Utah homeowner who shot at burglar expected to take plea deal

A northern Utah man who drew support from other residents after he was arrested for shooting at a suspected burglar who was fleeing his property is expected to take a plea deal Tuesday in Layton.

Attorneys for Clare Niederhauser, 64, and prosecutors from the Layton city attorney's office have hammered out the parameters for a deal, Assistant City Attorney Steve Garside said. Barring an unexpected turn of events, the details will be made official during a court hearing at 3:30 p.m., Garside said.

Layton police arrested Niederhauser on suspicion of two counts of reckless endangerment Jan. 31, after they say he came home to find a car parked in his driveway and a man leaving his house with a crowbar.

Niederhauser detained the man at gunpoint and called 911, but the suspected burglar fled as police arrived. That's when Niederhauser fired one shot in the burglar's direction, police said. He had also fired once at the car as it backed out of the driveway.

No one was hurt, but police said the shots were unlawful because the burglar had dropped the crowbar and was fleeing the property. The shots could have endangered somebody's life, police said.

Niederhauser, a concealed weapons permit holder who used a .357 caliber handgun, told detectives that he aimed to shoot the tire of the car and later to scare the suspected burglar as he ran away.

Some Layton residents came to Niederhauser's defense, saying he was being unfairly punished for protecting his home. They launched a blog urging people to call police to complain, and contribute to a legal aid fund. At the top of the page, it said, "Support Clare Niederhauser. A good man did the right thing." Layton police received dozens of calls questioning the arrest.

Layton police caught and arrested the suspected burglar, 47-year-old Robert Santos Cruz, the night of the burglary behind Niederhauser's property in a hollow. He is charged with burglary and criminal mischief.

In a recording of the 911 call made that night by Niederhauser, which was obtained by The Standard-Examiner of Ogden, he tells a dispatcher that he has a man detained at gunpoint.

"Please send somebody immediately," Niederhauser says.

"Do not shoot him," the dispatcher says.

"You better hurry then," Niederhauser responds.

Niederhauser says in the call that he found his front door busted and a man with a crowbar in his hand.

"Listen to me, OK?" the dispatcher says. "Don't do anything that is going to get you in trouble. If you've got him detained, keep him detained. Do not fire your weapon."

Niederhauser says a female driver was in the car parked in the driveway when he arrived. She honked the horn, he says, and the man with the crowbar came running out of the house, where Niederhauser met him.

At one point, the dispatcher asks Niederhauser what kind of a gun he has.

"I've got a .357," he says.

"Is it loaded?" she asks.

"Yes it is," he says.

The recording goes silent as Layton police arrive at the house and Santos Cruz flees around the back of Niederhauser's property. This is when police say Niederhauser fired a shot in the direction of Santos Cruz.

Niederhauser's supporters say he acted calmly and rationally, and that his shots were warning shots that didn't put anyone in danger.

Layton is a city of roughly 68,500 people located about 20 miles north of Salt Lake City.