A Michigan woman who fired at a fleeing Home Depot shoplifter has been charged with recklessly using her concealed handgun.
The misdemeanor charge against the gun-toting, self-appointed law enforcer is the latest twist in a case that, coming just a few days after a deadly mass shooting in Oregon, helped stir a fierce and ongoing national debate over the utility, and capacity, of ordinary people wielding concealed weapons to stop and prevent crime.
The alleged act of vigilantism occurred on Oct. 6, five days after a gunman opened fire in a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., and killed nine people before committing suicide.
Tatiana Duva-Rodriguez was in the parking lot of a Home Depot in Auburn Hills, near Detroit, on the afternoon of Oct. 6 when she spotted a man fleeing the store with a cart full of stolen power tools.
When the shoplifter climbed into a waiting get-away vehicle, Duva-Rodriguez pulled out a concealed handgun and “fired shots at the suspect vehicle as it fled, flattening a tire,” according to an Auburn Hills Police Department news release. The two alleged shoplifters escaped but were arrested several days later. Only one, 46-year-old getaway driver Anthony Harris, has been publicly identified.
At the time of the incident, Duva-Rodriguez, a 46-year-old concealed pistol license holder, was questioned but not arrested.
On Tuesday, however, Oakland County prosecutors charged Duva-Rodriguez with one count of “reckless use, handling or discharge of a firearm” for firing her gun at the fleeing shoplifters.
Duva-Rodriguez declined to speak to The Washington Post when contacted late Tuesday night. Messages were left with Village Tree Service, her tree removal service in Clarkston, Mich., a small city 45 minutes northwest of Detroit.
According to officials, Duva-Rodriguez wasn’t trying to hit or kill the shoplifters, but rather to disable their car. But that didn’t stop prosecutors from filing the misdemeanor charge against her. The Auburn Hills Police Department suggested Duva-Rodriguez could face 90 days in jail or a fine.
“If this is proven, I find it very disturbing that someone would take out their gun in a busy parking lot and shoot at the tires of a passing car,” Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said in a press release, as the Detroit Free Press reported. “Once fired, the bullet could have easily ricocheted or fragmented and injured or killed someone else. It would have been much more helpful for her to take out her cellphone and shoot pictures of the shoplifter’s license plate.”
Duva-Rodriguez’s lawyer, however, said his client made “a split-second decision to take action, trying to help.”
Attorney Steven L. Schwartz described Duva-Rodriguez as a “warm-hearted, family-oriented” person who pulled her weapon with good intentions, according to the Detroit Free Press.
“Never, ever did she intend to harm anybody,” Schwartz told the newspaper.
Under Michigan law, concealed weapon license holders must believe they or someone else is in imminent danger of death, great bodily harm or sexual assault in order to use their pistols in public, a firearms trainer told the Free Press.
The Home Depot shooting made national headlines five days after the mass shooting in Roseburg, Ore., just as the country was debating the utility of concealed weapons to stop crime. Gun rights advocates and several politicians, including Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, claimed that the mass shooting might have been prevented if students or teachers had been armed.
In the Michigan case, at least, law enforcement weighed in against citizens pulling out their guns to try and stop crimes.
“We are grateful that nothing more serious happened as a result of the decision to fire a weapon in a busy parking lot,” Auburn Hills Police Chief Doreen Olko said in a news release. “We do not encourage bystanders to insert themselves into incidents because of the potential for deadly consequences.”
In the days after the Home Depot shooting, Olko’s office was flooded by demands for Duva-Rodriguez to be charged.
“Why in hell is she not arrested for opening fire in a public place that could have mistakenly hit a bystander?” one person wrote on the police department’s Facebook page. “Shoplifting is a misdemeanor, not a shoot-to-kill offense. They should’ve tackled the woman down for public endangerment.”
“This police department seems to be amazingly confused on which crime actually matters,” another added. “Hint: it ain’t the shoplifter.”
In an Oct. 8 blog entry, Olko acknowledged the anger the shooting had invoked but called on Americans to remain calm.
“It has been interesting to read the opinions of so many people on this incident,” she wrote. “Many people are calling for us to charge the person who fired the shots and some seem impatient at the pace of the investigation.
“Officers on the scene opted to release the person pending completion of the investigation,” Olko continued. “That is not necessarily a statement on what we ultimately intend to do. It does say that we thought we had more work to do on the investigation. If we take a person into custody we have only a very short time period to charge the person and take them before the court.
“We cannot hold people indefinitely while we investigate,” she added. “Remember the U.S. Constitution?”
Whatever happens with the charges, they did lead to a rare moment of agreement between gun rights supporters and gun control advocates. Commenting on Auburn Hills police’s Facebook page, both groups said Duva-Rodriguez should be stripped of her concealed pistol license.
But the bonhomie didn’t last long, with many commenters calling Duva-Rodriguez’s potential 90-day punishment too lenient.
By contrast, the two shoplifters she shot at face up to five years in prison.
“Some get years in prison for a joint,” one person wrote. “She shoots a gun in a parking lot. … Which one is the deadly one?”