Lima jury finds gunman acted in self-defense

The following article was originally published by The Lima News. Republished with permission.

by Greg Sowinski

LIMA — A jury acquitted Dontez Parks, who has a concealed handgun license, on Wednesday [May 30] finding he acted in self-defense when he shot another man who he believed he was trying to enter his van to harm him and his two children.

"I feel good today about the decision," Parks said after the verdict and before he walked out of the courtroom.

Parks attorney, Rebecca West-Estell, said this was a victory for Parks, which she credited to his understanding of the law and to the fact he followed the law when he acted in self-defense. She said it does not change any standards for shooting in self-defense.

"For anyone who has a concealed-carry permit, they have to follow the law like Mr. Parks followed the law. People who take these courses understand what their responsibilities are and they need to live up to their responsibilities," she said.

The 35-year-old Parks said he had no doubt about his self-defense claim on the charge of felonious assault in the Jan. 4 shooting of Edward Henry at a gas station. He said he had a thorough understanding of the law and what he could or could not do from the mandatory class he took to obtain his concealed handgun license.

"When you take the class they give you different scenarios and different situations and each one is not the same. When your life is threatened you feel it, he said.

In this case, Parks had an ongoing problem with Henry, who was the boyfriend of his former girlfriend, a woman with whom Parks had a child. Testimony revealed the 25-year-old Henry was quick to join discussions between Parks and his ex-girlfriend. Henry, who is a much bigger man with a muscular build, had threatened him in the past, Parks testified.

Parks' victory celebration may not be long lasting, however. He still has another felonious assault charge to defend from a situation a couple of years ago. He and his attorney said he was not even involved in that shooting and police officials have the wrong person. West-Estell said prosecutors filed the charge two years later after this case came about and tried to use it as plea negotiation tool.

She said Parks has multiple witnesses ready to testify he was no where close to a party authorities said he was at when another person was shot. She said she is hoping the prosecution reviews that case and drops the charge.

In his current case, West-Estell successfully argued Parks met every burden required for self-defense despite prosecutors saying he didn't meet any of the burdens. She argued Henry approached Parks' van that evening, which was pinned between cars in the drive-thru of a gas station. She said he had no way to retreat, which is required, if possible, under the self-defense law.

Parks testified Henry approached the van in a threatening way and tried to rip open the door on the passenger side. Parks said he warned Henry at least twice to get away from him. Still, Henry continued and during his testimony, Henry said backing off "was not an option" although he said his only intentions were to talk to Parks.

Henry then approached the driver's door, which Parks said Henry tried to open. At that point, Parks kicked open the door and fired a shot to stop the threat.

West-Estell said it was clear by the way Henry pounded on Parks' van and tried to pull open the doors before going to the driver's side to try to get in that he intended to cause serious physical harm or even death to Parks or his two young children.

"What was Mr. Parks supposed to do, wait until Mr. Henry got in the car? Wait until Mr. Henry pulled a gun?" West-Estell asked jurors.

West-Estell said her client had every reason to believe his life or the life of his children were at risk. Henry had just gotten out of prison for illegally having a gun, he was a much bigger man, he had threatened Parks in the past, and Parks had two children under the age of 6 in the van, she said.

Additionally, she said Parks had sought help from the police and the Prosecutor's Office at Lima Municipal Court several months earlier. He told officials at those offices he feared Henry would try to harm him, and he feared for his safety and the safety of his daughter when they were around Henry. Parks also had an agreement through a court mediation program, which he and Henry agreed to stay away from each other.

"How many times do you have to be threatened to be in fear?" she asked playing off a point a prosecutor made earlier that he only approached the agencies once. "He had no choice."

During her closing arguments, Assistant Allen County Prosecutor Chris Steffan said Parks must have had a reasonable belief that he or a family member was about to be killed or subject to great physical harm in order to act in self-defense.

"Words alone do not justify the use of deadly force," Steffan said.

West-Estell urged jurors to put themselves in Parks' shoes and decide what they would do in the same situation.

"This is a father protecting his children," West-Estell said. "You put yourself in Mr. Parks' shoes and you decide whether his actions were appropriate."

West-Estell said a reasonable person would do whatever it took to protect his children.

"What would you do if you felt your children were threatened? If you felt you and your children were in danger, what would you do? You would do whatever it took to protect your children," she said.

Earlier in the trial, Judge Jeffrey Reed ruled Parks could not assert Ohio's Castle Doctrine as part of a self-defense claim.* He found Henry was unable to get into the van when he tried the door and Parks opened the door to shoot Henry. The Castle Doctrine says a person acting in self-defense does not have a duty to retreat in his home and car.

West-Estell said the Castle Doctrine didn't matter because the self-defense claim was so strong.

*In response to the statement regarding Castle Doctrine by Judge Reed, Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Chair Ken Hanson observed "Castle doctrine is a question of fact, not a question of law. The judge cannot make this ruling. Only the jury can make a finding on a question of fact."

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