People V. Dale Michael PiorKonwski (1974) 41 Cal.App.3d 324

Dale Michael Piorkowski was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after Mr. Piorkowski shot a young man who Mr. Piorkowski believed had participated in a burglary of a dry cleaners. As you know, “Burglary” is the entering of a building with the intent to commit a crime, such as theft, inside. On the day of the incident Mr. Piorkowski worked in an establishment in a shopping center. As he walked through the shopping center he noticed three young men climb over the counter of a dry cleaners. He then observed the three young men walking away from the dry cleaning establishment. Mr. Piorkowski went into the dry cleaners and asked the manager if everything was alright. The manager stated that money from her purse had been stolen. Mr. Piorkowski then started chasing the youth. Mr. Piorkowski then upholstered a gun, caught up to the young men and ordered them to stop running. Two of the men complied. The third did not. Mr. Piorkowski then grabbed this young man and the young man struggled. During the struggle Mr. Piorkowski’s gun was fired. The gunshot killed one of the youths.

In analyzing these unfortunate circumstances, the Court first set forth in the requirements of Penal Code § 837 for arrest by a private person. Consequently, a felony must in fact have been committed. Once the requirements of Penal Code § 837 are met, then the analysis continues with a determination as to whether or not there was justification for the defendant to use the force involved in making the arrest. In this situation the Court found that there were sufficient facts to establish the necessary elements of a burglary committed by the young man. Mr. Piorkowski had reasonable cause for believing the person he sought to arrest had committed the burglary and in fact the burglary had actually been committed by the individual. However, Mr. Piorkowski was charged with involuntary manslaughter based on the assertion that the force used to effect the arrest was unreasonable. Mr. Piorkowski argued that his actions were justified and excusable.

Although Mr. Piorkowski argued that his actions were justified and excusable, the court disagreed. The use of deadly force by a private citizen to stop property thieves was not reasonable. They posed no physical danger to persons and no threat of immediate violence occurred.

LESSON: Although there is no hard and fast rule, common sense should always be applied. Deadly force should only be used to save lives. Otherwise, observe and report. Be a good witness for the police.