Hypothetical civilian helping LEO by using lethal force

Hypothetical: A civilian firearm carry permit holder (Steve) is going about his daily activities when gunfire breaks out. He sees a uniformed officer exchanging shots with another person, Steve witnesses both the officer and the suspect discharging their weapons. The officer is pinned down, and solely due to the circumstances of where Steve was standing when all this started happening, he has a clear shot at the suspect. If Steve shot and killed the suspect, what legal consequences would that have?


No charges were filed in the matter of Perry Stevens who shot and killed George Temple who was in the act of assaulting Officer Brian Harrison.

Harrison initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle driven by Temple. Temple assaulted Harrison. Officer Harrison shot Temple once in the abdomen. Temple continued assaulting Harrison.

Bystander Stevens heard Harrison screaming for help. Stevens shot Temple four times in the torso. Temple continued assaulting Harrison.

Stevens shot Temple once more, this time in the head, resulting in cessation of the assault on Harrison and the death of Temple.

Stevens held a concealed carry permit. The shooting was deemed justified. No charges were filed.
Use of force, including deadly force, may be justified in defense of others. The shooter himself need not be directly threatened.

Keep in mind of course the “no charges filed” outcome would likely come to be after several months worth of investigation, discussion, and filing paperwork through the legal system… and it would likely start with the civilian being subject to the usual consequences of killing someone (disarmed/arrested/processed/statements/etc). I highly doubt any civilian who shot a guy in front of a cop would simply be given the thumbs up and just told to go about his business as usual.

If you see someone lethally attacking someone else, then you’re allowed to use lethal force to defend that person. That’s true regardless of whether that someone else is a police officer or not. Now, if you just happened across two non-police shooting at each other, then you might have a hard time determining who’s the attacker and who’s the defender, and you certainly wouldn’t want to side with the attacker… but when one individual is a uniformed police officer, it’s probably reasonable to assume that the other is the attacker.

The only proper GQ answer is that the specific aftermath will depend on the exact specifics of the individual case. No general answer is possible.

Of course there is a general answer. It can be found in the law. The jurisdiction changes things slightly, but generally it is permissible to use force including deadly force to defend another from imminent great bodily harm or death. Reasonable person standard is typically applied, and the trier of fact can make that determination. A DA declining to prosecute can make that determination as well.

Almost this precise scenario did happen in Texas. 4 hits from 150 feet with a .357 pistol.

How do you use “generally” and “jurisdiction” in the same sentence that says there is an answer?

There is no general answer anymore than there is to the question of what happens when a police officer kills a person, even in a shootout. The details matter. Always.

Not if the other person is black.

Pretty much this although the “arrested/processed” depends slightly on where you are. Many places it would be more like if you/the shooter were a police officer with a similar investigation and process to what they go through - it would just take a bit longer. You aren’t going to get your gun back for a while, but that is often the case even if you shoot an armed intruder in your home. And you will want to have an attorney handy if for no other reason than possible civil actions. But it wouldn’t be something to worry about more than any other use of deadly force.

(I would recommend though, just for safety, clearing your weapon and assuming a face down on the ground position as soon as you know the attacker is down. Just in case back-up arrives and assumes things that may not be the case.)

Moderator Note

Let’s not go down that road. Let’s stick to the legal issues concerned. No warning issued.

General Questions Moderator

Could you substitute “An armed bystander” for “A robot”? Maybe not the 2nd law…

1 A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2 A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3 A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws

Nor the first and third either.

An armed bystander may injure or kill a person when acting in legitimate self-defense, or in defense of an innocent third party. But he has no legal duty to do so - he can see a police officer being attacked, and simply ignore it.

Also inapplicable - an armed bystander can kill another person in self-defense. And he does not have to act, or to endanger himself, even if ordered to do so. (Assuming he is a civilian.)


Because generally it is true that a person is justified in using lethal force in defense of another who is in imminent danger as the OP posits. That is the general answer and it is true in every jurisdiction in the US. I say that the jurisdiction may change some of the nuance but the general answer is true.

That seems clear to me, what am I missing?