SALT LAKE CITY – 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 apologized during a court appearance Tuesday for taking matters into his own hands.
Clare Niederhauser, 64, made the comments after agreeing to a plea deal that included a reduced charge. He also agreed to pay a $700 fee, take a weapons class and forfeit the weapon he used, a .357 caliber handgun.
Niederhauser told the judge in the Layton city courtroom that he acted the way he thought he should but “should have known better.”
Layton police arrested Niederhauser Jan. 31 after he fired two rounds at a suspected burglar and getaway driver leaving his home. No one was hurt, but police said the shots were unlawful because the burglar had dropped a crowbar he was carrying and was fleeing the property. The shots could have endangered somebody’s life, police said.
Niederhauser’s attorney, Mitch Vilos, and Layton Assistant City Attorney Steve Garside deemed the plea deal fair for both sides.
Niederhauser pleaded guilty to discharge of weapon, a class B misdemeanor, and also will have to give up his concealed-weapons permit for a time.
In a statement read afterward by his attorney, Niederhauser acknowledged he shouldn’t have fired his weapon when he did.
“Despite all of the education and training I have received, I was not prepared for the effects of emotion and adrenaline, and how that interfered with my ability to act in accordance with my training,” the statement said. “I cannot be sure where the bullets I fired hit.”
He told other homeowners they have a right to protect themselves, but he cautioned them to fire their weapons only within the parameters of the law.
“Please know that you cannot shoot at a fleeing felon unless somebody’s life is in immediate danger,” the statement said. “Remember, we value life more than property.”
Although he apologized, Niederhauser had some words for other perspective burglars: “I hope my actions of that day send a clear message that career criminals are not welcome in our city.”
Niederhauser came home Jan. 31 to find a car parked in his driveway and a man leaving his house with a crowbar.
He 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 fired the other shot at the car as it backed out of the driveway.
Niederhauser told detectives that he aimed to shoot the car’s tire and later to scare the suspected burglar as he ran away.
Some Layton residents came to Niederhauser’s defense after his arrest, saying he was being unfairly punished for protecting his home. They launched a blog urging people to call police to complain, and to 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.
About a dozen friends and supporters went to the courthouse Tuesday to show support for Niederhauser. Teuvo and Deanne Jones, who live in Niederhauser’s neighborhood, say their friend should be lauded for making sure the burglars were caught. The area has seen a rash of burglaries in recent months, they said.
“I’m grateful that the criminal was caught because we are all much safer,” Deanne Jones said.