Remember Y2K? Remember the nervous preparations for that New Year’s Eve, when nobody knew quite what to expect? Remember how relieved we all were when the turn of the new year proved to be relatively uneventful, in any bad way? Well, for at least two men in Charlotte, North Carolina, last New Year’s was not quite what they expected, and turned out to be pretty bad, in different ways for each of them.
One of the men, whose name I do not know, decided to celebrate by shooting a handgun, an illegal one, into the air at what he probably thought of as the start of a new millennium. His celebration was interrupted by the police, who take a dim view of people who prefer potentially lethal noisemakers over the normal kind. He was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon, and unlawful discharge of a weapon. Tossed in jail. Didn’t have enough money to make bail. Like many people in that situation before him, he turned to a bail bond company, the Absolute Bail Bonding Company.
Absolute Bail Bonding is the family business of Julie (short for Juliet) Williams and her husband, Frank. Julie, a 47-year-old mother of three grown daughters and a teen-age son, and a grandmother of nine. She had 16 years on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department before she left that job to start bail bonding with her husband six years ago. She and Frank worked hard at their business. When “on duty,” which, for her, meant during the day, Julie says always carried emergency equipment – a cell phone and her .32 caliber Beretta Tomcat. Frank generally had the night shift, and was similarly equipped, with his own Tomcat. Both are fully licensed to carry concealed.
Normally, Friday night would have been Frank’s turn to be on duty, but since it was New Year’s Eve, they expected a lot of business, and Frank asked Julie to go along to help. She didn’t bother to take along a purse, or her cellphone, or her gun, as Frank had a phone and his gun, and, as she put it, “I was just riding along with him.”
The night did indeed turn out to be very busy; they spent a lot of time with new prisoners, and in the wee small hours of the morning, as he was trying to help the fellow who had been charged with the illegal gunfire, Frank discovered that he urgently needed some papers that were back in the office. Julie would need to drive over to the office to get them.
Frank gave her the keys to the truck, and just as she was about to leave, he also handed her the little Beretta Tomcat. “You take my gun,” he said, “because it’s very dangerous out there tonight.” Julie put the little semi-auto on the dashboard of the truck, and headed toward the office, where neither she nor Frank had been for several days.
She arrived at the office in darkness, around 4:30 a.m. Absolute’s office is in a U-shaped building that they share with another business. It sits well off the street, in a rather isolated location. As she pulled up to the building, it was, as she expected, very dark inside and out, and there were no other vehicles around. By habit, she positioned the truck so that the headlights would shine on the entrance, in the middle of the U.
She saw it right away – the jimmied door that gave mute, but convincing evidence of a break-in. Knowing that the building had been unoccupied for several days and was now dark and quiet, she immediately concluded that they broke in a few nights ago, and probably cleaned the place out. “The only thing I could think at that point was, My God, everything I’ve worked for is gone!”
She wanted to phone the police to report the crime immediately, but she did not have her cellphone with her. The closest phone was in her office. She also felt a reaction that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has found themselves in a similar circumstance – an overwhelming need to know just how bad the burglary was. Compelled by that need, and the desire to reach the closest phone, she got out of the truck to go inside. She felt no sense of impending danger – she was sure the perpetrators were long gone – but she did grab the little Tomcat from the truck and took it in with her.
Julie took her time going through the mutilated door. Once inside, she turned on a small entryway light, and turned right and then left down the narrow hall that was one of the long sides of the U, heading slowly toward her office at the end. She carefully turned on a second light in that hall, which had a bathroom on one side, and a big water fountain on the wall.
Suddenly she was no longer alone! The burglar had been crouching behind the water fountain, waiting for her. When she was no more than 3 feet from his hiding place, he leapt up, his huge 6’2″ frame towering over her tiny 4’9″ one. Instantly, she knew what she had to do, and she did it. A hollowpoint bullet from the little Beretta hit him “center of mass” just as she had learned as a police officer. The man fell back and went down, filling the hallway floor.
As instinctively as she had known the amount of danger she was in, she now instinctively realized that he was no longer a threat, although he was still alive. Julie’s next thought was that she must call to get medical aid for him.
The closest phone was still the one in the office ahead of her. Julie remembers stepping over the man to run to the phone. She remembers calling 911, and calling, and calling. Police and medical services were busy that night, and it took a long time for her to get through. His labored breathing sounded close to death. It seemed to take forever for the police to respond. She also managed to call Frank, and told him what had happened.
Frank and the Charlotte police arrived about the same time. As is usual in the aftermath of critical incidents, Julie’s memory seems to have some gaps. She didn’t mention having to step over the man again when the police arrived, but she does remember greeting them at the door with the gun still in her hand, in a state of shock, and being told several times to put it down before she could manage to follow those instructions. Frank took her outside, but not before she heard one police officer call in on his radio that the guy was 72, meaning he was dead.
Who was he?
At first, Julie was told that the man she had shot was a teenager. Having a son about that age herself, this upset her a lot. “I thought, I’ve killed someone’s child!” she said.
But when the situation was more thoroughly investigated, it became clear that this was no teen, but rather a 38-year-old man named Judus Lewis Caudle, who had, as the Charlotte newspaper reported, “an extensive criminal history, with convictions ranging from breaking and entering to possession of stolen property.”
