The Self Defense Shooting of Joel LaFromboise and his Father’s Response

Police in Moorhead, MN recently finished their investigation of a June, 2009 self defense shooting.  This lengthy investigation concluded that the citizen who fired in self defense was justified in doing so.  The details of that self defense case, comments made by the father of the dead home invader, and my thoughts are below:

The self defense shooting Joel LaFromboise

Based upon the many news reports which covered this self defense shooting, the facts can be summarized as follows:   Joel LaFromboise was a 17 year old whose MySpace page is said to have contained gang signs and indicated that he used hallucinogenic drugs.  On June 20, 2009, a drunken LaFromboise reportedly began entering random apartments without permission.  The third apartment that LaFromboise entered belonged to Vernon Allen, a man who didn’t know LaFromboise, police say.  Allen, who had been watching TV, is said to have first asked LaFromboise what he was doing, and after noticing that LaFromboise was intoxicated, asked if he needed some sort of help.  In response, LaFromboise twice tried to punch Allen, at which point Allen grabbed a shotgun and demanded that LaFromboise leave his apartment, according to police.  LaFromboise then reportedly grabbed the shotgun’s barrel, and a struggle ensued.  Allen is said to have shot LaFromboise once in the chest, saving himself from the violent attack.  LaFromboise then staggered back to his parents’ apartment where he died, according to police.  After months of investigation and forensic testing, authorities reportedly concluded that the evidence supported Allen’s self defense claim, and that Allen would face no charges.

The comments made by Ralph LaFromboise (Joel LaFromboise’s father), and my responses

“[The self defense shooter should be] Arrested and charged with something. . .”

In order for a person to be properly arrested and charged with a crime, there needs to be some violation of the law. When Allen shot LaFromboise in self defense, there was no such violation of the law, since each person has the legal (and moral) right to defend themselves against a violent home invader.  Indeed, it appears that Allen showed more restraint that the law required when he gave LaFromboise multiple chances to stop the violent attack and leave, then fired only one shot when LaFromboise refused and tried to grab his gun. The fact that LaFromboise’s father wishes his son hadn’t been shot in self defense doesn’t change the fact that Allen has broken no laws, and should therefore face no charges.

“[Ralph LaFromboise, Joel LaFromboise’s father, states that] Joel was just a teenager”

A 17 year old male is not “just a teenager.”  Instead, such an individual is at or near the peak of his physical strength, and is less than one year away from the age of majority.  When violent, a 17 year old male can pose an even graver threat than most adults, due to his physical strength and quick reflexes.  One need only pick up a newspaper to see that 17 year olds, and even younger individuals, can and do commit violent crimes that leave their victims dead or seriously injured.  As such, the fact that LaFromboise was 17 in no way negates the propriety of Allen’s self defense actions.

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Even if, just for the sake of argument, the fact that LaFromboise was 17 actually mattered, it is not reasonable to expect Allen to know LaFromboise’s age.  Instead, Allen went from watching TV to being attacked by a stranger in just a matter of seconds.  Allen simply wouldn’t have had time to assess the age of a violent and drunken attacker, while trying to dodge punches. Nor would it be reasonable to expect Allen to endanger his own life to try and preserve the life of his attacker, even if Allen knew LaFromboise was 17.

Moreover, self defense is about the victim’s right to save themselves from an unwarranted and violent attack.  As such, the specifics of the attacker (e.g. exact age, tragic upbringing, etc.) tend to be irrelevant.

“Why did he have to bring a gun out?”

Vernon Allen, the self defense shooter in this case, answered that question quite well, according to a newspaper quote.  Discussing the self defense shooting, Allen reportedly said “. . . because I’d rather have it be him than me.”  In other words, Allen was in reasonable fear for his life after a drunken LaFromboise broke in to his home, repeatedly punched him, and refused to leave.  As such, Allen had every right to fire in self defense.

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The real question that should be asked here is why did LaFromboise choose to invade three homes and become violent, all while illegally consuming alcohol.

[LaFromboise’s father] says the self defense law, that freed Allen, needs to be changed and that there’s no justifiable reason for taking someone’s life.

Self defense is a basic human right which has existed since time immemorial, and can be traced to the basic self preservation instinct that is hardwired into humans, other animals, and even plants.  Turning to modern law, every state in the country recognizes the right to use deadly force in self defense, and some states even allow the use of deadly force to protect one’s property.  Nation wide, a trend towards greater self defense rights can be seen, with more states adopting castle doctrine and stand your ground laws.  The US Supreme Court has also weighed in on the matter, stating that part of the Second Amendment’s purpose is to enable armed self defense.  Indeed, even peace advocates such as Pope John Paul II, Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama have all endorsed the right to self defense.  In sum, human instinct, the legal system, and even individuals respected for their endorsement of peace all recognize that self defense is a basic right.  Against that weight of authority, it appears that Ralph LaFromboise’s opinion on the matter of self defense is as incorrect as it is irrelevant.

“I think there’s different measures you can take, instead of shooting to kill somebody. You could shoot to wound them, there’s other ways of going about things.”

The only way to reliably stop a violent human right away – before they can inflict further harm – is to disrupt the brain, spine, heart, or certain other vital organs. Even severe bullet wounds to the lung(s) generally won’t stop an attacker right away, because there is enough oxygen in the blood stream that they can keep up their attack for about 30 seconds.  Inflicting pain upon the attacker is just not a reliable means of stopping the attack, due to adrenaline rushing through the attacker’s bloodstream, the attacker’s own self-preservation instincts, and/or drugs in the attacker’s system that mitigate the effects of pain. This means that shooting only to wound is virtually never appropriate, since such a shot won’t reliably stop the criminal from continuing their attack. Also, under the stress of being attacked, it is much more difficult to aim for a leg or arm than for center body mass.

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In sum, expecting a crime victim to shoot to wound is tantamount to asking them to endanger their own life to save the life of the criminal who is attacking them.  That very idea turns logic on its head, and creates a situation where the violent attacker is favored over their innocent victim.

Finally, note that any gunshot can be fatal, due to blood loss or infection. It is therefore impossible to truly shoot only to wound.

“I don’t think I could look the man in the face that killed my son. There’s too much anger.”

I’m unclear as to the reason why this anger is directed at Allen.  To recap, Allen was in his own home watching television when LaFromboise entered without permission.  Allen asked LaFromboise if he needed help, only to have LaFromboise launch an unprovoked attack.  Allen then gave LaFromboise multiple changes to leave, and only fired when he feared LaFromboise posed a deadly threat.  Allen is the person who was wronged – not Joel LaFromboise or his father.  Fault for Joel LaFromboise’s death rests with Joel LaFromboise himself, not his victim.  As such, if Ralph LaFromboise is going to be angry with anyone, it should be with Joel LaFromboise.