Split-second decision: Man is beating up woman. What do you do?



Recently retired Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Duxbury was back in Anchorage at the end of September for a few days of family time, when he faced a split-second decision about whether to intervene in a situation where a man was beating up a woman inside a car.

The scene occurred on the south side of the Dimond Mall parking lot, when Duxbury, who was driving from the mall after buying a doll for his granddaughter, observed bizarre commotion in the car ahead.

A man had the woman passenger’s head and was slamming it into the console. His hands were off the steering wheel as he used both of them to exert brute force. Her arms were fighting back, but she was clearly outmatched and getting pounded.

Another car scooted by and went on its way. Maybe the occupants saw the fight and decided it was too much for them, Duxbury wondered.

Duxbury had to decide: Does he get out of the safety of his car and approach the car in front of him, now stopped at a stop sign, or does he just call the police.

“The guy was uncontrollably wild,” Duxbury said, describing gestures that reminded the retired officer of behavior he’s seen in those under the influence of methamphetamines.

Duxbury’s instincts took over. Handing his phone to his wife and asking her to call 911, Duxbury opened the car door where the altercations was in full boil, and told the man to get out. The man was flailing and for a moment, reached toward the console. Was the man reaching for a weapon? Decisions were being made by both of them in the split second.

The assailant continued to flail and yell uncontrollably, and then Duxbury noticed something in the back seat:

It was a four-month-old baby.

It was 20 minutes before police arrived, and Duxbury was able to keep the man, woman, and baby at the location until officers were on the scene. The man had scratches and the woman had a bruise in what looked like it would become a shiner.

Duxbury was aware that as of September, he is a civilian for the first time in 30 years after being a State Trooper nearly his entire career. Now that he’s not a police officer in Alaska, he’s like everyone else having to make a quick decision about whether to intervene in a violent crime.

Since last week, he’s reflected on the advice he’s been giving communities for his entire career in law enforcement: Police are the people and the people are the police. It takes everyone. We’re all in this together.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Duxbury told Must Read Alaska that it’s as good a time as any for people to stand up and intervene in domestic violence, if they can safely do so. Violence such as what he and his wife witnessed is not a one-time occurrence, and sometimes escalates to murder.

But what he also realized is that it’s easier said than done. Without his first-line protection of a uniform, a car with lights, and a badge, Duxbury knew the assailant was seeing him as just another person, not someone who could throw him in jail. It was an entirely different circumstance.

In the end, Duxbury and his wife had to leave right after police arrived, so they didn’t see the outcome of the investigation.

But one thing Duxbury did take notice of: Before he left, the woman was visibly mad at him for having gotten involved. She said the incident was nothing, and the abusing male said that no one was hurt.

That’s what makes it so hard for citizens to get involved, Duxbury noted. If the police don’t fully support citizen intervention in crimes, then citizens just won’t risk their safety or reputation, only to be told they’d overstepped or misinterpreted something.

It’s a conundrum that has bothered him, even now that he’s returned to Washington, D.C., where he’s taken a new position: How do you encourage the public to take a stand against domestic violence, when so many things can go so wrong for them?

It is a question he doesn’t have the answer for, other than to say that getting involved isn’t vigilantism — it’s citizenship. You intervene because there will never be enough police officers to stop every crime from being committed.

What would you advise Alaskans do if they’re seeing domestic violence and police aren’t coming? Add your comment below.


  1. Coming up on such a situation, you don’t know what’s really going on. I figure chances are high that this guy is an abuser. However, once the presence of the child was known, my mind questioned whether this woman had tried to steal or hurt the child and the man was reacting. At least Citizen Duxbury had a bit more benefit of context as he was seeing, hearing and smelling it all — we’re just reading about it.

    Personally, I carry everywhere now, so I probably would have had my gun on the guy and tried to hold him there that way until police arrived. It would not have been the first time I’ve had to do such a thing.

    • Good on Michael Duxbury. He knew what had to be done and he handled himself within the parameters of the law:……IN DEFENSE OF OTHERS.

