On the day after Thanksgiving, Morrison County, MN law enforcement was informed that Byron David Smith, a retired State Department "security engineer", had shot and killed two teen-age cousins that had broken into his home on the northern outskirts of Little Falls, a small community about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis, as described here and here. The incident is cause for reflection on several levels.
While no one disputes Smith's right to protect his own property, he has been charged with two counts of second degree unpremeditated murder not because he shot the two, but because he used excessive force, admitting to administering a coup de grace to each of the intruders. The reality of the situation is that had Smith only wounded the two he would be in basically just as much trouble as he is now. Their survival would have meant a probably endless series of legal action that would have bankrupted Smith.
Not reporting the affair to police immediately is also a violation of the law but such bizarre behavior that it would seem to be grounds for an insanity plea. Most normal people would be reluctant to keep the dead bodies of two people in their basement overnight.
If we are to maintain that Smith used excessive force in protecting his person and property we must also consider other uses of what could be considered excessive force. Incidents like this and this are a daily occurrence around the country but generate limited amounts controversy because law enforcement almost never has to travel the same legal path for a killing as other members of society. It is standard operating procedure for cops to empty their guns at a suspect they feel threatens them.
Substantial amounts of cash and property had been stolen from the Smith residence in the past. While newspapers have published copies of the legal paperwork that have resulted in his being jailed, it would be revealing to also see the file on the burglary he reported to the police but in which they admit having no suspects. How much effort has actually been expended to find the perpetrators or the items stolen? It'd be interesting to know just how dedicated the local gendarmes are in attempting to solve property crimes.
The media have pointed out that "grief counselors" have been made available at the Little Falls schools to students who may have problems dealing with the tragedy. Who are these grief counselors? Are they on a retainer so that they're immediately available to do what, exactly? Or is there a pool of grief counselors from which to pick? What do they do when grief is at a low ebb? How are they rated as to effectiveness? Do grief stricken teens emerge from their temporary offices next to the physics lab with happy smiles on their faces? Do they point out to the teens that the best way to avoid grief is to refrain from breaking into houses and abstain from alcohol consumption and driving?