LAYTON — When Clare Neiderhauser was arrested after he caught burglars breaking into his home, cries of indignation circulated around Utah and even got brief mention on national cable news stations.
The Layton homeowner had fired his Ruger .357-caliber pistol in the general direction of two suspects fleeing in a car and in the air to frighten another burglar, who had been at the front door holding a crowbar.
On Tuesday, the clamor fell silent after Neiderhauser’s attorney read a mea culpa statement for his client. He was surrounded by family and friends, many of whom helped pay for his defense.
“I was not prepared for the effects of emotion and adrenaline and how that interfered with my ability to act in accordance with my training,” the statement read. “Please know that you cannot shoot at a fleeing felon unless someone’s life is in immediate danger. Remember that we value life more than property.”
The statement was required by the judge as part of a plea deal that reduced two class A misdemeanor charges for reckless endangerment to one class B misdemeanor count of shooting across a road. Neiderhauser made a plea in abeyance, which means that he pleaded “no contest” and if he doesn’t commit another serious crime within 12 months, the case will be dismissed and his record could be expunged. As part of the deal, Neiderhauser also had to pay $700 in court fees, had to give up the weapon he used and must take gun safety classes. Furthermore, his concealed weapons permit will probably be suspended for 12 months.
Neiderhauser and his lawyers decided not to fight the charges at trial because this way, the charges could eventually disappear, said his attorney Mitch Vilos.
They also want to participate in the prosecution of the burglary suspects, who have been arrested and charged.
Vilos said the outcome was fair, but also believes that Neiderhauser could have made an argument that justified his firing of the gun.
That argument would be that the suspects were committing felony burglary, which means using deadly force would be justified.
Fleeing from a theft, which is part of the definition of burglary, would be part of that crime.
But Vilos doesn’t think his client used deadly force at all.
“I mean the purpose was to stop the burglars, not to shoot at them or harm them in any way,” he said.
In the statement, Neiderhauser said that he realizes his actions made the situation more difficult for police.
“They have an obligation to enforce the law, even if it is against victims that break the law in the process,” he said. “My actions required them to treat me both as a victim and as a suspect.”
Vilos teaches classes on gun safety and has written books about the legal use of deadly force in each state.
In Utah, you can use deadly force against someone who is committing a forcible felony, he said.
Utah’s laws are good because they put the impetus on the criminal to avoid being shot, he said.
Toward the end of the statement, Neiderhauser warned criminals to stay away. Vilos reiterated:
“It’s very ,very dangerous for career criminals to come to Davis County because of the number of armed citizens that we do have,” he said. “It’s very dangerous work and we encourage them to find work elsewhere, perhaps Washington D. C. where it’s safer to break into homes, but not in Davis County. This could have been a fatality if he’d walked into the house and the man had a crowbar in his hand inside the house.”