  2. That’s a no-brainer. You have to stop the man from beating up on the woman since he is obviously the stronger of the two. She may have started it but the use of too much force isn’t warranted. And had he been reaching for a weapon then deadly force would have been authorized by law. When he goes to court, the women will probably say she doesn’t want to file charges and the guy will get off to beat again another day.

  3. Thank you “Citizen” Duxbury. Your service above self does not go unnoticed. We are sorry you are no longer part of our Public Safety Commission. Perhaps you’ll be back. I’m pretty sure you are missed!

  4. Don’t we as citizens have a moral obligation to defend a person in a threatening situation? It is not our responsibility to determine guilt or offer peace making, but something as simple as 911 must be done. Consider this; according to FBI statistics more people are killed in our country with fists and feet than with long guns of all types. So, there is no such thing as a simple beating even though Hollywood would have us think otherwise.

  5. This guy was home to kick her @ss by suppertime. That is the sick and disgusting truth of it all. And the baby? If it doesn’t get killed along the way, will end up in foster care, or grow up in a household where this is normal, and will also either become an abuser or be abused.

  6. I believe there are court decisions saying the police are not obligated to protect us. So how do we have any obligation to protect others? Tough decision to make as a civilian.

    • Im glad Mr. Duxbury didn’t have your frame of mind, at least as I understand it from your comment here. We have obligations to one another as citizens in society. I believe we call it The Golden Rule.

      My apologies in advance if I’ve misunderstood you.

  7. A thanks to Officer Duxbury, retired, for not only stepping out, but expressing how difficult such a decision is. Few know the law of self defense and how it applies to defense of others. Fewer still have the experience in how fast the “victim” will turn against either a police officer or citizen responding to domestic violence. And you become the accused.

    An excellent resource to understand the 4 principles of self defense is Attorney Andrew Branca’s website: lawofselfdefense.com. Or his plain English book on the subject: The Law of Self Defense.

    Before you carry a gun for self defense, know the law. It is not what you see on TV. Not what you read in the media (exception: MRAK). Not what a bunch of us gunnies say at the range!
    Thanks again officer Duxbury, retired.

    • I cannot second this enough.

      Anyone who carries, or even wants to know how the law applies, should at least read his book, if not take the online class. What a lot of people think they know based on the permit class is not enough for keeping out of jail.

    • More then a few of us know the law and how it applies to the defense of others. If you are carrying and someone is using what you suspect is deadly force against another you have the legal right to step in and stop this. Most laws use the language of in defense of yourself or others. Now you better have a sound reason for using deadly force just like a cop does or they will wring you out in court bankrupt you all for being a good citizen.

  8. Every citizen is suppose to be Member of the “Citizen’s Militia” in a “Constitutional Republic” and anyone has the Lawful Power to make a “Citizen’s Arrest” in such a case. If you will read History, there was first a Lawfully Elected County Sheriff who could call out any and all armed citizens to help capture anyone breaking the Law, called a Posse. If a single citizen observed any violence he could Lawfully step in and correct the problem because everyone has the Lawful Power and Duty to Defend and Protect his neighbor or friend. Everyone is equal in these circumstances. Police are hired “Employees” that fill out an “I-9 Form” but a County Sheriff is Elected by “We The People” as an “Officer” who takes a prescribed “Oath” and Posts an “Official Bond” to support and Defend his “Oath of Office.” An Elected County Sheriff is the Supreme Law in a County.
    Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

  9. Domestic violence is ugly. Children raised in a violent home fully understand how this act robs them of joy and security. I would have yanked the guy out of his car. It is a no win situation but as Bill Clinton said ” Do it for the children”.

    • Not sure I’d be quoting that idiot on anything. Think of what he did to his kid and wife by sexually abusing so many women and the shame Chelsea had to endure. It’s what probably turned Hillary into a royal —–. Made her unelectable.

