Published February 21, 2012
A New Hampshire man who fired his handgun into the ground to scare an alleged burglar he caught crawling out of a neighbor's window is now facing a felony charge -- and the same potential prison sentence as the man he stopped.
Dennis Fleming, 61, of Farmington, was arrested for reckless conduct after the Saturday incident at his 19th century farmhouse. The single grandfather had returned home to find that his home had been burglarized and spotted Joseph Hebert, 27, climbing out of a window at a neighbor's home. Fleming said he yelled "Freeze!" before firing his gun into the ground, then held Hebert at gunpoint until police arrived.
"I didn't think I could handle this guy physically, so I fired into the ground," Fleming told FoxNews.com. "He stopped. He knew I was serious. I was angry … and I was worried that this guy was going to come after me."
No one was injured in the incident, but when the police arrived, they made two arrests. Hebert was charged with two counts of burglary and drug possession. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted. Fleming, meanwhile, is scheduled to be arraigned March 20 on a charge of reckless conduct, which could potentially land him a sentence similar to the one Hebert faces.
"I didn't know it was illegal [to fire into the ground], but I had to make that guy realize I was serious," Fleming said. "I've got a clean record. I really don't want to be convicted."
County Attorney Tom Velardi told Foster's Daily Democrat he will review the case and determine if the charge against Fleming is appropriate under the state statutes regarding self-defense and defense of property.
Fleming, meanwhile, is hoping to catch a break.
"I have 14 grandchildren, I don't want to be a felon and go to jail," he said. "I'm kind of wound up about it."
Fleming's collection of seven rifles and a .38-caliber handgun were seized by police. But Fleming said he's not entirely defenseless: "I've got a Louisville Slugger here, but I would call the police," he said.
Calls seeking comment from Farmington Police Department Chief Scott Roberge were not immediately returned.
Penny Dean, a spokeswoman for the Gun Owners of New Hampshire, said her organization is "absolutely outraged" by Fleming's arrest.
"This homeowner fired at the ground, from all accounts, in a safe direction and held a burglar for police and did things correctly," Dean told FoxNews.com. "The fact that this man would be charged is an outrage. Burglars in New Hampshire must know it's open season, since homeowners cannot defend themselves, as evidenced by this case. This is charging the victim."
Rick Pelkey, Fleming's longtime neighbor, said he's now worried how the "straight-forward, working-class guy" will pay legal fees associated with the arrest.
"I think it's outrageous," Pelkey told FoxNews.com. "He did the community a service here. We ought to thank him for it."