It is unlikely that any 911 tape has been as widely distributed and as thoroughly debated as the one related to Joe Horn’s shooting of two fleeing burglars who had broken into his neighbor’s home. Had it not been for Mr. Horn’s statements on the 911 tape, no one outside of Mr. Horn’s family, neighborhood and a few Pasadena policemen would have known anything about him or the shooting.
Unfortunately, Mr. Horn’s ill-advised and inflammatory statements to the 911 dispatcher thrust him into the spotlight, a position of prominence he came to loath. In spite of how “bad” the tape sounded, those in legal circles knew that his actions were entirely lawful, according to the Texas Penal Code. Unlike many states, deadly force can be used by Texans to protect property under certain circumstances. Deadly force can also be used against fleeing burglars, again, under certain circumstances. (See Tex. Penal Code §§9.41-9.43).
After seeing the ordeal Mr. Horn has had to endure, it should be clear that one must be very careful about what is said to a 911 dispatcher. There is little doubt that much of what Mr. Horn said was the result of a combination of factors such as fear, impatience, concern, bravado and adrenalin-dump, rather than heart-felt comments or a desire to take someone’s life. Nevertheless, the now-infamous 911 tape has been heard literally around the world and it matters not what motivated the comments.
Mr. Horn has received death threats, his home, indeed his entire block, has been the scene of a loud and potentially dangerous protest, and he has been vilified by so-called community activists. Others have called him a model citizen, the perfect neighbor and a hero. Passions have run high on both sides of this event and the Harris County Grand Jury should be commended for not succumbing to this pressure and returning an indictment against a man who so clearly did not violate Texas law.
Throughout this ordeal, the phrase “he took the law into his own hands” was thrown about like a baseball in Spring time. This often used phrase is not found in the Texas Penal Code or in Blacks Law Dictionary, but its colloquial use implies that someone has broken the law. This is yet another inaccurate and unjustified description of Mr. Horn’s actions. While reasonable minds can differ as to whether Mr. Horn acted prudently, or whether others would have reacted to the burglary as he did, it is clear that he did not break the law.
The 2009 Texas Legislative Session may well see an effort by some to change Texas law to prohibit the use of deadly force to protect property, or to stop certain fleeing felons. This effort should be soundly defeated, as it works to the benefit of criminals, not honest citizens. Burglaries often result in the homeowner and his or her family being injured or killed. Diminishing the occupational hazards of being a burglar should not be a goal of the Texas Legislature. If such legislation should pass, the lives of some burglars may be spared, but at the cost innocent lives.
Charles L. Cotton