The Washington Post
State’s ‘duty to retreat’ standard clouds case of killing of bat-wielding man
Squeegee worker was acting in self-defense, his attorneys say
baltimore — A squeegee worker’s defense attorneys called this month’s high-profile killing of a bat-wielding man an act of selfdefense for a “14-year-old child paralyzed by fear.”
The 48-year-old Baltimore man who was killed instigated the confrontation, the attorneys said, when he parked his car, got out with a baseball bat and crossed several lanes of traffic near the Inner Harbor to confront a group of squeegee workers.
A motorist’s dash cam captured the moments before the shooting. It showed Timothy Reynolds, who had the bat, was walking away from the squeegee workers when they followed after him. Reynolds turned and chased them, with the bat raised. He swung once, missing one worker, and another worker threw what appeared to be a rock at his head, hitting him.
The third worker shot at Reynolds five times.
Police charged a 15-year-old, who was 14 at the time of the shooting, as an adult with firstdegree murder.
Anytime someone is charged with intentionally killing another person, a claim of self-defense can be raised. But it’s a different conversation in Maryland from a state such as Florida, which has a “stand your ground” law.
Maryland is in a minority of states that has preserved a “duty to retreat” standard from English common law. The state’s expectation, which largely comes from a body of court decisions rather than the legislature or criminal code, lays out that a person threatened in public with deadly force is expected to retreat before resorting to it.
Too little information about the nature of the squeegee shooting has been released for a full analysis of possible legal defenses, and authorities have declined to discuss in detail how the encounter unfolded.
However, J. Wyndal Gordon, the teen’s attorney, said at a July 15 news conference that the case is defensible.
“Someone wielding a bat, we would believe, is definitely deadly force, and the law allows deadly force to be met with deadly force,” Gordon said. “We understand the duty to retreat, but there is no duty when it is unsafe, or the avenue to escape is unknown.”
Although few homicides are ruled justifiable, the race of the parties can play a role in such outcomes. A 2013 Urban Institute analysis of FBI homicide data found that killings where the defendant was White and the victim was Black are 10 times more likely to be ruled justified than if the roles are reversed.
In this case, the teen defendant is Black, and the deceased is White.
“You’d have to be blind to suggest that race doesn’t matter,” said David Jaros, faculty director of the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform. “If this case involved 14- and 15-year-old White kids being threatened by a Black man with a baseball bat, I think the public conversation would be very different. The sad truth is, race does matter, and it affects every aspect of the criminal justice system.”
In Maryland, people are allowed to defend themselves against attackers with “reasonable force” so long as they were not the initial aggressor, said Peter O’neill, an Anne Arundel County defense attorney who has won several acquittals by arguing self-defense for clients.
In cases where the person claiming self-defense killed someone, the use of deadly force is justified only if the person establishes the attacker was using deadly force or believed their life was in danger, he said. The calculus is similar if the self-defense claim is applied to a situation where force was used to
Warren Brown, another attorney for the teen, said at the news conference that his client is 5foot-6 and 126 pounds — “a small child,” while Reynolds was over 6 feet tall, weighed 200 pounds and wielded a bat.
What’s considered reasonable force extends to the duty to retreat, O’neill said: If you’re in a situation where you’re outside and have free movement, and it’s a “reasonable option” you could escape, then you have an obligation to remove yourself.
“You don’t have an obligation if the individual who is the aggressor is placing you in a situation where if you were to turn back or if you were to retreat, you would be placing yourself in danger,” he said.
In Maryland, if an unreasonable amount of force is used, people still can claim self-defense to lessen the charges, just not to absolve themselves, O’neill said.
It’s a “substantial minority” of states that expect an individual to retreat before using deadly force in a public place, said David Gray, the Jacob A. France professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
Instead, Gray said, the prevailing view among states is the “stand your ground” concept, which he said goes back to an “imagined Old West sensibility.” In cases around those states’ statutes, he said, “there is a recognition . . . that Americans
have a different view of manliness and standing up for yourself than those sort of more delicate Brits.”
Florida is a good example: The state’s statute lays out that if a person starts a nonviolent confrontation, and someone responds with a threat of deadly force or with deadly force, then the person has a “perfect” right of self-defense because of that escalation, Gray said.
At the news conference, Gordon said, “I do believe that the shooter believed, honestly and reasonably, that he was in imminent or immediate danger of death or serious bodily injury.”
The defense team will work to have the charges reduced and the case moved to juvenile court, Gordon said.
“We do not believe this is a first-degree murder case,” he said. “We do not believe this is a second-degree murder case.”
Additionally, the evidence in the case will show a “perfect self-defense,” he said.
In a first-degree murder case, if the case doesn’t reach a “perfect” self-defense standard, an imperfect self-defense claim could mitigate the crime and lead to a lesser conviction, such as manslaughter.
When there is a question about whether a person acted in selfdefense or in defense of others, prosecutors have to prove there was nothing defensive about the accused’s actions to win a murder conviction.
“There’s a fine line between imperfect self-defense and perfect self-defense,” said Joe Murtha, a criminal defense attorney and former Howard County prosecutor.
If a baseball bat was about to strike someone’s head, Murtha said that probably would be perfect self-defense. If someone comes up with a bat and is five feet away, but the individual knows the person has attacked people before, that could be an imperfect self-defense, he said.
If the defense can prove an imperfect self-defense, a jury should acquit the defendant of murder but convict them of voluntary manslaughter, according to jury instructions in previous cases in Maryland. The maximum sentence for an adult convicted of voluntary manslaughter is 10 years imprisonment, according to state sentencing guidelines.
To Gray, an underlying issue worth examining is the culture of violence in Baltimore and more broadly across the United States.
This moment shouldn’t just be about “pure, technical criminal law inquiry.” It should feature a broader conversation about what kinds of norms and rules society has about engagements between strangers and the use and risk of violence, he said.
There were a lot of “off-ramps here where nobody dies, and nobody took any of those offramps.”