  10. An extremely long time ago, I was a Squadron Commander in the Air Force. One night I was called to go to the scene of a domestic violence incident in the apartment of one of my Squadron members. I arrived and went inside alone. I was later advised by both my First Sergeant, and the Security Police that you should never go alone into the scene of domestic violence as it was extremely dangerous and could turn on you in a heartbeat. Mr. Duxbury took a great chance. The police arrived how much later? In my case, the SP’s were there in less than two minutes but that is all it takes for things to go terribly wrong.

  11. Thank you Mr. Duxbury. Good decision, but you are a trained former state trooper and know what to look for and how to react. Other people are not trained and could get themselves involved in a bad situation.
    Case in point: From the headlines of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Last Saturday, September 28th, in Eagle, Alaska, an man came to the defense of a woman and was killed by the man attacking the woman he saved from an assault.

  12. Mr. Duxbury had one advantage most of us do not. He was a trained police officer. He probably had training in how to deal with domestic violence, which I am told, is one of the most volatile and dangerous situations a police office is called upon to handle.

    Were I to come upon this same situation, I have no idea how I would respond. But that doesn’t mean I am in favor of domestic violence.

    It’s complicated. And if someone drives by without stopping, you might want to consider what their situation is.

  13. My apologies for the previous post. I see my points were made more effectively by others.

    One more reason not to listen to us liberals.

  14. I passed my 80th birthday a couple of years ago, but I was raised from childhood to always protect the woman in a case like this. Knowing I would probably get savaged by a younger, stronger man for my intrusion, I am never without a pocket pistol. I’ve only been in a position where I had to show it once, and the young man let the woman go and ran off. I never want to have to pull the trigger, but if I feel I’m in a situation where I’m protecting my life or someone else’s, I certainly will.

  15. That’s why domestic violence is a silent killer it happens every second and when do we get involved that’s the question ? This day in age America is scared we don’t know what could happen but all it takes is one call because eventually the police, Ocs whoever are goin to get tired of them calls and their goin to look into Just think that could be any of us , that could your daughter, Son, granddaughter domestic violence don’t have a name nor a color or age it comes in many forms so us as american’s as a person just think if that was you, I would want some one to call .People are not aware of something if they don’t know and the more they become aware the more it does not go left unsilenced. How ever Once America started allowing certain things to be okay that’s when we lost the value of life. Teach one each one You don’t have to get involved, but you could call you never know that call could save some one life from being a victim of domestic violence.

  16. Just shoot the SOB.

    Legal in the defense of yourself and others from death and serious physical harm.

    This POS is using oxygen we could be breathing.

  17. Proportionality & Self Defense in a Split Second Decision
    The MRAK question was: What would you do?

    Let me take a moment and ask first: What should you know?

    Background: Digesting the script as presented, we have a perpetrator physically assaulting a woman in a car. There is a child in the back seat. There is no gun, knife, or other “dangerous instrument” described in the scenario. As described, this is an assault involving “non-deadly force.”

    To my non-attorney eye, it would appear that we find this under
    Sec. 11.41.230. Assault in the fourth degree.
    (a) A person commits the crime of assault in the fourth degree if
    (1) that person recklessly causes physical injury to another person; . . . .
    (b) Assault in the fourth degree is a class A misdemeanor.

    Before we decide what to do, we need to know that, in Alaska:
    Sec. 11.81.330. Justification: Use of nondeadly force in defense of self.
    (a) A person is justified in using nondeadly force upon another when and to the extent the person reasonably believes it is necessary for self-defense against what the person reasonably believes to be the use of unlawful force by the other person, unless
    (2) the person claiming self-defense provoked the other’s conduct with intent to cause physical injury to the other;
    (3) the person claiming self-defense was the initial aggressor; or
    (4) the force used was the result of using a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument the person claiming self-defense possessed . . . .

    So it might appear that you would be able to use a self defense, argument if you stepped out of your car and raised your fist at the perpetrator, threatening him with non-deadly force.

    What about defense of a third person? Can you use non-deadly force in defense of another person, in this case the woman being beaten? To answer this we can read:

    Sec. 11.81.340. Justification: Use of force in defense of a third person.
    A person is justified in using force upon another when and to the extent the person reasonably believes it is necessary to defend a third person when, under the circumstances as the person claiming defense of another reasonably believes them to be, the third person would be justified under AS 11.81.330 (nondeadly force) or 11.81.335 (deadly force) in using that degree of force for self-defense.

