Good guy with a gun mistakenly shot and killed by the Phoenix Police [VIDEO]

Courtesy Phoenix PD

A recent gunfight in Phoenix that involved an officer offers a multitude of lessons from which we can all learn. There a policeman mistakenly shot a man with a gun who was holding two shoplifters at gunpoint. Both parties made mistakes, but William Brookins, 39, paid for his well-meaning good Samaritanism with his life.

Brookins, the good guy, apparently watched a couple of shoplifters flee a store. As a passenger in an SUV, he had the driver follow the couple to a nearby parking lot, where he confronted them at gunpoint.

A nearby Phoenix police officer heard the commotion and responded. Radio transmissions indicate that the police officer thought the black Brookins was an armed robber and that the two white (alleged) shoplifters were victims of an armed robbery.

The officer called to Brookins to drop the gun and opened fire a moment later. Brookins went down and died of his wounds after almost a week in the hospital.

Here is the video from Phoenix PD.

Lessons for all of us

There is a lot to learn here for every gun owner.

First of all, this weapon that you carry as a legally armed citizen does not look or work like a badge. You are not a cop. You are not even a “junior cop” like my kids were after a very nice cop gave you a sticker after answering a call at my home.

Badge sticker for junior police officersCourtesy

Legal justification (or lack thereof)

Why Mr. Brookins took it upon himself to draw his gun to intervene in a shoplifting incident is a mystery to me. From the very limited information provided by Phoenix PD, Mr Brookins’ actions were likely to have been in good faith, but they did not seem remotely justified.

With very few exceptions, the law justifies the use of lethal force only to prevent the imminent killing or grievous bodily harm of an innocent person. In addition, the Supreme Court has also ruled on the use of lethal force against fleeing felons (again, this is generally prohibited). I strongly recommend finding competent training on how to use lethal force sensibly when you own a gun and twice as when you are carrying it outside of your home.

Competent training does not mean just reading the laws of your state in a Powerpoint presentation. Court precedents, real-world prosecution policies, and much more all play a role in knowing the standards by which you can and should act in order to get out of jail after using a firearm in a given situation.

For example, in my home state of Illinois, burglary is a violent crime. According to our statutes, lethal violence is justified in order to stop the commission of a violent crime.

In the real world, if you think you can shoot someone stealing a Craftsman lawnmower while it breaks into your garage (grown or not), that probably won’t work that well for you, especially in the more populous country of Lincoln Counties . Not to mention what it will look like to a jury that you killed someone’s son or daughter to protect your lawnmower.

Tunnel vision

Like so many of us, Mr. Brookins seems to have suffered from tunnel vision. This is a common mistake that ended up being fatal in this case.

He didn’t hear a witness (possibly the person with Mr. Brookins) and the cop yelling at him. If you haven’t trained to break tunnel vision, it will happen to you even under stress. The good news is it happens to bad guys too.


Here, too, we have to acknowledge the appearances. I remember an instructor at one of Tom Givens’ Polite Society tactics conferences (highly recommended, by the way) saying that it is important to him to wear a collared shirt in public whenever possible. He pointed out that the first impression of a collared shirt is much cheaper than that of a sloppily dressed one.

Yes, that sounds silly and superficial, but that sort of thing can make a difference in the real world.

It reminds me of a retired FBI agent friend who tells the story of an undercover FBI agent who was casually dressed in jeans in the 1970s. He found himself tailing a well-dressed bank robber who was wearing a suit. One thing led to another and they ended in a roadside shootout.

The first officer who curled up assumed the guy in the suit was the good guy and turned his fire on Mr. FBI in denim. The agent quickly surrendered and the villain escaped, but it illustrated a good point.

The lesson isn’t so much that you can’t carry a gun when you go to lunch after hours of gardening in the hot sun. But if you look like a bum, as we all do at times, you need to be aware that bystanders (armed or not) or officers answering may mistake you for a bad actor.

Race & Prejudice

Lastly, race could have played a role in the Brookins situation, whether you like it or not. Also, the officer’s prejudices against Mr. Brookins, the good guys with the gun, may have worked. That is certainly rightly or wrongly said.

In this case, the officer assumed that the black man who was aiming the gun was an armed robber. How do we know? Because he reported on the radio that the man he shot had committed an armed robbery (a “2-11” in Phoenix police) and possibly committed another just minutes before. In reality, the officer couldn’t have been more wrong.

Boch screencap. Phoenix Police Department YouTube Channel.

If you are black or any other “colored person” who legally carries a gun every day, this is good for you. We need more people like you. At the same time, we need to acknowledge that a third party (cop, undercover carrier, or others) who shows up in a scene where someone is pointing a gun at someone else may not benefit the black or brown person as much from the benefit of the doubt as a white person.

Dressing well can at least partially overcome this, but none of us dress nines every day (see above).

Third party defense

The policeman probably meant as well as he was wrong. But he rolled up, not knowing the details, and shot someone who didn’t need to be shot. As such, he will have to live with it on his conscience for the rest of his days.

The same applies to concealed carriers. Intervening in any confrontation is fraught with danger, and even more so with your firearm. Choose your battles very carefully and remember that if you make a mistake with your weapon you risk a lot … personal, financial, criminal, and more.


Usually everything goes well, but this Phoenix incident shows how quickly things can get worse and worse for a good guy with a gun. A gun does not make you a cop and you are not responsible for stepping in and preventing shoplifters or other property criminals from taking other people’s money or valuables, especially if no one is threatened.

Should you decide to step in, make sure you can break out of tunnel vision not only to protect yourself from other potential bad guys, but also from well-meaning good guys (police or otherwise) who might think you are a bad guy.

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