Thank you all for supporting this very important course. Self-Defense law in America is in shambles, leaving people who use force for their protection completely vulnerable to a criminal justice system that threatens this most fundamental right of every American.
Here is an excerpt from my book The Winner Goes to Jail; The dilemma of Self-Defense in America, expected to be released in the beginning of 2012. The aftermath of this story will surprise you - but I will leave you in suspense for the time being.
The Winner Goes to Jail
Chapter 4 - A Bad Night in Brockton
To say it was a bad night for Eugenio Lopes would be a remarkable understatement. After working an eight hour shift as mission operator at Concord Foods, a retail food supply in Brockton, Massachusetts, Eugenio did what so many of us have done after putting in a long day; he went to a bar for a drink.
Perhaps it was a bad idea. Eugenio normally preferred to hang out with his friends at one of their houses. He didn’t like going out and in particular disliked the drama often associated with large crowds. But a few friends from work were meeting downtown and he needed a drink. He was over twenty-one and he wasn’t driving so he figured, what was the harm. Being young his body was well equipped to manage any excess he might imbibe. He caught a ride to Cardoso Café with his friend Manuel and for about an hour he mingled inside the bar.
About 1:30 in the morning management signaled for last call using the not-so-subtle practice of turning up the indoor lights inside the bar; a mood killer to be sure. Eugenio was quick to exit deciding that he would be better positioned if he were to stay on the perimeter of the crowd as it exited. A couple of his friends recall him walking outside alone, while as many as three dozen others also exited, making their way towards Montello Street which ran along the front of the bar.
Eugenio stopped for a moment as he exited the doorway. Looking to his right he saw his friend hugging a young lady near the front door. He didn’t know who she was, but that didn’t stop him from taking the cigarette that she dangled loosely from her fingertips and walking away with it. Yes, an a_shole thing to do but not his worst indiscretion of that evening.
Of greater significance was that Eugenio failed to consider how quickly or dangerously such minor incidents can spiral dangerously out of control. He didn’t realize that in his own singular moment of petty foolishness, that there were other eyes watching. He didn’t calculate that in many social circles involving men, women and alcohol the primal need for certain individuals to make a showy display of establishing the pecking order could be so easily aroused.
Eugenio continued walking. Like most of the after hours patrons at Cardoso’s that night he wasn’t eager to rush off to his home and go to sleep. Feeling relaxed, a little drunk and not very sleepy he stood across the parking lot holding the cigarette he had recently bogarted from the girl in the doorway. Glancing up he again made eye contact with her. She caught his attention with her hand gestures. They weren’t threatening, rather they were inviting. She motioned for him to come back over.
Playing it cool, Eugenio started towards her walking slowly across the pavement. With his eyes fixed on the young lady he didn’t want to appear to eager. For a moment, the conversation went back to the cigarette. “Why did you do that?”…
Without warning it happened. Out of nowhere Marco Rodrigues stepped forward and landed a solid right punch into Eugenio’s eye. The blow snapped Eugenio’s back as his skull recoiled into the wall of Cardosos' with a sickening thud. A twenty-two year old street fighter, Marco Rodrigues was amped up on Hennessey and cheap Vodka. It was his birthday and he was celebrating with a sucker punch to a man he didn’t even know. Eugenio never saw it coming.
The blow staggered Eugenio, but he didn’t completely go down. Confused and shocked, he turned to look at his attacker. Eugenio’s friend Julio Silva however saw the whole thing and grabbed at Marco to separate him as friends often do. He got between Marco and Eugenio and pulled him away to the side of the doorway.
Perhaps he was too intoxicated by the effects of alcohol or maybe it was the five-alarm bell that was now ringing in his head. It’s possible that it was just his passive disposition; but for whatever reason Eugenio just stood there for a moment. He didn’t go after his attacker and he didn’t run away. He just stood there dumbfounded as many things continued to happen around him. Later, he wouldn’t be able to recall any of it. After absorbing the power of that punch, there was just silence.
