What To Do Immediately After a Self-Defense Shooting

I’m a street cop.  If you use a gun for self-defense, someone like me will be there to begin the investigation.  I believe there is a lack of good information out there on this subject.  Additionally, I believe many CCW instructors over-simplify this topic by telling you to just say “I feared for my life”.  Well… In the real world of homicide investigations “I feared for my life” won’t cut it.  Too many people teaching armed self-defense oversimplify what happens after the shooting – or simply don’t know what happens.  I’m going to take you through the process and teach you what to do.

First of all, shooting another person – even in self-defense – is the most serious and significant thing you can do in life.  You will be investigated for homicide or attempted homicide.  This is true of law enforcement officers as well as anyone else who uses a gun for self-defense.  You don’t say the magic words “I feared for my life” and it all goes away.  You will be investigated.  What you say and do after the shooting will have a significant impact on your life.

To begin with, I want to take you through the process of what happens when a police officer shoots someone in the line of duty.  I remind you that police officers are citizens just like you and have the same Constitutional rights as you do.  The basic process used for Officer Involved Shootings is the process I recommend you follow if you are ever involved in a self-defense shooting.

The first police supervisor on the scene will asked the Officer who fired his weapon only three questions; (1) How many shots did you fire, (2) What direction did you fire, and (3) Are there additional suspects or witnesses we should be looking for?  That’s all they are going to ask the Officer immediately after the shooting.  This is known as a public safety statement or public safety information.

Asking how many shots were fired is not to trick the officer or to be used in the criminal investigation.  The supervisor asks that because each round must be accounted for.  This will also be determined by checking the officer’s gun – which by the way will be taken as evidence.

The initial on-scene supervisor should not attempt to order any involved officer to provide any information other than those three questions. This is written policy for most departments.

The officer will then be given a ride home and allowed at least two sleep cycles (three days) before being interviewed.  During those few days, the Officer will obtain legal counsel and have them present during any interview as well as recommending and/or reviewing any written statement by the officer.

An outside police agency will conduct a criminal investigation into the shooting and provide results to the district attorney.  The district attorney will then decide if the shooting was justified or if criminal charges will be filed on the officer.

The officer’s department will also do an internal investigation to determine if the shooting was within department policy.

Now I go through all of this to give you an understanding of what police officers go through after a shooting and suggest you follow the same procedure.  Of course, you won’t have a police department behind you so it will be a bit different and you will need to remember what I’m going to tell you here.

We’re going to start with the second you pull your gun to defend yourself and work through the whole scene from there.

Ok… you’ve just pulled out a gun to defend yourself against another person.  You decide you must shoot to prevent this person from harming you and fire three shots.

Depending on the situation and where it occurs, witnesses may have already called the police and they are on their way.  All they’ve been told is there is a disturbance involving two or more people and at least one of them has a gun.  It’s important to note the police will not know you’re the good guy when they arrive, and you must be prepared for their arrival.

So, you’ve fired your 3 shots and the bad guy is down.  He’s not moving.  Either keep your gun on the bad guy or holster it.  If you still have your gun in your hands when the police arrive put it on the ground BEFORE THEY GET OUT OF THEIR CARS, step away from it with your hands above your head and kneel down.  If your gun is in the holster, leave it there and just put your hands up and kneel down.  Remember THE POLICE DON’T KNOW YOU’RE THE GOOD GUY.  To them you’re just a guy with a gun and that makes you a threat to them.

As police arrive, you’re most likely going to feel some relief and want to identify with them as the good guys. Since you’re the good guy you’re going feel like the police are on your side. They are not on your side. They are not on your team. They are there to investigate a shooting – not to be your friend. Their job is to find out the truth of what happened.

Depending on how obvious the scene is, the police are most likely going to handcuff you and take you into custody. Don’t resist. Just go along with it.

At this point, detectives and crime scene investigators will be called to the scene and take over the investigation.

You have just been through one of the most traumatic experiences a human can go through. You’ll probably want to share your story but that’s a mistake. It will be a blur and you will not be able to accurately remember all the details. In his excellent book, On Combat, Dave Grossman reports that nearly half of all law enforcement officers involved in deadly encounters have significant chunks of memory lost from the event.  Within 24 hours, most people will recall only 30 percent of the situation.  50 percent of the incident after 48 hours and 75-95 percent after 72-100 hours after the incident.

Immediately after the incident, you will not remember enough of the details and you may remember things that did not actually happen the way you recall them.  You are in no shape to make legal statements that will have a huge effect on your future freedom.

The only thing you should to tell police. “I acted in self-defense.  I believe I fired {number of} shots, but I’m not sure.  I fired in that direction – whatever direction you fired – and that guy [bad guy] is the only other person involved [unless there are more]. I will fully cooperate with your investigation, but I will not say anything else without my attorney present.”

Depending on the investigators, they may not be happy with you because they want to get all the information as quickly as possible.  Good investigators should understand you will need more time to remember the incident and be willing to take the time to arrive at the truth.

You may get arrested but don’t worry about it. There is a difference between the truth and what happened.  You can be arrested on what happened which is Probable Cause, but you can only be convicted by “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” which is the truth.  It often takes time to arrive at the truth.

Spending a night in jail is a small price to pay to get your chance to tell the truth after a few days of remembering more and more of the incident and with your legal counsel present.  Don’t be in a hurry to tell your story.  You want to help investigators get the truth not just what happened… because what happened is you killed or seriously injured someone and depending on the facts and perceptions, you could lose your freedom if the truth doesn’t come out and only what happened is presented.

You will either get arrested or investigators will make an appointment to interview you.  This will depend on what they can determine from the scene, and from any witnesses, because you’re not making a statement at the time.  If you shoot someone inside your own house you are much less likely to be arrested than if it happens out in a parking lot with no witnesses, no video surveillance or other quick ways of determining the truth of what took place.  If they are leaning towards it being self-defense, they will most likely not arrest you.

If they can’t determine it was clearly self-defense, they will probably arrest you.  It’s not personal, they are just doing their job.  And the reason for arresting you is so you will post bail and then are more likely to show up to any court proceedings.  It’s not punishment, it’s just part of the legal system.

They will take your gun and ammunition as evidence.  This will happen whether they arrest you or not.

Yes, you will need to get an attorney.  Not just any attorney.  You will need a criminal defense attorney with experience in self-defense cases.  Your brother in law’s DUI attorney may not be the best choice!

During this time, don’t go into detail telling friends and family what happened.  Save your story for your attorney and then follow his or her counsel on what to tell family, relatives and friends.  This isn’t the time to have your cousin blasting your story all over social media.

Once you and your attorney sit down with investigators and tell your side of the story, they will complete their report and send it to the district attorney.  The district attorney will review the report and decide if the shooting was justified as self-defense or not.

That’s the process.  You never, ever see this on TV, but it’s what happens in real life.  I cannot over-state this…  Shooting another person is the most serious and significant thing you can do in life and society demands a full and complete investigation.

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