Ethics Quiz: The Paintball Attack

19-year-old Brian Solis’ was one of a group of 15 teens that attacked a home in east Houston with paintball guns. Their objective: bring the teenager inside the house outside to fight, police say. After the house was hit with several of the missiles, which typically explode with red paint upon contact, the homeowner and father of the boy fired back, but with a real gun.

This is Texas, after all. If the boys were surprised, they hadn’t been paying attention.

Solis was hit, and killed.  Solis’ family told reporters that they don’t understand why he’s dead. The oldest of six kids  was full of life, and had plenty still to live, they say

Well, not to be unkind, but it’s pretty clear to me why he’s dead: he took part in an attack on a home that had a gun owner inside at the time. That’s why.

An investigation is ongoing, and it is not at all certain that the shooter, whose name has not yet been released, will face charges. I find that interesting: it seems like a case of excessive force, and manslaughter, could be made pretty easily. On the other hand, aspects of the incident are reminiscent in some ways of the Ossian Sweet case, Clarence Darrow’s finest moment, when he achieved an acquittal for eleven African Americans  whose house in suburban  was about to be besieged, or so they thought, by a mob of angry whites carrying  rocks, clubs and torches. One of the people inside the house opened fire, killing someone in the crowd, and all eleven African Americans were tried for murder. I’ve written about the case, here.

The law in every jurisdiction would certainly permit a prosecution, so the decision whether to charge comes down to practicality and ethics. Would a jury convict the shooter, if he says that his home was under attack, his son was in danger, and he was in fear of his own safety? A lot depends on facts not yet known or disclosed. What was being said by the attackers? Did the target’s father issue a warning before firing? A group of fifteen sounds scary to me, especially having just watched the 2011 remake of “Straw Dogs,” in which a group of Mississippians in a backwater town lay siege to  the home of a couple trying to protect a mentally disabled man who has just accidentally killed the leader of the group’s cheerleader daughter, Lenny-style. [Cultural literacy reference!]

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz to begin this Tuesday is this:

Should the shooter be prosecuted for the death of Brian Solis, or did his right to defend his home from attack justify the shooting?

80 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Paintball Attack

  1. As you say Jack, a lot more information is needed. I can easily conceive of situations where it would be justified and situations where it would be unjustified.

    One question would be whether they were in the yard or not. It would be hard to justify shooting someone across the street hiding behind a garbage can. But if he was on your porch? Different story.

    • Why would that matter? If the homeowner thought they teenagers were using real guns, being on or off the property matters not if a house is getting hit by bullets. When the lethal range is measured in miles, anyone shooting at you is fair game for a lethal response because they are a credible lethal threat to you.

  2. A minor quibble. For practical and safety reasons, the paint in paintballs is almost never red. It’s usually orange, bright yellow, or bright green to maximize visibility and so as to explicitly not look like real blood. Red paint can hide injuries and in general the appearance of blood covered players is not a look that most paintball manufacturers want. I know I’ve mentioned ultimate here before but my other great love is paintball.

  3. More information is needed. Visibility of the markers, whether paintball marks were easily visible on the house, whether the kids firing the markers were making death threats. If it seems likely that the father thought his house was under attack, then I can see a defence based off of justifiable self defence being made. Reading Texas penal code on the matter, it seems that the homeowner could be prosecuted of it can be demonstrated that a reasonable person was able to identify that the teens were using paintball markers and not something deadly. From my understanding, Texas law places a higher burden on deadly force than it does on self defence. But the assumption the prosecutor would have to disprove is that a reasonable person would have believed that they were under attack with deadly force.

      • Yes, and he should’ve, but we aren’t talking about two or even five guys here. This was a mob with the stated intent of causing trouble, and the man had no way to know how far they were willing to go, or how soon they would decide to go there.

        • And how long he could reasonably expect a police response. If he could have been assured of a quick arrival, maybe…I assume it would be quick in Houston. If he would have had to deal with a dispatcher telling him to stay in his house and the boys would eventually go away (and after all, it was just paint), maybe he would have felt it was pointless. And, of course, decisions made under duress aren’t always well thought out.

