SALT LAKE CITY – Residents in a northern Utah city are coming to the defense of a man who was arrested and faces charges for shooting at burglars as they drove away from his property.
Layton police arrested Clare Niederhauser, 64, last week after he fired one shot at a car and another at a fleeing burglar, said Layton Police Lt. Shawn Horton. He was arrested on suspicion of two counts of reckless endangerment.
The shots were unlawful because the burglar had dropped a crowbar and was fleeing the property, said Horton, who added that the shots could have endangered somebody's life.
"There is a responsibility of owning a gun: you need to know when you can lawfully use your weapon," Horton said. "You're not authorized to shoot a firearm at a car just because you don't want it to get away, or to scare them, or disable a tire."
Layton police said they also have arrested the man suspected of burglarizing the house, Robert Santos Cruz, 47. Investigators are searching for a woman who drove the car that was leaving the driveway when Niederhauser shot at it.
Niederhauser, a concealed weapons permit holder who used a .357 caliber handgun, didn't immediately return phone messages from The Associated Press. He told detectives that he aimed to shoot the tire of a car leaving the driveway and later to scare Santos Cruz as he ran away. Niederhauser came home to find a car in his driveway and Santos Cruz leaving his house holding a crowbar, Horton said.
Niederhauser's supporters said he is being unfairly punished for protecting his home. They said the arrest sets a precedence that homeowners can't protect themselves and have launched a blog urging people to call police to complain and contribute to a legal aid fund.
The blog supporting Niederhauser says at the top, "Support Clare Niederhauser. A good man did the right thing."
"He tried to act in a way that is responsible and compassionate and keep his head about him," said Loran Hubbard, 53, of Layton. "We have the right to defend ourselves when we are confronted with a lethal weapon. If a big crowbar isn't a lethal weapon, I haven't seen one."
There had been two other burglaries in the neighborhood in the past three months that had Niederhauser on high alert, said neighbor Teuvo Jones. The shot he fired at Santos Cruz was a warning shot near a hollow, Jones said.
"You would have to have all the laws of physics changed to make that a danger to anyone," said Jones, basing his assessment on Niederhauser's account. "It was far from reckless."
The Layton City Attorney's office is working with Niederhauser's attorney to reach a plea deal, said assistant city attorney Steve Garside. The agreement will likely be made official on Tuesday when Niederhauser makes his first court appearance.
Niederhauser's attorney, Mitch Vilos, confirmed that a plea agreement is in the works but declined to discuss specifics. He said he and Niederhauser will speak to the media after the Tuesday afternoon court appearance.
Layton is a city with about 68,500 people located about 20 miles north of Salt Lake City.
Clark Aposhian, a firearms instructor and chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, has been following the case closely and believes the arrest was appropriate.
"I can understand the guy getting caught up in the moment, but he's got some explaining to do," said Aposhian. "It's not that he was shooting at the person necessarily, but the reckless endangerment is because he fired his gun when the rounds could have gun anywhere."