You may have already read – and possibly seen the video clips – about a wonderfully one-sided shootout in an Ocala FL internet cafe last Friday evening.
Two youths, one armed with a pistol, the other with a baseball bat, entered an internet cafe with some 30 people inside, shortly before 10pm. They announced their intention to hold the place up and rob not just the cashier but all the people in the cafe.
As partial explanation, it seems that the term ‘internet cafe’ in Florida is a polite way of saying ‘semi-legal online computer gambling facility’, and so it seems the youths figured that some of the patrons, and the establishment itself, would be packing more cash than normal.
But what they didn’t figure was that one of the patrons was packing more than cash. He – Mr Samuel Williams – had a small .380 semi-auto (looks possibly like a Ruger LCP) for which he had a concealed carry permit. Although 71, as soon as the two intruders foolishly turned their back on Mr Williams, he got up, approached the guy with the gun, and when the guy turned towards him, pointing his gun at Mr Williams, he opened fire. The attacker panicked and ran away, with his accomplice following, all the while with Mr Williams chasing after them to the front door, shooting as he went, and sending what looks to be a parting shot after them as they run away down the street.
Both attackers were wounded, and both were arrested not long after at a local hospital. As for Mr Williams, it seems that no charges will be filed against him.
Although we don’t like to see surveillance cameras all around us wherever we go, we are pleased that there were three different cameras in the internet cafe which between them captured most of the action. The relevant parts of each have been put together and can be seen at various websites, for example here. And on this site there is a remixed version with some extra and different footage, but missing out some of the other relevant footage, combined with some helpful commentary by a voice-over announcer.
You should watch both clips to see what happened. We’re not saying that exactly the same scenario would play out the next time two youths try to hold up an internet cafe, but clearly, what you see in the video clips this time is real life, not Hollywood, and so understanding one scenario and outcome combination helps us all in anticipating other scenarios and outcomes in the future.
It is easy to second guess what happened and how Mr Williams acted as he did, from the comfort of one’s living room, and being able to play through the video countless times, and pause it at critical points to stop and think through the implications of each step of the encounter. It is very different to be there, living the experience in person, with one’s critical thinking impaired by a huge adrenalin dump and the bowel-loosening experience of having a bad guy point a gun at you.
We think Mr Williams did a wonderful job in the circumstances, and clearly the prosecutors agree that everything he did was kosher.
Nonetheless, there are a few teaching moments in this, which we consider now – not as criticisms of a 100% successful outcome of a nasty encounter, but merely as opportunities for us to learn from this and to help ensure that if we are ever in a similar situation, we experience a similar positive outcome.
Several comments accordingly.
1. While we can’t really tell much about the two attackers in terms of if they were hyper on drugs, crazed, incoherent, and credibly threatening senseless violence, of if they were cool, calm and collected and unlikely to escalate the situation beyond a simple robbery, it is clear that they were not ‘professional’ criminals.
A pair of professionals do not attempt to take down an internet cafe with 30+ people in it armed only with one pistol and one baseball bat. They’d need a bigger team of players, and more credible weapons.
So perhaps it is unsurprising that the key fraction of a second of the entire confrontation – the point where the armed attacker swung to confront Mr Williams, and Mr Williams getting off the first shot – resulted in the attacker instantly giving up the fight and running away as fast as he could. A more hardened attacker would have shot back at Mr Williams, and the situation could have turned out very differently.
Lesson – read your opposition up front so you understand the likely level of threat and response they will pose.
2. As best we can tell, Mr Williams probably fired four or five shots, maybe even six. We’re not sure how many of his shots hit the two attackers. We know some of the shots landed on the bad guys, but we’ll guess not all of them did.
However, it is relevant to observe that neither of the two attackers shows any sign of being incapacitated at all from their wounds. Sure, its only a small .380 semi-auto that Mr Williams has, but the teaching point here is that you can’t expect one (or possibly even two or three) hits on target to guarantee that your attacker will cease to be a threat. Your job isn’t finished after firing the first shot, you need to keep at it without pausing and stop only when the threat has clearly ended.
3. Coming back to the four or five or maybe even six shots fired. We’re astonished that no-one else was hit, and mildly surprised as well that the armed attacker didn’t even loose off some ‘blind’ unaimed shots in the desperate hope of at least getting Mr Williams to back off his attack.
In addition to the 30 people in the cafe, who knows who was in the adjoining stores, and who knows who was on the street outside.
It isn’t just people you have to worry about, although for sure, an unintended fatal hit on an innocent passer-by should be your greatest concern. What say a stray round hit someone’s new car. You could be up for a thousand dollars or more of repairs to the car. Maybe a round goes through a store window (they’re expensive) and then rips through various expensive stock items in the store. And so on. Even a .380 round can go through a number of walls and other objects before finally coming to rest.