Caudle had never been a client of the Absolute Bail Bonding Company, nor had either Frank or Julie ever encountered him before. Apparently, he had recently been released from prison, and may have been spending the holidays at a Salvation Army men’s shelter that is near Absolute’s office. That would explain why he had no vehicle to haul his intended loot away in, but instead was piling office equipment into bags when Julie surprised him.
The office was in shambles. He had pulled all of the office equipment out, and had loaded most of it into bags. It was obvious that he had been there working for a while.
The police found a crowbar, apparently the one he used to break into the building, near his outstretched hand on the floor. Though Julie has no memory of seeing the crowbar, it was undoubtedly in his hand when he jumped up from behind the water fountain, and it was very likely part of what made her realize that she was in mortal danger.
Caudle had to have heard the approach of the truck, and seen the headlights. There was no rear door, but he could have bolted through the main door if he had chosen to escape. “Now that I think about it,” Julie says, “he had plenty enough time to run if he intended to leave, because I sat there for a good long time before I got out of the truck.” Instead, he chose to crouch behind the water fountain, crowbar in hand, waiting for whoever was going to be coming down that hallway. Julie is sure, in retrospect, that he must have been aware that someone was approaching the whole time from when she entered the parking lot to when she started down the hall.
I asked Julie what he looked like. “I have no idea,” came the soft response, “That’s a saving grace. I never saw his face”. But she knew his size. “At the time, I though he was 7′ tall!”
As those of you know who study defensive firearms use, the police often arrest someone who has killed in self-defense, charging them with murder or manslaughter until a thorough investigation of the situation can be made. Fortunately for Julie, that did not happen to her.
The police on the scene took in the huge man, the ransacked office, the mangled door, and the crowbar, and concluded that Julie had acted in self-defense. The district attorney quickly made the decision not to file any charges against her.
Julie speaks slowly and carefully, with the soft sound of the south in her voice, but there is strength in that voice, too. “It took me a while to deal with it,” she said, her soft voice breaking for the first time during our interview. Counseling from a sympathetic pastor helped her acknowledge that Caudle made his own choices that were responsible for his death. “Looking back, I know there was nothing else I could do. You think of a million and one things … maybe I’d done this, or done that … but at that point, it was either me or him.”
Judus Lewis Caudle’s new year did not turn out as he anticipated. In fact, it lasted only a few hours; he was dead before the sun rose on New Year’s Day, because he was prepared to attack a fellow human being with a crowbar rather than to abandon his crime in progress and simply run away.
Julie’s New Year’s Day was not what she anticipated, either, but she will now be able to spend quite a number of years of the new millenium with her husband, knowing her daughters as adults, finishing raising her son, and being grandmother (and self-defense role model) to her nine grandchildren.
She is very definite. “After thinking about it over and over and over again, I don’t think there is anything else I could have done. I’m very glad I lived through that.”
Frank also helped her understand that she had done the right thing, and that all 14 people in her family needed her and depended on her to stay alive.
Those of us who carry for defense need to learn from those who have been there and done that. Julie’s experience has some important points for us all.
1. Be equipped. Even if you are with someone who is armed and trained, the two of you might unexpectedly become separated, as Julie and Frank did. Fortunately, in this case, the person who ended up with the gun was the person who needed to have it, but you can’t count on that always being the case.
Being equipped extends not just to guns, but to other emergency equipment, such as cellphones.
2. Be prepared. Regardless of how you are equipped, you must be mentally prepared to be thrown into a sudden, dangerous situation. Julie was, and this enabled her to react instantly.
3. Shot placement is more important than caliber. Many people consider a .32 caliber the minimum for an effective defense gun. A one shot stop with such a gun is quite unusual, but Julie’s center-of-mass hit was perfect.
4. If you are going to do something dangerous, do it in the safest possible way. Going into the building instead of going away to find a phone and report the break-in was a dangerous thing to do. Julie acknowledges this. “I know, because I’ve taught crime prevention. The theory is, you are supposed to go somewhere else and call the police.”
But it is extremely hard to follow that advice when it is your stuff that is gone, and Julie experienced that, unconsciously convincing herself that the theft had occurred days before. So, although she made a dangerous choice, she carried it out in the safest possible way: slowly, gun in hand, senses alert. If, instead, she had rushed in, perhaps forgetting the gun in the truck, or running toward the office to see the damage, she would likely have died in that hallway.
I asked Julie what she would have done if she had had her cellphone with her. “I would have used my cellphone first, to call my husband” she says, and then adds, regretfully but very honestly, “but I probably would have gone in anyway.”
Perhaps you think you would have done that differently, but perhaps not. We all sometimes make choices based on reasons other than maximum safety. But remember, when you find yourself consciously deciding to do something that you know is dangerous, whether it is skydiving or race driving, or going into a crime scene alone, that is precisely the time when it is most important to take every possible precaution. That’s what Mas Ayoob of Lethal Force Institute calls doing something dangerous in the safest possible way.
5. Be trained. Julie’s police training undoubtedly contributed to her ability to stay alive that night, but it had been many years since she carried a badge. She maintained her skills by shooting regularly at public ranges.
I asked Julie what she wanted people who read about her experience to learn from it.
“Tell your readers that if they own handguns, please, know how to use them. And don’t be afraid to use them. In a life-threatening situation, you only have a second to think, or to react.”
“I truly believe in weapons. I believe women need to learn how to operate guns. They need to know how to protect themselves, and not be afraid to protect themselves.”