Weddell criminal charges reinstated
A Carson City man who has waged a lengthy legal battle with authorities must face charges of assault with a deadly weapon after a 4-3 Nevada Supreme Court decision Wednesday.
Rolland Weddell, 52, had argued he acted legally when he fired shots at a man trying to flee Weddell’s attempt to make a citizen’s arrest.
Supreme Court justices, however, unanimously agreed with Carson City District Attorney Noel Waters that a private citizen cannot use deadly force in a citizen’s arrest.
The three justices in the minority said the rule was a new interpretation and should not be applied to Weddell’s case.
A three-member panel of the court voted earlier this year to reinstate the charges, but Weddell asked for and won reconsideration before the full court. On Wednesday, justices Deborah Agosti, Miriam Shearing, Myron Leavitt and Nancy Becker voted to reinstate the criminal charges, overturning a ruling by then-District Judge Mike Fondi to dismiss them.
“I’m really happy with their unanimous ruling that a private citizen’s use of deadly force is restricted to self-defense or defense of others in your presence,” said Waters. “To take a felon into custody by shooting him is a little extreme and I’m certainly glad the Supreme Court agreed on that principal.”
Barring another legal maneuver by Weddell, he will probably be notified to appear for arraignment in district court in the next 15 to 20 days, Waters said.
The October 1997 incident began when James Bustamonte reportedly tried to run over one of Weddell’s employees. Bustamonte was looking for Weddell’s daughter over an alleged drug transaction. Weddell found Bustamonte the next day and called Carson City sheriff’s deputies.
When they didn’t show up in 15 minutes, he tried to arrest Bustamonte. The man fled and Weddell shot at him four times, missing.
Weddell was arrested and charged with assault and discharging a firearm at a person.
Fondi had agreed with Weddell that he was permitted to shoot Bustamonte in the process of arresting him under Nevada’s old “fleeing felon” law.
In its ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court pointed out that Nevada lawmakers specifically repealed the “fleeing felon” statute in 1993 and, in the same act, limited the use of deadly force by police officers.
“The legislature could not have meant to repose what might easily amount to vigilante justice in the hands of private persons while restricting the use of force in making an arrest by those who are charged by law with duties of public safety and protection,” the opinion states.
The opinion points out that other states, including Georgia and New Mexico, have reached similar decisions.
“Weddell has no absolute common law or statutory right to use deadly force in making an arrest,” the opinion says. “Weddell’s use of deadly force to make an arrest was unreasonable, as a matter of law, unless he was threatened with serious bodily injury to himself or others.”
That issue, the opinion concludes, must be decided at his trial on the charges.
The other three justices, Bob Rose, Bill Maupin and Cliff Young, agreed that is what the rule should be. But they argued that the court’s interpretation was a new rule and therefore shouldn’t be applied to Weddell.