If you’ve got to shoot, then you’ve got to shoot. But if you don’t have to shoot, it is better not to (kinda obvious, don’t you think!). It could be argued that by keeping up a ‘hail of fire’ Mr Williams was effectively controlling and dominating the battle space, and keeping the initiative, ensuring that the two attackers didn’t have a chance to regroup and mount a counter-attack. That’s a valid consideration.
But we’re somewhat troubled by his last shot in particular – the one he shoots out the door as it is swinging shut, with the two attackers racing away as fast as their legs will carry them.
Was he still justifiably in fear of his life at that point? Did the two attackers still pose an immediate credible danger to him? This is actually a very complicated question to answer, because there are elements of both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in the answer.
Our feeling is that Mr Williams dodged both a literal and also a figurative bullet in this case. He was very lucky the bad guys didn’t shoot back. And he is also very lucky that the DA decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and not press charges. Realize that it is often easier for a DA to press charges than to hold them back – they can reason ‘It is a grey area, maybe it was lawful and justifiable, maybe it wasn’t; I’m not going to take a position on it, let’s leave it to a jury to decide’. And then all of a sudden you’re ‘in the system’, facing months of uncertainty and tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees, with no guarantee as to what the jury will decide.
Which leads to our next point.
4. The second link above has the commentator saying that Mr Williams told the police he was in fear of his life. That’s a key phrase to use when being subsequently interviewed by the police (assuming you decide to say anything at all prior to your attorney arriving). It seems that Mr Williams knew exactly how to respond appropriately to the police.
Keep in mind another thing as well. The ubiquity of video cameras. Try to remember that anything you do may have been recorded and, if it was, will be analyzed every which way to see if you can be blamed for anything. It is as though the DA, judge and jury are all behind a bulletproof glass screen, watching you as it all goes down. While cameras don’t lie, poor quality surveillance video and bad camera angles can definitely mislead and give incorrect impressions of things as they happened. Your point of view – from your eyes – and the time pressures acting on you – are never captured by passive motionless cameras on walls and ceilings. Things you see might not be visible to the cameras, whereas things you don’t see may be obvious to the cameras. Unfortunately, people will subsequently evaluate and judge you based on what the cameras show them, not on what you had to make sense of, from your perspective, in the heat of the moment.
You also need to keep in mind that this all happened in Florida. The laws concerning justifiable use of deadly force vary tremendously from state to state – how you could respond, and how in turn the police and prosecutors would respond – might be totally different in your state. The fact that Mr Williams was not prosecuted does not guarantee a similar outcome if you behaved identically in your state; indeed, it doesn’t even guarantee a similar outcome if you behaved the same way in FL either.
And while it seems no criminal charges will be pressed against Mr Williams, we don’t yet know what the two attackers might choose to do in the form of filing civil charges against Mr Williams. Civil charges can be more vexatious because the burden of proof shifts from a 99% type burden of proof in a criminal case to a 51% burden of proof in a civil case. Furthermore, in a criminal case you hopefully have a moderately dispassionate prosecution, but in a civil case, it is all about money – both money for the complainant and also money for his/her attorney. The costs of defending a civil case can be every bit as high as defending a criminal case.
5. Here’s a thought that is easy with hindsight to come up with, but which you need to train yourself to always have in your mind. We saw the two guys come into the internet cafe, although when they did, Mr Williams had his back to them and was presumably concentrating on playing a computer game.
But we don’t know if the two attackers had already had a third or fourth person walk into the cafe normally. This would be a far from unknown situation. We don’t know if there were more accomplices about to break in through the back entrance, or more waiting outside with a getaway vehicle.
Mr Williams was extremely fortunate that there were only these two attackers. You might not be so fortunate. You must always be looking for the bad guys that you don’t see, as well as keeping an eye on the bad guys you do see. Tell yourself ‘if I don’t see anyone else, that just means I’m not seeing them, it doesn’t mean they’re not there’.
And remember also that it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. Who knows what that really means, but in our context, there are two vitally important thing to always do at the apparent end of a confrontation, things that Mr Williams does not seem to do.
First, scan and secure your environment. Check for other bad guys lurking around you. Don’t relax at all until you know, for sure, that none of the other onlookers are potential bad guys.
Second, your tactical reload. Mr Williams had shot 4 – 6 rounds in a semi-auto that probably only had six or seven rounds in it to start with. As soon as he had finished securing the store, he needed to reload his weapon, just in case.
From when the two attackers burst in to the internet cafe, to when they left it even more quickly, was a mere 17 seconds. Much of the confrontation was at very close range, in a dynamic rapidly changing situation with everyone moving and changing positions.
This was a very difficult scenario to control – it was difficult for the two attackers to start with, as we saw, but it was also difficult for Mr Williams subsequently, also. He did a great job.
And after having read our comments and analysis above, hopefully you’d do a similarly great job – or even a better one – if called upon to do so in the future.