MINOT, N.D. — On the evening of Friday, May 8, a 23-year-old man named William Scott Dittmer Jr., a resident of Casselton in rural Cass County, was arrested for fatally shooting a 50-year-old neighbor.
The news media did their jobs and reported on the arrest. Mr. Dittmer's mugshot was published and widely circulated in the region. The usual social media folderol ensued. Allegedly rational and thinking adults posted, among other inanities, demands for corporal punishment and summary execution.
Four days later, on May 12, law enforcement authorities announced that not only would Dittmer not be beaten or killed without a trial (never a real possibility, obviously) he won't be facing any criminal charges at all.
It turns out the shooting occurred after Dittmer had been physically assaulted to the point where he could reasonably fear for his life. He then used his legally-owned handgun, for which he had a concealed carry permit, to defend himself.
Not only did Dittmer commit no crime, he is a victim of a crime.
Law enforcement authorities concluded that Duane Turchin, the neighbor, was acting in a manner that would have resulted in assault charges.
We should not condone vigilantism, but a person attacked in the driveway of their home (or anywhere else, for that matter) has a right to defend themselves.
What I wonder is, what happens to Mr. Dittmer now?
For the rest of us, this is a story that will soon be forgotten. Other stories about politics and crime will soon occupy our attention, and most of us will live out the rest of our lives never giving another thought to William Scott Dittmer, Jr.
Dittmer, though, will have to live with a mugshot of himself wearing prison garb (and, as a sign of the times, a facemask around his neck) available to anyone with internet access.
Any future relationship, be it personal or professional, now runs the risk of being derailed by a web search for his name turning up the mugshot and the news stories and the social media commentary, so much of it hateful and prejudicial.
Even the relief he gets from the State of North Dakota declining to pursue criminal charges is of dubious value to his reputation.
“Having looked at the evidence we have available, we had concluded that we would not be in a position to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt,” is how Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick put it.
Note that Mr. Burdick is not saying that Dittmer is innocent.
He's saying the authorities feel they can't prove his guilt.
But Dittmer is innocent. Not just because he exercised his right to defended himself against an aggressor who assaulted him and choked him in his driveway, pinning him against his own vehicle and leaving him nowhere to flee.
Dittmer is innocent because that's the presumption he's entitled to.
One many, in the immediate aftermath of that terrible altercation in his driveway, weren't willing to give him.
Folks, we can do better.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.