Memphis, TN - More people in Memphis are shooting to kill in self-defense. Memphis police say the numbers of justified homicides has risen 50% in 2008.
The most recent justified homicide happened early Tuesday morning. Police say a security guard shot and killed Andre McLaren, 38, outside Tony's Bar and Grill on South Mendenhall in Southeast Memphis Tuesday.
The security guard told police officers McLaren was driving towards him when he fired the shots. The Shelby County District Attorney’s office decided the guard was acting in self-defense Wednesday.
McLaren’s death marks the 10th time a homicide has been ruled justified in 2008. That number is double the number of homicides ruled justified from January 2007 to April 2007. At this time last year, only five homicides were determined to have been justified. 10 justified homicides is nearly as many justified homicides as in all of 2006. During that entire year, just 11 homicides were ruled justified.
“I think we've tried to put our thumb on it and really just can't, “ said Major Joe Scott of the Memphis Police Department. He said Memphis police officers are aware of the increase in justified homicides, but are unclear why they are on the rise. Major Scott said, “It is concerning over the last couple of years that we've had so many, but we really can't isolate it to the point where we feel like we could do anything preventive.”
Out of the 51 homicides in Memphis so far this year, most have been the result of domestic violence. However, with 10 ruled justified, police say about 20% of the city’s killings this year were committed in self defense or to protect another person’s life.
Major Scott said the increase could be tied to a recent rise in the number of people applying for and receiving handgun permits in Shelby County. He said the homicides are often similar to the incident at Tony’s Bar & Grill, in that a security guard is involved.
Major Scott also said the public should not worry killers are getting away with murder. He said homicide detectives thoroughly investigate every homicide in the city. He said self-defense is a common defense used by killers. More often than not, Major Scott said, self-defense does not hold up after detectives investigate a homicide. Major Scott said, “We have charged several individuals who have said they were acting in self-defense.”
However, the circumstances surrounding justified homicides can be murky. For example, the security guard at Tony’s Bar & Grill may have been able to run from the car driving towards him instead of choosing to fire his gun. However, Major Scott said the legal standard for a justified homicide is that a “reasonable, prudent person has fear for their own safety.” Major Scott said being in the path of an oncoming car legally qualifies as a valid reason to fear for your life.
It is up to the Shelby County District Attorney’s office to decided if a homicide is justified or if a crime was committed. Homicide detectives investigate their cases, then detectives present their evidence to prosecutors to make a determination about the natures of the homicides.