Editor’s note: I met Aaron over the Internet just a day or two after his initial Good Samaritan incident and spoke with him at length about it at that time. We kept in touch and he has since become a student and a friend. I’ve followed the developments and the evolution of his thoughts on his decision to act and how he acted on that day very closely. While it is only one example, I believe it to be a great example to study for anyone who carries a defensive firearm in public. I greatly appreciate Aaron’s willingness to share his thoughts so others may learn from his experiences. — Rob Pincus
Driving to the movies on December 26, 2014, I never in a million years envisioned needing to draw my defensive firearm. All the defensive firearm usage scenarios I had envisioned revolved around things like home invasion, carjacking, bank robbery, and spree shooting events. All my previous firearms training revolved around identifying an imminent threat, shooting to stop the threat if necessary, and then hopefully moving on with my life. It was all a pretty simple equation in my mind. However, the reality of my incident that day after Christmas was far different. It was not a simple equation. It was quite complex and has taken over two years to resolve.
The basic details of my incident are as follows. I was driving with my wife to see a movie when I saw a man brutally assaulting a woman in the front seat of a vehicle on the side of the road in broad daylight. The best way I can describe it is that it looked like he was utilizing MMA “ground and pound” type moves on this defenseless female. When I spotted the incident, I had my wife stop the car and call 911 as I came around the car, drew my defensive handgun, and ordered the man to stop hitting the woman and lie on the ground. I communicated to him that I was going to keep my trigger finger indexed and would not shoot him if he obeyed my commands. Fortunately, he complied and I was able to hold him at gunpoint until the police arrived. When the police arrived, I was handcuffed and briefly detained while they secured the scene. I was subsequently released and my firearm was returned to me at the scene. You can find an archived copy of the news report video and a previous PDN article.
While everything since the incident has played out in a relatively positive manner in that nobody was killed, I was cleared, and the bad guy was finally tried and convicted (after two years), there are still a number of lessons learned that are worth sharing. My life and my outlook on personal defense have changed as a result of this incident, and I want to share the details of why and how so the next guy can learn from my experience.
Let me start with some impacts closer to home. The first one relates to media coverage of the incident. At the time of the incident, a portion of the interaction was caught on cell phone video by a passerby, and that video was shared with the local news. My car and license plate were visible in the video, so within a few hours I was identified by the news media. The following morning, the local news van was at my house. I agreed to be interviewed because they were doing a story regardless, and I wanted to impact the narrative. I talked to a few folks in the firearms community because I felt there might be some solid talking points and an educational benefit. From my perspective, it was an opportunity to promote positive firearms use and the need for quality training. I try to advocate for both whenever possible.
But I never envisioned how my name would live on forever within the realms of the internet. This leads to the first lesson learned. Over the course of the past two years, I know for a fact that I have been passed over for contracts and employment opportunities because of this incident. Prior to this, you would Google me and get a few pages of professional references, all good. Now a Google search results in a few pages addressing the incident, and these things can be interpreted negatively by potential employers. I have had HR managers say, “You are highly qualified and everyone likes you, but we do not care to have this kind of exposure.” So the first takeaway is to remember that what you do and say in this age of cell-phone videos and media will be online forever. Thankfully, I currently work for a company that isn’t put off by the “exposure” that comes with employing me.
Mental and Emotional Stress
The second lesson learned comes from a more mental and emotional perspective. The incident has led to some lost sleep, huge amounts of stress, personal time off work, and stress for my wife and kids. It has also caused stress for my employer, both the one I had at the time and my current one with the time I have had to take off work for court dates and meetings with attorneys. My family and I have taken an increased security posture at home and when in the public space in case anyone recognizes me. I’ll be honest: I thought, and continue to think in the back of my mind, that the attacker could try to retaliate. It’s a strange feeling when people are slowly rolling past your house after an incident like this. My lack of sleep quickly got worse and my health was negatively impacted as a result. Ripple effects of the incident are everywhere, and I never considered that aspect of it in my prior training, because everything focused on surviving the encounter, not the aftermath. Keep in mind, I didn’t even have to fire a shot! I can’t imagine how these problems would manifest themselves if I had been forced to take a human life.
The third lesson has to do with the legal aftermath. While my interaction with the local police and county officials was overwhelmingly positive, I think I lucked out a bit. This happened in a conservative area with more of a gun culture than exists in other parts of the country. I think had I been in Chicago, my world would have been much more negatively impacted. One of the things I did not have at the time was legal support. Yes, I had an attorney on standby, but I didn’t have one to help me navigate all the interviews, meetings, calls and emails, court hearings, etc. There was a solid amount of stress and fear of the unknown in that regard. This isn’t anything I seriously considered prior to the event. I have since enrolled my household in a legal program. I encourage every armed citizen to do the same. These legal proceedings can get complicated and confusing very quickly, and you don’t want to be on your own.