When the blood hits the water, the sharks swim in from all around. Predators lay in wait. They look for the weak, the wounded, and so within moments of suffering the first debilitating blow, Eugenio was grabbed again. This time he saw it coming but only for a moment and there was nothing he could do to stop it. With hands like ham hocks the 6’6, 303 pound Jose Gongon-Morales, known around the Brockton neighborhood as “Gambo” and to the police detective as “knock-out” snatched at Eugenio’s meager 165-pound frame and caught a piece of the red and black jacket that dangled from his gaunt body. Gambo pulled Eugenio in close, into his deadly swirling combine of hands, elbows and knees and he began hitting him with a fury. Eugenio recalled later that when he first saw Gambo he was startled by his sheer size. He knew immediately that things were about to go from bad to worse. Another friend of Eugenio’s saw the whole incident unfold.
Nuno Emmanuel Gomes later described what he saw to the Grand jury. When Prosecutor Tom Flanagan asked him what Gambo looked like, without hesitation Nuno said, “A mean ass mother f’r. He looks like crazy!” Flanagan quickly tried to recover. “I’m going to ask the jury to disregard that last statement as far as the witness’ description looking mean.” Lawyers do that. When a witness characterizes someone with rich adjectives, even if it is the truth it is thought to prejudice the jury. The theory is that a juror’s imagination might run away on them. They might hear the words, compose a picture in their mind and like Eugenio Lopes on that early June morning, they might also feel fear-- and fear can make one think differently.
But Nuno had captured Eugenio’s thoughts exactly. Gambo was a giant of a man, covered with tattoos, an image of a sword could be seen running the length of his massive forearm. On the opposite side of that arm was his nickname, GAMBO. There was irony there. The etymological root of that nickname was the same for the word gamble, a word meaning “risky venture”.
He may have been the father of two, the loving boyfriend of Elismary Lozada, but in that moment he was a mean ass mother f’r, a violent predator who was now committing a brutal assault on Eugenio Lopes. In that moment Eugenio felt a new kind of fear.
Eugenio started to fight back, but he was unprepared for what happened next. Gambo, using an old street trick, pulled Eugenio’s jacket over his head. Now bound and blinded by his own clothing he tried to fight, to break away, but he was in a bad place. Not only was he already injured from a powerful punch to his head by the first unknown aggressor, he was also unable to see AND had lost all range of motion in his flailing arms as the taut fabric of his own protective jacket was now used to ensnare him.
He struggled violently to free himself from the jacket, but every movement was answered by another blow from Gambo, Eugenio could feel the strikes, but he had no idea who or how many were actually hitting him. When you are blinded, your radar taken out, your fear turns to anxiety and your anxiety turns to panic.
The central nervous system is no stranger to panic. For millions of years it has been honed in the flame of aggression and has evolved a most extraordinary primal survival mechanism most call the fight/flight response. When it recognizes the symptoms of extreme danger it becomes extremely aroused and calls upon its reserves, a powerful network of glandular and neural wiring that lies latent in every animal form.
Immediately the highly evolved neo-cortex or new tissue that forms the uniquely adapted late evolutionary cognitive control of the human brain; simply turns off. The midbrain, awash with fear revs up and takes charge. The amygdala, almond shaped neural masses lying deep within the temporal lobe of the brain that are thought to effect both memory and emotion become hyperactive and start teasing the sympathetic nervous system into action.
In that moment Eugenio Lopes neurological concern for his survival gave way to any learned inhibitions. There was no thought about fairness or civic duty. He didn’t think about getting arrested or going to prison. He couldn’t--that part of his brain wasn’t fully functioning anymore. In that moment his limbic system was fully evolved and so like the Captain of a sinking ship he grabbed whatever held water and started bailing.
Somewhere in the recesses of his memory he knew that he had a pocketknife. He had placed that knife or a similar one in his pocket for years as so many men often do. He hadn’t really thought about it in as many years, only mindlessly picking it up from his nightstand and putting it in his pocket before leaving for work. Through repetition he had developed an inadvertent mind/body connection, a fortuitous mastery of the simple act of grabbing a knife and shoving it in his pants that came naturally with years of benign utilitarian practice. But now, as he stared at the pavement from the opening of his jacket and as he felt the blows raining down upon his head and body his mind was left grasping at straws. He didn’t remember grabbing for the knife, but he later recalled a fragment of visual memory when he saw his own knife lying on the ground in front of him. Most likely under extreme duress he subconsciously grabbed at the knife and fumbled it. Gambo had him bent over using his jacket as a control harness. But what Gambo couldn’t know was that with each downward strike he was driving Eugenio ever closer to the one object that could in a single moment even the score. Eugenio reached for the knife, grabbed it and just as quickly flipped the blade open with thumb-assisted precision.