      • He could have, yes. However, the teens were right there, the police were not. And we still don’t know whether it was reasonable for the father to assume that deadly force was required in the situation, given what he knew at the time.

      • One other point, calling the police to a scene with 15 people brandishing guns could have led to much more bloodshed; Tamir Rice had a toy gun.

        Granted, paintball guns generally have the appearance as the one in your picture. Still, would you expect the police to take a chance?

        -Jut

      • Good points too. But as others have said, more information is needed. Did windows break? What was the mob saying? I could definitely see feeling fearful for my life in that situation.

        Also, as a kid, I was standing on a corner with my friends and a van raced up to us, swung open the doors, where a group of black kids shot us with a paintball gun. I thought it was a real gun at first since the gun was black. I actually thought we were going to die.

    • This is my line of thinking as well – if a group of 15 healthy teenagers was attacking me, I think that it would be fairly easy to interpret that as a deadly threat. These 15 teens came to the house to call out a teen that lived there in order to fight with him? Now, it may not have been an actual deadly threat, but it certainly had the characteristics of a group that could present a deadly threat.

      • It gets tricky, but most self-defense situations include the reasonable belief that death or great bodily harm/injury was imminent — losing an eye would qualify as the latter — so a paintball gun would qualify as a weapon capable if inflicting such an injury.

        Also, disparity of forces factors in, either in size of the combatants, or in this case, the relative numbers. 15 on one or two are poor odds for survival.

        The TX authorities are most likely weighing all these factors. If the shooter knew it was only paintball and would remain only paintball, staying in the house and calling police sounds like the way to go.

        Andrew Branca over at LI does a great job of explaining self-defense law if you are into that stuff. If you “carry” it is a must. [I get nothing from AB for pimping his gig, BTW.]

      • Based off my understanding of the Texas laws, self defence was justified. The question is whether deadly force can be justified, given what the father knew at the time.

  4. Could a case be made? Sure. Murder is out, I think. Manslaughter, recklessly causing the death of another, or criminally negligent homicide, negligently causing the death of another, could be possibilities. Even manslaughter might be a reach, though. For that charge to stick you have to know there is a substantial risk of bodily harm and consciously disregard that risk. You also have to be unjustified, like firing a gun into a crowd or swerving a motorcycle into a crowd.

    This did not represent a deliberately risky activity that was unjustified. The guy was defending his house and his family, not just from a couple of other teens acting stupidly, but from a SQUAD of teens, apparently all gunning for his son. The same might be true of criminally negligent homicide, but then you just have to have a duty to others and have violated that duty. There is no duty to let your home be de facto besieged. Texas might also have a “castle law” which says you don’t have to retreat in your own home (which makes more sense than a “stand your ground” law as in Florida).

    As everyone should know, the standard of proof for a criminal conviction is beyond a reasonable doubt. I have a hard time seeing how any reasonably competent defense attorney wouldn’t be able to paint a picture of enough justification to a jury that they would give the homeowner the benefit of the doubt and acquit.

    I can’t respond to this without asking what made these kids think it was a good idea to form a mini-mob and attack the house of someone they obviously didn’t like? If beating the crap out of a classmate is your objective, there are a lot of places where you could get him where the odds would be a lot better. Wait till he’s walking home from school, then jump him. If he’s not in school, then wait till he goes to the corner store or on some other errand that takes him someplace by himself. With cell phones it’s pretty easy, sooner or later he’s got to leave the house, so, once he does, and one of your buddies spots him, have him text the other 14 guys, and you can converge on him and beat him up. Lay siege to his family’s house, with missile weapons that could do a fair amount of damage, and you are asking for trouble, same as if you attack an armed community watch guy and start to beat him up, you really have no basis to complain if you get shot.

