‘Excited Utterances’ and How to Avoid Them After a Deadly Encounter

For law enforcement and military personnel, the after action report is just part of the job description.  Everything they do that requires them to engage another person will require them to explain exactly why they chose to take the actions they took.  The average guy probably isn’t prepared for that and, in any case, civilians who find themselves in a position where they have to justify their actions to lady justice, whether it is because of the use of deadly force or not, may find out that they quickly become their own worst enemy.

And don’t think just you need to have necessarily done anything wrong to sell yourself up the river.  You could simply lack the background knowledge required to explain exactly why you took the actions you took and as much as “instinct”, “intuition”, or “gut” feelings are a part of an active situational awareness mindset, they are terrible phrases in an interrogation room or in front of a lawyer who’s trying to make you look like a violent thug.

In that respect, there are several rules you should adhere to the minute the violent encounter is over.  These can help keep an act of self-defense from becoming twisted into something that puts your freedom and your finances at risk:

  1. Shut up, ask authorities to take you to a secure, safe spot
  2. Shut up, apologize for needing time but firmly tell authorities you feel traumatized and ask for some time to gather yourself together
  3. Shut up, and DO NOT TALK to anyone until you feel tired – this is the point that the adrenaline surge is gone and you can start to think rationally again.

As the adrenaline starts to run out, your brain will come out of the mid-brain action mode and start to organize and make sense of what you just experienced.  Until that mid-brain thinking is shut down and your forebrain is back online, you can experience what are called “spontaneous utterances” or “excited utterances”.  These vocalizations are often sought as evidence as hearsay exceptions that can be used to prove intent.  The logic is that if it occurred before your rational mind regained control over your excited state, it is more likely to be true.  What this tactic ignores is that under an asocial reaction such as the use of violence on another, a person (with conscious) often may find the act so repugnant that they will blurt out a justification for why they had to do something they normally would never think of doing – and that defense mechanism suddenly is evidence that they meant to go out and hurt someone.  So use the rules…shut up.

Once you have regained some composure—and this may take some time so don’t let yourself be pressured into saying something before you’re ready—tell the investigators about the incident.  This brings us to “keywords” and “phrases”.

Just like every business, violence has a language all its own, and though most of it goes without saying, all of it bears repeating:  Never use terms that insult the perpetrator’s race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.  Ever.  Even hinting at these can elevate a defensive act into hate crime regardless of the facts.  Never talk about “teaching that (guy, girl, SOB, etc.,) a lesson” or “they got what they deserved”.  Both make you sound like a vigilante to the law enforcement and if the press gets hold of it you may be guilty before you ever get to trial.  Never talk about “killing” or otherwise causing debilitating trauma, regardless of the fact that that is exactly what you meant to do—to stop the attack.

Use terms that describe taking action to “prevent” attacks on your self, and talk about how all the factors added up: describe how the “totality of circumstances” made it logical for you to presume you faced an “imminent threat” to your safety or the safety of another human being.  Explain how the physical actions you took previously to the incident, during the incident, and after the incident create a trail that is clear and logical so that anyone can see the “why” behind your response to the violent encounter.

Your attitude needs to be business-like and to the point, especially when talking about committing the act of violence.  “Feeling something was wrong” won’t fly here unless you can back it up with a strong explanation of what caused that feeling.  Never discount the things that made you “feel” uncomfortable, but go a step further and learn to think about the body language and posturing of others, the way people move in a crowd, the way someone makes eye contact with you.  Are people in a group or are they making eye contact with others who are also getting near to you?  All these things, when taken together creates “totality of circumstance” and makes it possible for people to understand how what you saw would have obviously been a threat if they were there too.

Without taking the time to let the adrenaline out and regain control of your brain, someone with no understanding of what just happened might make a statement like this:

I came out of the store, my wife and kids were in the car.  As I was walking to the car this f**king guy stepped out of nowhere and demanded my keys, so I told him, “F**k you, get out of here.”  Then he stood there and I thought I was going to have to teach him a lesson and then a couple of other guys started moving to the front of my car around to the passenger door and near my wife.  He stuck his hand in his back pocket so I thought he might have a gun so I kicked him in the nuts, knocked him down, got my gun out and shot him when the guy nearest my wife’s door moved towards her.  The other guy ran away or I would have shot him too, that asshole would have deserved it.  Guess I showed them.

Someone who has learned about pre-assault indicators and taken courses on Rapid Threat Recognition and then takes a period to regain their composure and begin to deal with having to face a potential life-or-death threat and maybe the statement looks more like this:

I came out of the store and noticed as I walked to the car that this guy was following me.  He kept looking around and I saw a couple of other guys drifting towards me too.  There wasn’t anyplace for me to go that didn’t put me nearer to them and my wife and kids were in the car so I tried to get to the car as fast as I could.  As I got faster, so did he.  He cut through the row of cars and blocked my path and demanded my keys.  I noticed his right leg drop slightly backward his hand slid back to his hip pocket and the fingers were set like a grab rather than a pinch so it appeared he was going to draw a weapon.  I kicked him in the groin to cause him to pull his hand away from the possible weapon and shoved him to the ground but the other two moved, one towards my back and the other towards my wife’s door.  As I drew my firearm, the first guy started to reach to his back again so I fired at him to stop him from drawing what I believed had to be a weapon cause he was reaching for it again and then saw the man trying to open the door where my wife was so I fired at him as well.  Both guys went down and the third, thankfully, ran away.  I got into my car and drove to a safe place to call the police in case the last guy came back and left my number so they could call me when they were here and I could return safely to tell them what happened.

Both of these detail the same event, but they would get different levels of interpretation by those attending.  Now you may not have the ability to leave until it is safe, but in a perfect world it shows how afraid you were and that you did not want to hang around and act tough.  It shows that there was a real danger and that you had reasons to believe that the danger was real and imminent both to yourself and your loved ones.  It explains you tried to comply with your civic duty to report crime in as timely a fashion as you could while ensuring both your safety and that you didn’t have to engage anyone else. It also explains the steps you took and the total circumstances that surrounded the event.  It demonstrates that you did not want to have to take action but were given no choice. That you understood the actions that were going around you so you reacted to events with understanding rather than “feeling” something was wrong but not really knowing what that threat might be.

By that token it almost goes without saying that understanding the mechanics of human interaction, the obvious signs of threat, the meaning of repetitive action, the dynamics of group assaults and the overall picture of your surroundings is the key to being able to describe what happened and why you took a particular action.  And that can make all the difference as to how that event is seen by others.

(Photos courtesy of madmolecule, DanielJames, Drewdlecam, andrewrennie and jk5854)

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