Ryan Flores, 30, is reportedly planning a tort action against Cregg Jerri, 58, for stabbing him in a California Starbuck. Such a battery lawsuit would make perfect sense after being stabbed 17 times. The problem is that he was stabbed in the course of an armed robbery and Jerri was credited as the hero who ran forward to protect the staff from the gun-touting Flores. The filing would presumably not contest the right to use the privilege of self-defense but argue that Jerri somehow exceeded that authority.
Flores is shown on surveillance video wearing a Transformers mask and threatening a barista. Jerri then springs forward and hits him with a metal chair. Flores then reportedly cut Jerri in the neck, but Jerri was able to take away the knife and stabbed Flores.
Flores’ mother has come forward to announce a lawsuit, saying that “The guy, in my opinion, went from a good Samaritan to a vigilante. Stabbing somebody that many times, it doesn’t take that many stab wounds to get somebody to succumb to you.”
Since Flores was still alive and had already stabbed Jerri with the same knife, the lawsuit would be, in my view, frivolous. However, the claim of exceeding the privilege of self-defense is a long-recognized basis for liability. California courts emphasize that this is a question for the trier of fact:
“The right to use force against another has long been limited by the condition
that the force be no more than ‘ “that which reasonably appears necessary, in
view of all the circumstances of the case, to prevent the impending injury.”
‘When the amount of force used is justiﬁable under the circumstances, it is not
willful and the actor may escape liability for intentionally injurious conduct that
is otherwise actionable. But if force is applied in excess of that which is
justiﬁed, the actor remains subject to liability for the damages resulting from
the excessive use of force. . . . When an alleged act of self-defense or defense
of property is at issue, the question of what force was reasonable and justiﬁed
is peculiarly one for determination by the trier of fact.”
Calvillo-Silva v. Home, Grocery (1998) 19 Cal.4th 714, 730–731. One can claim both a privilege of self-defense and defense of others under the common law. Indeed, in this case, Jerri began in defense of others and ended up with self-defense.
Some states have “Stand Your Ground” laws or “aggressor doctrines” that can come into play in such cases. Under the aggressor doctrine, a plaintiff is barred from recovery if he
acted in such a way to provoke a reasonable person to use physical force in fear or anticipation of further injury. Louisiana recently got rid of that doctrine but retained the self defense privilege. Landy v. Bellanger
, 2002-1443 (La. 2003).
Our common law rule is derived from England which applies a similar rule for the using of force in self-defense. As Chief Justice Lord Parker explained in Chisam 47 Cr App Rep 130 (1963) “…. where a forcible and violent felony is attempted upon the person of another, the party assaulted, or his servant, or any other person present, is entitled to repel force by force, and, if necessary, to kill the aggressor ….”
The authority for self defence, of course, doesn’t stop with defending oneself from attack. It is perfectly permissible to use reasonable force to assist another person who is under threat of attack. For example, in Rose (1883) 15 Cox CC 540 the accused was acquitted of murdering his father, whom he shot dead, whilst the father was launching a murderous attack on the accused’s mother.
There is also a common law right to perform a citizen arrest in cases like this. While that right has been curtailed by statutory law, it generally still applies to felonies (like this one) and often misdemeanors committed in your presence.
Jurors tend not to draw the line too narrowly for those responding to lethal threats. You are allowed to use lethal force in seeking to defend yourself from a lethal threat. Here Flores was not killed but obviously seriously injured. The standard jury instruction asks if the defendant “used only the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to protect himself.” Watching this video, a jury is likely to conclude that Jerri would have been perfectly within his rights to kill Flores in the course of defending himself.
It would be hard to imagine a jury finding Jerri to be excessive after being stabbed and thwarting an armed robbery. With adrenaline and fear surging, most jurors would like view themselves as likely to continue to stabbing the assailant until he is unconscious or dead.
Flores would be much wiser to focus on his next court appearance in October for armed robbery. Indeed, I am still unclear why he is not charged with attempted murder.