Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Good Guys and Bad Guys With Guns: The Future

(This is an Associated Press story published in the future. The events described here have yet to take place.)

New Haven CT ( AP) -- Conroy C. Nelson, 38, became the first person in the U.S. Friday to be sentenced under a controversial law backed by the National Rifle Association that criminalizes the act of not attempting to engage a suspect with a handgun during the commission of a felony.

The pretzel-logic law was enacted with major NRA muscle and a Tea Party minority in the U.S. Senate, after a less radical version of the bill was tabled in the House.

The law, called The National Punish Your Neighbor Freedom Act of 2020, was signed by President Marco Rubio last month amid predictions that its provocative contents could result in a perpetual gun fight on the streets of the United States.

Simply put, the NPYNP considered armed people carrying licensed and concealed weapons to be de facto  federal peace officers and thus responsible for upholding local and federal law. Moreover, one of the "peace officer's" duties is to halt felonies with quick and precise use of their weapons.

The expectation of the law is that it will lead to a major increase in civilian shootings and a corresponding drop in crime. 

The most controversial and to many, frightening, aspects of the law is this requirement for the peace officers to use lethal force -- and the punishment for failing to stop the alleged crime being committed -- is itself punishable by a hefty fine and prison sentence.

Critics of the measure, such as Irwin Chemerinsky, professor of law emeritus at Stanford University, contend that the bills twisted logic will result in armed people shooting people whom they merely suspect of a crime in order to avoid going to prison.

"This is the startlingly unconstitutional and practically implausible," said Chemrinsky, an expert in civil liberties and gun laws, at Stanford's "Beach School for Integrative Government Studies," a  left-leaning think tank.

"If this law is faithfully followed urban areas will become perpetual no-man's lands. The peace officer 
is not compelled to see a suspect's weapon before he opens fire.  These so-called peace officers have a license to kill whomever they choose," Chemerinsky said.

Traditionally, police officers are only allowed to use their weapons in clear instances of self-defense and in cases where a suspect may inflict serious harm to others. 

According to police, Nelson, owner of a Walther PPK .380 caliber concealable semi-automatic with 6 rounds, was walking to his parked car at the Southington (Ct) Mall at about 7 p.m.Thursday,  when he allegedly saw William Santos, 27, of Bridgeport, attempting to force a woman into his 1987 Ford F-150 pick-up truck.

Nelson ordered Santos to stop, police said, and he woman yelled "Help, I am being raped," police said.

Witnesses said the woman, whose identity has not been released, clearly and repeatedly shouted "I'm being raped," and "He's going to kill me."

Under the law Nelson was required to unholster his weapon and shoot to kill the alleged assailant. Instead, he yelled "Stop or I will shoot you," as he approached Santos. Santos shot the woman in the abdomen and tried to drive out of he parking garage, but hit a pillar, police said. 

He was shot to death by state police who had been summoned by mall patrons. The medical examiner's office confirmed that Santos died from 12 to 14 gunshot wounds to the head, torso, and legs. The head wound, one of the first shots, was probably lethal, according to the medical examiner.

Nelson declined several requests for a comment. 

Walther PPK .380

In a statement President Rubio said, "A man who shirked his duty will now have to face the consequences. If we as a country do not counter armed criminals with all resources, then terrorist acts will recommence with a fury." 

Police confiscated Nelson's pistol and placed him under arrest. Nelson did not struggle. Nelson was arraigned in Superior Court before Judge Yin Bin Yao, and charged with dereliction of duty during the commission of a crime, a felony under NPYNP. (Court officers call the law Nip-Yip) 

 Nelson, who owns his own real estate company, argues that he was not sufficiently trained in the use of his firearm and that he could have injured bystanders, a class 2 felony.

On the advice of his attorneys Nelson pleaded no contest to the charge and his lawyers appealed the judge's sentence of 25 years to life. 

"He did not do anything other than witness an alleged crime," said one of his attorneys, Hugh Keefe of New Haven. Keefe said Nelson has since been treated for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder at Yale Psychiatric Hospital. 

"Should this be the future of urban America God help us," Keefe said.

Keefe said he would appeal the sentence on the grounds that it violates the Constitutional due process clause, and that Yip-Nip forces involuntary "peace officers" to commit state sanctioned homicide.  

The State Supreme Court could  reduce or eliminate the sentence, vacate the conviction, and or declare the law unconstitutional under Connecticut law. The five-member panel comprises three democrats and two republicans appointed by former Gove. Daniel P. Malloy. 

U.S. State's Attorney Stefanie Zara-Linley said, "The law is very clear. Nelson had the responsibility to kill the suspect with his weapon. He completely abandoned the good-guy/bad-guy basis of the law and in doing so placed himself and the poor victim in danger. She died because of him."

Yin denied Nelson's request to post bond and he was remanded to the Whalley Avenue Correctional Center in New Haven pending his appeal. 

Public response to the case has been mixed, as residents wrestle with the implications of the new law.

Anthony Vitale, of West Haven, said, "I can see why he was charged, but the idea that someone other than the police is responsible to use lethal force -- required by law to kill an innocent person -- troubles me. 

"What if it was a prank? What if they were married and having a fight?" Vitale said.  "This whole Nip-Yip thing is a disaster."

Like many others Vitale pointed out that peace officers such as Nelson must shoot suspects based on their perception of complicated events that may easily be misinterpreted. 

Such was the case Oct. 3 in Newington, when Jonathon Walker shot and killed Hiram Espinoza after seeing Espinoza exchanging cap-gun fire with his cousin Marcel Guttere.  Walked shot and killed both men with a Smith & Wesson .40-cal. semi-automatic loaded with hollow point "Hydra Shok" ammunition designed to inflict devastating wounds.

Smith & Wesson .40

Walker was awarded the Newington Bravery Medal by the mayor and has refused to comment on the incident. Medical and police  reports suggest that Walker has also sought treatment for PTSD at a local drop-in clinic. 

Statistics maintained by the FBI show that since the law was enacted, non-municipal peace officers have intervened in 26 cases, leaving 24 suspects dead and 4 wounded. None of he peace officers other than Nelson has faced charges. 

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