It was already a pretty rough Monday night for one Houston man even before a stranger broke into the truck where he was sleeping. According to authorities, the man was bunking down in his vehicle for the night after an argument with his girlfriend, but was rudely awakened to the sound of someone inside his vehicle.
Fearing for his safety, the armed citizen fired several shots from the AR-15 rifle by his side, fatally wounding the suspect.
The man who fired the shots then ran to his brother’s apartment and called 911. He remained at the scene for deputies to arrive and is said to be cooperating with the investigation. The sheriff’s office says the man who was shot to death appears to have burglarized other vehicles, and at least three other cars near the truck had signs of being broken into.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez says the suspect was “possibly armed” with a handgun when he broke into the truck, and this may not have been the first vehicle he targeted.
Authorities said another man who may have had a pistol got into the vehicle and may not have realized the sleeping man was in the truck.
“They shouldn’t be out doing it in the first place. I don’t believe that he realized that the reportee was sleeping in this truck before it was too late,” said Sgt. Ben Beall with the sheriff’s office.
The would-be victim had what the sheriff said was an AR-15 and reportedly shot the man several times. The suspected thief was pronounced dead at the scene. Deputies said the suspect had already stolen from several nearby cars before the shooting.
Gonzalez says the investigation will be turned over to a Harris County grand jury to determine if any charges are appropriate, but based on Texas law it would appear that this was a justifiable use of force. According to current statutes, the use of force is presumed to be reasonable if someone “unlawfully and with force entered, or was attempting to enter unlawfully and with force, the actor’s occupied habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment.”
Texas law also states that a “person who has a right to be present at the location where the deadly force is used, who has not provoked the person against whom the deadly force is used, and who is not engaged in criminal activity at the time the deadly force is used is not required to retreat before using deadly force as described by this section.”
It’s doubtful that the armed citizen could have easily removed himself from the situation if he woke up to someone already inside his vehicle, but given that he had a right to be in his truck he had no duty to retreat to begin with. From the limited information released by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, it sounds like the armed citizen had good reason to believe his life was in danger and was well within his rights to use deadly force to protect himself. As Sgt. Beall said, the car burglar shouldn’t have been engaged in his illegal activity to begin with, and would be alive today had he simply stayed out of vehicles that didn’t belong to him. Once he decided to forcibly enter those cars and trucks, however, he put his own life at risk; a stupid decision that resulted in fatal consequences.