Whatcha Gonna Do?

I’m thinking of Bob Marley. Maybe because it’s a whole lot warmer in Jamaica right now than it is in New Mexico. Marley’s image is on every-other T-shirt and souvenir cup in that island country … and he’s been dead for nearly 40 years. Many of Marley’s songs are anthems in the Caribbean. You hear them in every jook joint and tourist bar from Negril to Port of Spain.

I’m thinking of the song “Bad Boys.” Actually, Marley didn’t write it … or sing it, but it’s often attributed to him, mistakenly. That song was by the Jamaican group Inner Circle, but who remembers them? Anyway, the song asks a reasonable question: “Whatcha gonna do when Sheriff John Brown come for you?” Perhaps the confusion comes from Marley’s earlier song, “I Shot the Sheriff,” as both refer to Sheriff John Brown. Marley wrote it but Eric Clapton made it famous. Mistakes. Confusion. It happens, eh.

Which brings to mind a court case that should concern everyone in the concealed carry community.

It is 1:30 in the morning of July 15, 2012. Andrew Scott and his girlfriend are playing video games in their Lake County, Florida, apartment when they hear a loud banging at the front door. Scott, who is understandably disturbed, retrieves a handgun that he lawfully owns, then opens the door with the gun pointed down. Outside, he sees a shadowy figure holding a pistol. He begins to back away and close the door when, without warning, the figure fires six shots, three of which hit Scott, killing him. Scott hadn’t fired a single bullet or so much as lifted his firearm.

The figure outside was Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Sylvester. At no point did he identify himself as a law enforcement officer. He had no warrant and no reason to suspect that Scott or his girlfriend had committed a crime. He did not attempt to engage with Scott after Scott opened the door; he simply killed him.

What brought Sylvester to the apartment building was a speeding motorcyclist. The deputy lost sight of the motorcycle, but it was spotted at an apartment complex. Scott did not own or operate the motorcycle. Scott’s parents and girlfriend sued.

A Florida judge initially dismissed the case, ruling that Scott’s decision to answer the door holding a gun “led to this tragedy.”

In March, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit decided that Scott’s parents and girlfriend cannot sue the Deputy or the Sheriff’s Department because the officer’s conduct was not “clearly” illegal.

This month, the Supreme Court refused to hear Andrew Scott’s case. Case over.

Mistakes. Confusion. It happens, eh.

So “Whatcha gonna do when Sheriff John Brown come for you?”

Without arguing the merits of the Scott-Sylvester case, let’s think about the tactical errors, the misunderstandings that led to tragedy. What could Andrew Scott have done differently? What would you do in a similar circumstance?

Could Scott have looked out the window and/or verbally challenged whoever was on the other side of the door? Apparently he didn’t and the Sheriff’s Deputy didn’t bother to identify himself; he just noticed lights in the apartment and randomly banged on the door, which must have startled Scott and his girlfriend.

Scott went for his self-defense handgun, which seems perfectly appropriate. But then he did something that (I hope) none of us would do: with gun in hand, he opened the door wide and peered from a lighted space into what newspaper accounts call the gloom of the night.

What would have happened had Scott taken his handgun, turned off the lights and refused to answer the bang on the door? Or shouted that he needed some identification? What if he called 911 and asked for help and then just hunkered down and waited? (A bang on the door is like a ringing telephone, insisting that we get up and answer. But we have no legal obligation to do so.)

I’m not trying to second-guess or drop blame. I’m asking if there is a way to be instructed by this senseless tragedy. I’m asking “Whatcha gonna do when Sheriff John Brown come for you?”