In his panic, he started to flail the knife bringing it high a couple of times over Gambo’s locked and rigid arm. The blade scratched at Gambo’s neck drawing blood and in a second strike it punctured his left cheek going in about 1¼ inches, missing bone and teeth as it entered into his oral cavity. But Gambo was charged up in a predatory rage and likely never felt the tip of the knife as it punctured his skin. He hung on and continued to beat Eugenio. Now Eugenio came underneath Gambo’s vice like grip and he started punching outward with the blade, towards the one direction he could effectively move his arms. He couldn’t see what he was hitting but he recalled that finally one of the strikes felt solid. Gambo must have reeled back because he suddenly released him and stood up. For a moment, there was a pause as both Eugenio and Gambo stood looking at each other.
In what must have been a loud and frantic moment of curious onlookers and frenzied exhibitionists who had now gathered to watch the spectacle on Montello Street, Eugenio recalled hearing nothing.
In an instant, Eugenio looked over his shoulder and he saw now a new threat. Aaron Crutchfield, a full time corrections officer with the Massachusetts Department of Corrections and moonlight security staffer at Cardoso had already extended his metal collapsible baton as he exited the bar. He looked into the street and saw Eugenio standing there with a knife in his hand. Considering his training as a corrections officer and the fact that he also had a 40 caliber Glock firearm on his side, something in the body language of Eugenio must have told Crutchfield that the immediacy of the threat had already ended. Crutchfield never drew his firearm. Instead he began to run towards Eugenio with his stick poised in the ready position. As he ran he hollered to Eugenio verbal orders to drop the knife.
Eugenio had just suffered a time sensitive critical incident. He recalled later that he was fighting for his life not only because of what he knew, that a man who outweighed him by nearly 140 pounds was mercilessly beating him, but also because of what he didn’t know and couldn’t know. Because his jacket was pulled over his head he couldn’t be sure how many others might be involved in this deliberate beating. He didn’t know if anyone out there in the raucous crowd might have a weapon and might take an opportunity to use it on such an easy tied-up target. But most importantly, Eugenio didn’t know how long he could hang on.
But now, here was still another threat, a uniformed guard with a metal stick racing towards him poised to strike. Eugenio’s legs, like all human legs were also the product of an evolved survivalist design dating back millions of years. Along with a unique supporting cardiovascular and cooling system the biped design was highly maneuverable and remarkably endurant.
Unlike other mammals, dogs for instance, who are prone to short bursts of speed for very short distances, humans were built for running long distance. In a moment, the sympathetic nervous system was back in charge and Eugenio took off running towards School Street while the security officer gave chase.
Like many physiological changes that occur during incidents of high stress one of the common salient features is explosive bursts of strength and power. As Eugenio ran, he felt like he had wingtip ankles. He was flying. In an instant he left Crutchfield far behind him.
Free now from the threat of imminent danger, his para-sympathetic nervous system was already starting to help him recover. No longer feeling the fear he threw the knife he held in his hand in a broad arching pattern into the darkness. He ran all the way home never stopping to catch his breath. He ran through the front door, up two flights of stairs and into his room. Exhausted he laid down.
Back in front of Cardoso Gambo reported that he had been stabbed. He might not have known during the course of his frenzied attack how badly he had been cut, but as his adrenalin began to subside he was becoming more sensitive to pain. As Gambo spoke with his friends who now came closer to check on him he was slowly becoming more aware that something was different.
It seems that during Eugenio’s wild attempt to escape from Gambo’s grip, the knife he flailed around plunged upward and into Gambo’s body. It sliced through the soft flesh covering his ribcage and found no resistance as it continued through the connective tissue separating the fourth and fifth rib bones. Behind the ribs the blade went on to puncture a lung and continued even further inward perforating the left ventricle chamber of his heart. Though it took a minute or so for the effects of that wound to take its toll, it was a fatal wound and one from which Gambo would not recover. At first Gambo felt weak, then eventually too weak to stand. He took a few steps away from his friends and laid down in the center of Montello street. Within moments, he died...
Okay,who stopped payment on my reality check?