  5. This is a good one, Jack. As you say, it depends on circumstances and details still unknown. You say their intention was to draw a teenager out to fight. I’m going to interpret this to mean that they were announcing such while incurring property damage. The idea that any homeowner or father is under legal obligation to deter an overt attack on his property and family with the minimum necessary force that can be proposed after-the-fact in a courtroom by the attackers’ lawyer is offensive and dangerous. If there can be any doubt that the attackers’ aggression was considered a serious threat, then let it rest on them to prove it rather than the defendant to prove the opposite. This may give cover to disgruntled curmudgeons to execute teenagers who shoot their homes in some hypothetical polite fashion, and some will say they are intending to avoid such an outcome, but I say that this outcome is both desirable and just.

    If a man requires a rigorous proof in court to protect his home and family, then the court acts as gatekeeper to his most fundamental right while acting as champion for the nonsensical right to incur property damage and mayhem without fear of repercussion. If the state wants an absolute claim on all martial force, then let them be present at all times to enact it in our protection rather than excusing police for choosing not to act and defending their inaction in terms of having no obligation. Indeed, allow us to sue the state for any criminal act it did not prevent which it prevented us from deterring for fear of its overzealous protection of the vandals. If it is not my right to protect what is mine, then it is the state’s absolute obligation, or the social contract is in this part void – the state creating rather than mitigating a Hobbesian state of nature.

  6. Should the shooter be prosecuted for the death of Brian Solis, or did his right to defend his home from attack justify the shooting?

    Not knowing all the facts in the case, I’m leaning towards he’ll probably be prosecuted and I’m only basing that on one thing, from what I can tell the assaulting teenagers were not in the process of a physical attack on any person they were only “attacking” the structure of the home with non-lethal weapons. Calling the police and remaining inside the home protected by walls, windows and doors would have been the correct choice; unless the father felt that either he or his family were in immediate physical danger from the “assaulting” teens there was no moral justification for the shooting.

    I’d like to hear all the evidence that is presented to the grand jury hearing.

    There will most certainly be a wrongful death civil case.

    • What if the father exited the home to confront the teens, and they shot at him, then? Does the father have a duty not to confront the hostile teens damaging his home, lest he risk them injuring him? What if windows broke and paintballs were entering the home, bouncing off walls and causing welts?

      The videos showed the teens were in the driveway mere feet from doors and windows. At what distance does a hostile group of teens calling for the occupants of the house to fight need to be for it to be a “mere” attack on property versus immediate potential physical danger?

  7. The things we do not know are the important ones we have to know.

    Were threats made, on the spot or leading up to the event?

    Were the attackers gang members? Was the son?

    Is there video of the incident? Was 911 called?

    Did the homeowner believe he was in immediate danger, fearing for his life or great bodily injury to his family, and if so, was it a ‘reasonable’ fear? (an important point in Texas law)?

    Location of the attackers? Was the shot aimed or random? What did the shooter tell the police right away?

    These sample questions, among others, will make a difference in law and in ethics both.

    That addressed, here in Texas, in general, attacking a house in a group with projectile weapons may get you shot. The response shooting is ethical, given the shooter does not know the intention of the attackers (paint balls could be a prelude to bullets, sound like bullets when hitting the house, etc.) You may still get prosecuted depending upon a great variety of circumstances and jurisdiction (like any shooting) but your actions are ethical.

    • slickwilly wrote, paint balls could be a prelude to bullets

      That is for me an important consideration. The attackers could — by using paintball guns — suggest something less dangerous, thereby enticing the defenders with a less dangerous response and then the attackers could kill them, claiming they felt that there life were in danger.

    • 15 guys rolling up with what look like guns and utilizing concealment to open fire on my house is “threat” enough.

      Gang membership is irrelevant. Even a gang member minding his own business in his own home is protected by the law from 15 other gang members rolling up and blazing away.

      Who cares if 911 was called? Why would any logical homeowner engage in a several minute conversation in order to wait another 5-7 minutes for assistance to arrive. 911 is for clean up not for crime stopping.

      • Notice I was giving sample questions that will impact the legal side of the equation. Gang membership does indeed play into the legal question. So does if 911 was called prior to the shooting, and what was said.

        I can see where those two questions are not necessary for the ethics of the decision, though.

  8. I don’t know the laws in Texas to know the answer.

    If I were with 11 other jurors in the deliberation room with instructions to decide that question on the facts presented, I’d have to vote to acquit. I’m not going to convict the father if he exercised a legitimate right to protect his home and family.

