By William Grigg
The police did nothing to prevent the robbery of Dennis Fleming’s home in Farmington, New Hampshire, or to catch the burglar – but they may succeed in sending the 61-year-old grandfather to prison for using a handgun to apprehend the man suspected of several local break-ins.
On February 19, Fleming discovered that his home had been robbed. Spying a suspicious-looking man with a backpack, Fleming grabbed his handgun and strode off in pursuit.
Shortly thereafter, Fleming heard a loud crash and saw the same suspicious man jumping out of a neighbor’s rear window. Holding out his handgun, Fleming ordered the intruder to freeze, firing a single round into the ground. He detained the suspect until the police arrived.
The suspect, 27-year-old Joseph Herbert, was found to be in possession of a number of stolen items, including antique watches and silver coins. There is evidence that the same suspect had been involved in a string of robberies elsewhere in town.
A few hours later, Fleming called the police to find out if the suspect had been released on bail. To his amazement, Fleming discovered that he because he had harmlessly discharged his firearm into the ground, he was going to be charged with reckless conduct – a Class B felony that could result in a prison sentence of the same length confronted by the robber he had detained.
“I didn’t think I could handle this guy physically, so I fired into the ground,” Fleming told a local Fox News affiliate. “He stopped. He knew I was serious. I was angry … and I was worried that this guy was going to come after me.”
If Fleming had been wearing a government-issued costume, he could have justified shooting the suspect – or even an innocent bystander — in the name of “officer safety,” without facing criminal charges. Furthermore, New Hampshire’s recently expanded “Castle Law” recognizes that Fleming – like all other citizens of the Granite State – has an unqualified right to armed self-defense. As Judge Andrew Napolitano points out, Fleming’s action reflects a “uniquely American way to protect his property and to protect his neighbor’s property.”
Blithely dismissing those considerations, the local Foster’s Daily Democrat opines:
A message must be sent that firing a handgun in an area where someone can easily be injured is highly inappropriate. On the other hand, it is not as if Fleming went on a drunken rage and fired indiscriminately. Additionally, the thought that Fleming could spend as much time in prison as the burglar he caught is chilling. Attention also must be drawn to the recent spate of burglaries in area and how jumpy residents have become while waiting to see who is next.
The editorial board here at Foster’s Daily Democrat believes an example has already been made of Fleming. To that end, we urge that at worse he be cited for a misdemeanor. We would hope, however, that the County Attorney’s Office allows the charges to be filed for a year, after which charges can be dismissed based on good behavior.
Inflicting punishment on someone who committed no crime is itself a crime. Despite the fact that Fleming acted properly and legally, he most likely will face punishment of some kind for violating the State’s monopoly on the use of force – thereby underscoring the patent uselessness of law enforcement agencies as a means of protecting individual lives and property.
This is not the first time an innocent New Hampshire resident has faced the prospect of a prison term for committing the “offense” of defending himself in a way that embarrassed the police.
Shortly after midnight on November 8, 2008, Dustin Almon of Kensington, New Hampshire noticed two people following him.
Almon finally withdrew a tiny pocketknife from his pants pocket, turned around, and, holding the knife at his side, demanded: “Why are you following me?”
One of the stalkers, Anthony Cattabriga, yelled: “Police!” He and his partner were undercover Liquor Enforcement officers trailing Almon as part of a training exercise. Almon eagerly cooperated with their demands – only to be charged with “criminal threatening.”