It is unclear whether a man involved in a car chase that ended in a fatal car crash early Sunday morning might find himself facing charges along with the four men police say invaded his home.
Indiana law exempts people from prosecution in some circumstances when they use force to protect themselves, others or their property, but it is not a blanket law.
"You can't write a statute for every scenario. The law tries to define it by qualifying it," said Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.
The Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office is still investigating the incident which began as a home invasion at 5120 Big Cynthiana Road. It ended when homeowner Ira Beumer, 40, chased the fleeing suspects in his truck.
Beumer's truck struck the car containing the four suspects, killing one and seriously injuring another.
The details of the accident are unclear and still under investigation.
"We are looking into all aspects of what happened that night," said Carly Settles, a spokeswoman for the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office. Prosecutor Nicholas Hermann declined to discuss it while the investigation was continuing.
Two men, including the driver of the car, Dezmont A. Hogan, 23, were apprehended by deputies shortly after the crash. He and Nalakeio L. Bennett, were arrested on preliminary charges that included armed robbery with a firearm, aggravated battery with a firearm, burglary with injury, intimidation with a weapon, criminal confinement and reckless homicide.
Antuan Jenkins, 22, died in the crash and Jeton Hall, 22, remains hospitalized.
According to the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office, Jenkins, Hall, Hogan and Bennett were wearing ski masks when they confronted Beumer outside his home about 2:30 a.m. Sunday.
Beumer told investigators the group forced him to disarm the home's alarm system and took him from room to room looking for what one kept calling "the big safe."
According to the affidavit, the suspects discovered a lockbox containing an undisclosed amount of money. Once they found a safe in one of the bedrooms, the men forced Beumer to open it. They took money, a handgun and several shotguns, according to the affidavit. They also reportedly took an iPad from another part of the home.
At one point, one of the men took Beumer into a bathroom and pointed a gun at his head, according to the report.
Beumer's wife came home during the robbery but, according to the affidavit, noticed suspicious activity at the house and parked on a nearby access road.
After the men fled the home, Beumer went outside, found his wife and told her to call 911 as he left to chase them in his truck.
Beumer told investigators that he was to trying to block the car from leaving the area, and that he crashed into the car after Hogan momentarily swerved off Big Cynthiana Road. Beumer told authorities he could not stop and hit the car when it returned to the roadway, according to the Hogan's arrest affidavit.
Vanderburgh County Sheriff Eric Williams said Beumer's truck rear-ended the car.
Williams said investigators are treating the crash as a separate but related incident and a "full blown reconstruction" of it is being done.
"Well what I can tell you is that it is a vehicular crash, where a life was lost, and there's another individual who's in serious, critical condition," he said. "We will treat that as a separate incident and prepare a file for the prosecutor. Which is what we do in every crash where a death occurs. And it's up to the prosecutor whether a crime occurred or not."
The "castle doctrine" incorporated into many states' laws, including Indiana, says the home is a place where in some circumstances a person is justified in using force, including deadly force, to defend himself or property without fear of being prosecuted.
However, legal experts say the use of force has to be reasonable and the right to use it ends when the threat ends.
"Once that threat passes, you don't have the right to become the aggressor, the avenger, to form a vigilante posse to pursue justice," Landis said. "He could tail him, I suppose, but if he engages in a high speed pursuit, is that reasonable or is that crossing the line? It's got to be reasonable. Some of it really is just common sense. When do you cross the line from defending yourself, home and family? When you start to chase, you aren't defending your home anymore."
According to Indiana law, someone is not justified in using force if the person who committed the crime is fleeing or is giving up.
"Once they have gone into full retreat, I would think the that law would not necessarily protect him," said Conor O'Daniel, a criminal defense attorney in Evansville.
But Williams said Beumer told investigators that he believed the men had taken his daughter. The Courier & Press has been unable to reach Beumer for comment.
"Obviously, that makes it different," Landis said. "He is entitled to use reasonable force to protect her."
Whether becoming a pursuer in a car chase is reasonable is the kind of issue that would be up to a jury to determine in such a case if it resulted in charges, Landis said.
"Every one of these cases is so self-specific. You can use force in self-defense or defense of another. Clearly he could come to the defense of her if he reasonably believed she was in danger," O'Daniel said. "Nobody wants to see somebody die, but the fact that they were held at gunpoint, that is where prosecutorial discretion comes in. You have to take the pulse of the community."