    If it is justified to defend yourself from harm from nondeadly force, you are justified in using nondeadly force to defend a third person. Frankly, threatening physical force against a PCP or Meth infused thug would surely be a stupid thing to do. Possibly legal, but stupid.

    As asked, MRAK’s excellent question carries with it a presumption that you are not stupid, you are not bringing fists to a drug infused fight. I believe we are being asked if we might respond with a firearm?

    This narrows the question to: are we justified in using deadly force in a situation where only nondeadly force is presented. Would we be responding with the appropriate or proportional “degree of force?”

    We need to know that, in Alaska:
    Sec. 11.81.335. Justification: Use of deadly force in defense of self.
    (a) Except as provided in (b) of this section, a person who is justified in using nondeadly force in self-defense under AS 11.81.330 may use deadly force in self-defense upon another person when and to the extent the person reasonably believes the use of deadly force is necessary for self-defense against
    (1) death;
    (2) serious physical injury . . . .

    IMO, you can only respond to a threat of nondeadly force with nondeadly force. You are only justified in Alaska Statutes to present deadly force in a situation where deadly force is being presented, in order to claim self defense, or defense of a third person. This is important because if you present a firearm, you are, by definition, escalating the situation from nondeadly force by your use of deadly force.

    To further explain, consider the opposite of self defense = assault:
    Sec. 11.41.220. Assault in the third degree.
    (a) A person commits the crime of assault in the third degree if that person
    (1) recklessly
    (A) places another person in fear of imminent serious physical injury by means of a dangerous instrument;
    (e) Assault in the third degree is a class C felony

    Note that nondeadly use of force in committing an assault is a Class A misdemeanor. This should give you a sense of the proportionality should you introduce a firearm, a “dangerous instrument,” because you have now entered felony territory. Felons, of course, cannot own or possess a firearm.

    If you respond with a firearm, you really need to know and understand the difference between the legal doctrine surrounding self defense and how to distinguish it from felonious assault with a deadly weapon.

    You need to know the difference to a degree that you not only make the right split second decision, but that you can also pass the oral exam with the responding officer and the State’s prosecutor. Both the officer and the prosecutor will be asking if you about the scene in such a manner that you will be given the full opportunity to convict yourself for committing third degree assault. It’s their job and they are pretty good at it.

    Ah, but wait, there’s more! The example presented by MRAK is a really serious thought exercise because it introduces the element of Domestic Violence (AKA Battered Wife Syndrome). What does this mean?

    If you presented firearm, it means that once the police arrives you are almost guaranteed to have at a minimum two witnesses, both the perpetrator and the victim, who will now testify to the arresting officer and to the prosecutor, that you threatened them with a gun. And you threatened their child with your gun. Two, possibly three against one.

    Responding to nondeadly or deadly force threats is not an everyday occurrence. It is frightening, confusing, and you may not be thinking straight. The confusion will give you an opportunity to tell the responding officer just what he/she needs to write down and convict you to a long prison term. So yes, after dialing 911, call your attorney. Which I think brings us to the real question for this story

    How good is your attorney?

    Go ahead, make his/her day. Ask your attorney: Can you legally threaten use of deadly force for a non-deadly force situation?

  18. Obviously no you can’t. that’s not worth what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about deadly force to stop deadly force. It’s up to a jury to define exactly what deadly force is. slamming her head against the dashboard using two hands repeatedly could be viewed as deadly force. And it’s not just deadly force it’s deadly force or potential serious injuries. No jury in the world is going to convict when a Good Samaritan steps in to save a weaker person being pummeled by an aggressor

  19. Been there – done that. Dude took a swing at me and I decked him. Was arrested when the girl he was beating on blamed me. Spent the night in jail before the true story came out.

  20. Appreciate your comments Bruce, and good points.

    As an aside, did you work on campus at UAF? If so, we know sack other. (grin)

Comments are closed.