    I’m sorry Solis is dead, but perhaps the law in Texas excuses the father.

    What would Clarence do in Texas vs. what he accomplished in Mississippi ?

    I sure hope the prosecutor make the right decision based on Texas law, as lives are on the line here.

  9. Not a lawyer. Not a Texan. If one is in a house it is difficult to see what is hitting the exterior of the house, propelled impacts are heard on the house, and the brief image one gets is of teens with what appear to be guns. Sure some may be paintball guns, but are all of them paintball guns? If 911 was called by anyone in the house and the event continued, the defensive shooter should walk. It’s a tragic, but good lesson for idiots like the teens and their parents to learn.

  10. This is a tragedy, and my reflexive response was to agree with your observation that this looks like a case of manslaughter and excessive force. But a further review of the reporting and the facts makes me rethink that conclusion.

    It is unclear that the man knew they were only shooting with paintball guns. If he did not know, he is not guilty of any wrongdoing, and here’s why — he had a reasonable fear that he was in immediate and life- threatening danger.

    Even if he did suspect that the fire from the kids were from non-lethal weapons, they constituted a gang invading private property with the intention of doing violence to one (or possibly both, as the matter would’ve escalated) of the occupants. 15 juveniles could have overcome and even killed both father and son, even if they weren’t armed with deadly weapons.

    Finally, it is possible and even likely that some of the teens had at least a pocket knife, and they all could’ve availed themselves of clubs or other items. It is possible that they did, and disposed of them before the authorities arrived.

    If it had been one or two teens, then yes, Jack, you’d be right. A gang of 15, regardless of their level of armament, changes the equation dramatically in favor of the man and against the mob.

    I think the man deserves the benefit of the doubt. It’s one thing for a couple of random teens to throw eggs at a house, or even shoot it with a BB gun. It’s a whole different kettle of fish when a mob of 15 comes with the stated intention of starting trouble.

    • Oh, and another thing… The kid who was killed was a 19-year old ADULT. That matters, a lot. There may have been underage mob members as well, but the presence of an adult makes the reporting on the group as “teens” highly suspect.

      Yes, Solis was a “teen,” but he was also an adult, not a child. If a mob of mixed adults and teens 15 strong arrived on my doorstep, I can tell you exactly how I would respond — I’d fill my hand with Old Painless and dial 911. I’d then tell them I was armed, to disburse immediately, and that the cops were on the way. If they took one more step toward my home, the nearest mobster would become a victim of lead poisoning, regardless of whether he was 17 or 19.

      A 15-member mob of mixed adults and late adolescents with fighting on their mind is a deadly threat to an adult and a late adolescent male.

  11. My first inclination, if I heard the shots and the impact of projectiles on my home, would not be to think, “Someone is shooting at my house – it must be paintballs.” If the shooting were accompanied by threats of any kind, I would certainly be escalating the threat potential as I was preparing to respond with deadly force and continuing to evaluate the situation. Multiple shooters? That kicks things up a notch or three. Call 911? Definitely! Announce that I was armed? Sure. I hope that I would have been able to avoid shooting anyone, but I wouldn’t expect an average scared homeowner to respond with the same degree of restraint as a someone with my years of police experience and training. Hard to imagine what these attacking teens were thinking; maybe they’ve played too many “first person shooter” video games. Don’t bring a paintball weapon to a gunfight. No prosecution.

  12. Jack-
    Be sure to update this post, so we learn of the Prosecutor’s decision and reason …and your thoughts thereafter.

  13. “All we were trying to do, officer, was get him outside so the fifteen of us could beat the crap out of him, you know, kick him in the head and stuff.”

  14. Texas has pretty broad self-defense laws. Often including phraseology that extends to protecting property from reasonably perceived threats just as liberally as protecting life.

    Did this attack occur at night?

    Were windows being broken out?

    How far were the shooters from the front face of the house?

    How well concealed were the shooters?

    What kind of delay was there between the initial onslaught and the return fire?

