harm those inside, or to go to sleep once the people inside stopped screwing with his head, as kids are wont to do?
Where is the line drawn for a threat worth killing for? Are armed homeowners qualified to assess that threat, under stressful circumstances, or is it enough that they have an unwarranted but sincere fear?
Either way, Whittier 3L Richard McGee is dead. Getting drunk and banging on the wrong door certainly isn’t good conduct, something for which McGee deserves a prize. But it also isn’t so threatening, so awful, that he deserved to die for it. When police shoot, and we parse their conduct to ascertain whether the killing was justified, we do so with the recognition that they are expected to exercise a higher level of restraint, a better level of judgment, than the typical criminal on the street.
Is a killing by a homeowner for inadequate reasons acceptable because the law imposes low expectations and needlessly broad authorization to shoot and kill? Is it too much to expect the homeowner to not shoot through a door to kill someone who may be endeavoring to enter, but is no more than an annoyance at five in the morning?