Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Self Defense Is Claimed in Fatal "Dog Urination" Shooting

A new element has been introduced into the case of a fatal shooting that started when a dog decided to relieve himself on a suburban lawn.

Charles J. Clements, 69, is charged in the shooting death of 23-year-old Joshua Funches on May 9 in Chicago. But Clements now claims he was acting in self defense.

The case has been of special interest here at Legal Schnauzer because of our own experiences with property-related legal headaches.

According to news reports, Funches was walking his fox terrier when the dog stopped in front of Clements' house to urinate on the lawn. Clements instructed Funches to keep the dog off his lawn, and Funches sassed the former Marine and retired truck driver. That sparked an argument that ended in gunfire.

The Chicago Tribune reports that a judge greatly reduced Clements' bail after his attorney filed a document providing Clements' version of events. Prosecutors have charged the great-grandfather with first- and second-degree murder. Reports the Tribune:

In court papers, Clements says it all started when his wife backed out of their driveway to go to the post office as Joshua Funches, 23, walked past with his fox terrier Gucci around 8 p.m. Funches allegedly swore at Clements' wife and later returned to the sidewalk outside the house in the 500 block of Landau Road.

Clements was sitting on his front porch when he saw Funches look at him, smile and release his puppy into Clements' yard—gestures Clements took as a taunt, said his attorney, Daniel Collins.

Reportedly sensitive about his lawn, Clements decided to confront Funches. Reports the Tribune:

Neighbors have said Clements was obsessed with his lawn and for years threatened any who dared step on it. Clements began carrying a .45-caliber handgun in part because of threats he received after telling young people to stay off his grass or to pick up trash they dropped elsewhere, his attorney said.

"He would tell them, 'This is not the way you act in the neighborhood,'" Collins said.

The law apparently was on Clements' side, but Funches, it seems, did not like being lectured about his dog's bathroom habits:

As the puppy did its business on Clements' award-winning lawn, the former Marine walked out and confronted Funches, telling him town ordinances prohibit owners from allowing their pets to run loose and require them to clean up after their dogs, according to Clements.

When Funches allegedly threatened him in response, Clements pulled the gun out of his pants pocket. "Old man, you pull a gun on me, you better plan on using it," Funches allegedly said.

Funches then allegedly struck Clements in the face repeatedly, causing cuts around his face. As Clements fell backward, he opened fire, striking Funches in the lower chest, according to Clements' account. As Funches staggered toward his home, Clements went home and changed his clothes.

"He feared for his safety," Collins said. "He also felt that his life was in danger."

Funches' mother called Clements version of events "lies from the pit of hell." She says witnesses saw the older man follow her son down the street before opening fire.

As citizens who have been through a 10-year legal nightmare largely because of unlawful intrusions on our yard, Mrs. Schnauzer and I are supportive of anyone who wants to control--within the law--what takes place on their property. As I stated in our earlier post on the Chicago case, a dog peeing on our yard would not bother us in the least. But if such an act bothered Charles Clements, he was absolutely within his rights to ask Funches to keep his dog under control. Under a strict interpretation of the law, Funches committed a civil trespass by allowing his dog to intrude on Clements' property.

We do not, however, support the introduction of guns into situations where they should not be involved. Even taking Clements version as true, it's hard to see why a gun needed to be in play. Clements could have spoken to Funches from a distance, where it wasn't possible for the younger man to throw a punch at him.

While we support Clements' right to monitor what takes place on his property, we find his version of events a little hard to believe. Would Funches really punch a man in the face when that man had made it clear he had a gun? Maybe Funches was a wild and reckless guy, but I don't think most people would do that.

The good news is that a simple investigation should be able to determine who is telling the truth. A few key unanswered questions:

* Where exactly did the shooting take place? Was Funches shot in front of the Clements' residence? Or was he shot several doors down, after Clements had followed him?

* Were there any marks or abrasions on Clements' face, indicating that he had been punched repeatedly? Were there any injuries on Clements' back, indicating that he had fallen backwards?

* What was the trajectory of the shot? Will forensics show that it came from a shooter who was falling down?

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