Join Date: May 2002
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Re: Suicide at Sea and captain charged
Quote: "Then Pontious, who stood 6 feet and weighed at least 250 pounds, grabbed Smith by the shoulders and started to shake him. He punched him twice and then started to choke him.
Smith needed help. Pepper tried to grab Pontious but Pontious tossed him aside and threatened, “You’ll get it next.”
But Smith had a small opening. He turned the boat suddenly starboard, which knocked Pontious off his feet."
It seems to me that, when a severely crazed and hallucinating 250 pound man punches and chokes the skipper, and two men can't control him, that constitutes a lethal threat, and the skipper had every right to use lethal force in defense of himself and his crew. But the skipper didn't use lethal force. Instead, he jerked the wheel, causing the man to lose his footing and fall overboard.
What can the skipper reasonably be expected to do next under all the circumstances? Pull this irrational, homicidal man back onto the boat, where he can again become a lethal threat to them all? The yacht had no brig. How do you reliably restrain him, so that he can't break himself loose, grab a knife from the galley or other weapon and attack again?
The news article discussed the essence of the alleged criminal offense: "The focus is on misconduct, negligence or inattention to duties,” he said. “At least as written, it’s not the same as beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Twain Braden, a maritime attorney in Portland, agreed the case “is unusual in that it involves an apparent suicide, yet the captain is being charged nonetheless for his apparent callousness or failure to act after the fact, even though the facts suggest the person had already been lost."
That begs the question: Would it have been negligent for the skipper to bring the out-of-control, hallucinating, homicidal man back on board the yacht, thus putting the lives of others at considerable risk?
I think the skipper was on the horns of a dilemma. He had to make a hard choice. There were no lawyers or judges available to help him make the right choice. He made a choice that ensured the safety of his crew, and, based on the limited facts in the article, I can't say it was the wrong choice. Was he more negligent to leave the man in the water, where he couldn't harm them, or would he have been more negligent to bring him back on board, where he could harm them?