What I’d Do Differently
Lastly, with two years gone by, there is ample time to Monday morning quarterback this whole ordeal. Here are some things I would do differently if I had it to do over again.
1. When I came out of the holster and presented the firearm, I initially did have my finger lightly touching the trigger. I did move to index shortly after shouting commands at the threat. In hindsight, I have no explanation as to why. In my mind, that was a screw up. I think that in the stress of the ordeal, this thing that we train to do over and over was somehow lost. In court during the trial, the defense attorney really chewed this up. He tried to portray me as an adrenaline junkie, a vigilante, and incompetent. This was a very, very uncomfortable and humbling experience. You do not want to be there. And this occurred when I was testifying at the perpetrator’s trial for domestic violence assault with injury. I was never charged with any offense.
2. I would have established better control of the scene. I would command the threat to exit, maybe turn around and go to his knees with his hands up. Basically, I wish I would have given more deliberate commands. I’m not sure why I was yelling at him to “get on the ground.” I suppose I watched too many COPS episodes as a kid. This is something I never trained on, so it’s worth considering how to issue good verbal commands as part of your training program.
3. I would have asked the victim to exit the car and move around the rear and be intercepted by my wife and taken to a safer place. I did not. While she was not directly in my potential line of fire, I think I could have done much better. The threat could have easily jumped back in the car and driven off with the victim.
4. I would have had some type of recording myself. I can’t say how much easier all of this would have been if I had a full video of everything. I know a lot of people say to call the police and get off your phone but honestly, had there been a way to do both things, I would have been much better off. In fact, the victim, having become uncooperative and changing her tune since the incident, testified in court that my wife and I had made up the assault. If there ever is a next time, my wife will be rolling video and on speaker phone with 911.
5. The trial was the first time that all the 911 calls were played. Wow! This was one of the craziest things: There were so many different angles and so many different perceptions of what was going on. Someone who called in reported I was carjacking the guy. My wife told me she told the dispatcher that her husband was the guy with the gun, etc. The 911 tape revealed that she never said that. She told the dispatcher that a guy was beating the crap out of a lady but she never relayed my information, my description, or the fact that I had my firearm pointed at the guy! Obviously I love my wife, but this was a huge learning opportunity for both of us. Everyone should learn how to be a good witness and make solid 911 calls, which is easier said than done under stress.
6. Police reports. I used to be a paramedic, so writing narrative reports should be my specialty. I was given one page for my narrative, and I did my best to explain what happened. But I should have asked for two to three pages and taken more time to write a more detailed report, and probably not until I’d had time to speak with an attorney. That written statement was gone through over and over and over in the legal proceedings. Your recorded statement is the one thing that is held up in the “your word vs. his word” scenario. I think I did a good enough job, but in hindsight, it could have been better, and I wish I had been more detailed.
7. Police audio and video. Police officers all have cameras and microphones, and everything they see and hear is recorded and played in court. I did an ok job there, but it did not occur to me that this was happening or that these recordings would be played in court.
8. I was interviewed at the police station, in the concrete room with stainless steel furniture. I should have had an attorney with me for this. Fortunately, it worked out. I navigated this process and it was all good, but in hindsight, I really should have had an attorney with me. Now I have taken steps to make sure that if there ever is a next time, I will have the legal help I need.
9. During this process, questions were asked about my life, my background, training, and experience. At one point, I was asked about the number of hours I had on the range, number of rounds fired in training, etc. I didn’t even fire my weapon! Imagine for a moment how important those details would have been if I had used deadly force!
My point is, everything you do, say, or have ever done will be subject to some kind of review or question. You have to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the fall out. After experiencing this, I don’t know if I would have been prepared for the ramifications of an actual shooting incident.
Would I Do It Again?
People often ask if I would do it again. At the time of the incident when I decided to intervene, I believed sincerely, with 100% of my being, that this guy was intent on killing the lady. My wife concurred. But in hindsight, after everything we have gone through — the stress, the loss, the emotional burden, the victim who turned on us, the lost hours, lost wages, the interrogations, and the exposure — I am today left feeling that the bar has been raised. The threshold for me to personally expose myself like that has gone up. Trust me, if we are out having ice cream and an armed guy in a mask plows through the door, I will act. If your wife is being raped, I will act. If my family is threatened, I will act. At my core, I am still a servant. I am still my brother’s keeper, and I might not be able to live with myself if I neglect an opportunity to help a friend. I will continue to train, grow, and evolve as an armed citizen, and I will continue to follow the commandment to “love thy neighbor.” But damn. I now pray I will never be placed in that position again. You should too.