    Even in the day time, a sudden attack by 15 individuals with what look like legitimate guns doesn’t seem to me to legally obligate any homeowner to burden themselves with magically looking through their walls (remember they are inside) to the outer surface to see what the impacts look like.

    I don’t see why any reasonable person is legally expected to know, when taken by surprise, the sound difference *through walls* of real fire arms and paintball guns being fired or the sound difference in the impacts.

    I do think an ethical person, when taken by surprise, finding themselves still alive from the first hail of volley fire, recognizing they are in a relatively secure situation (as it would have been apparent that no one was inside the house), ought to take a pause and assess as best they can what’s going on before returning fire.

    This is a crappy situation and the assaulted household will bear the burden of having killed a young man. But the more I see these types of scenarios play out, the more I can only side with the homeowner. THEY are the ones minding THEIR own business when ne’er-do-wells show up to possibly convince them they are in mortal danger.

  15. Some points to consider:

    In this part of the country, 3 on 1 is considered lethal force automatically in most states. If there were 15 kids, they constituted lethal force even if they were unarmed. If 15 people surround you in a parking lot and start pushing you around, you don’t have to wait for them to try to stab or shoot you before you respond with lethal force. If they were attacking the house, you can easily argue self-defense, especially if you only shot until they ran. A mob (at this point it is a mob) of people attacking your house would be terrifying and you are no obligation for them to give you a lethal injury before you respond with deadly force.

    Police response time may be 20-30 minutes in some places (or days in Detroit). Sit in your car. Have 4 or 5 strangers hit and rock the car, yelling at you for 20 minutes. See if you can stand it. This is Houston, where the police recently shot 2 unarmed people in their home when they probably served a no-knock warrant to the wrong house (the autopsy suggests the man was shot 8 times from across the house, then as he lay on his back, an officer shot him in the head from feet away as the man held his hand up to defend himself). Calling the police may not seem like a calming proposition in this terrifying scenario.

    This one will sound stupid, but it is because of prosecutors. If you threaten someone with a gun and don’t shoot, in many cases your are more likely to be charged than if you don’t shoot. It sounds stupid, but it is true. In many concealed carry classes, students are taught never to point a gun at someone unless you are going to shoot them. Although most self-defenses with a gun merely involve displaying the gun, if you don’t shoot you can be charged. The thought of the prosecutors is that you should only bring a gun into play if you are in fear for your life. If you were in fear for your life, why didn’t you shoot?

    I couldn’t find out when this happened, but my guess would be at night. Imagine your house surrounded by a mob in the middle of the night, thuds hitting everywhere, while people scream to send your son out. Fifteen people don’t plan to go to a house, attack it with paintball guns and demand someone come out, just to talk. This was a planned attack, a terrifying attack.

    The teenager was 19. This wasn’t a group of 13 year-olds. He was an adult. He is eligible to be drafted to fight for his country, vote for the President, or called to make life-or-death decisions on a jury. This wasn’t just a simple misunderstanding. He planned to attack this family with deadly force (15 people). He paid the price.

    I would not vote to indict if I were on this grand jury. If a mob of 15 people attack a man’s house and he is prosecuted for defending himself, what message does that send to gangs and mobs?

  16. This one is so complicated for me that I don’t even want to opine. I want a 2 hour documentary – heck, I’d love to sit on the Jury for this one and consider the facts. It seems so simple, but everyone has raised some really good questions.

  17. The most galling thing to me in every story like this is the trotting out of the sobbing family members of the deceased claiming he was a good boy with his whole life ahead of him, and of course, he didn’t mean any harm. Yeah, well, that “good boy” (19-year-old man, in this case) had gathered with a mob of 14 other people to commit a violent attack on a private residence. Not generally an activity in which you’ll find a high proportion of good boys.

    I’ve never been shot, and I also have never started a violent confrontation with someone who is minding their own business. I strongly suspect that those two facts are connected in some way…

  18. Whatever the laws are in Texas that are applicable to this case, you can be sure that at least a few of them will be changed as a result of this case. Changed, so that perps can get away with more harming, and so that more innocents can be harmed more. Thaaaat’s the racket.

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