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Defend Thyself Personal Defense

Fatal Punch in Bar Fight: Self-Defense or Manslaughter?

by George Wehby   |  September 16th, 2011 53

We’ve all heard of these types of incidents happening through the years. Two guys exchange words, it ends up getting physical, and one guy throws a punch and knocks the other out.  He falls, hits his head and dies. That’s just what happened between Standford Griswold and Brian Euston last year outside a Wesport, Mo., bar.

Griswold was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in Euston’s death, and the case went to court last month.

Yesterday, Griswold was found not guilty on all counts. The investigation and trial focused on the self-defense question. Did Griswold respond appropriately with the punch? Griswold’s attorney argued that her client threw the punch in self-defense and never thought he would kill Euston. That argument held up in court.

While many states view things differently based on their laws, it was ruled that Griswold did not commit involuntary manslaughter in this case. So, how do you prevent this from happening to you? Bottom line: It is vital to know your self-defense laws.

While in law enforcement, I received extensive training on the appropriate use of force in all situations; from the classroom to live action role play to real life tactics on the street. Most people that are not in law enforcement or the security field only have what they heard from their buddies, what they saw in an action flick or their own beliefs of right and wrong. This is unacceptable and most definitely dangerous.  If you value your freedom and your right to self protection, you must be up to speed on the law.  Even though Griswold was acquitted, this case was a stark reminder of how easily we can fall prey to poor decision-making. Being ignorant of the laws might just have you standing up when the bailiff says, “will the defendant please rise.”

Do the research and train accordingly. What would you do in this situation?

  • DoctorWho

    I had an Uncle that died in a similar situation almost 40 years ago, he was trying to park near his home, and another man accused him of trying to take the parking space, apparently both tried to park at the same time, and he punched my uncle causing him to strike his head on his own cars bumper breaking his neck.

    It is important to use good judgement in dealing with others.

    • Don

      I'm curious as to why the D.A. even brought charges, which isn't mentioned. Seems obvious that someone thought there was a case there …

      • j.s. mccrary

        You can always make a 'case' out of any circumstance. The question is was this motivatied by a quest for law or a desirer for public attention? Too many DA's are concerned with their political future as oppossed to what is best for the community. Should the average citizen be afraid of having to come up with the large amount of funds neccessary to retain legal counsel whenever they are pushed into a situation of self-defense? He was attacked, he defended himself. He didn't use a weapon, he didn't act in an outrageous manner, he simply responded to a threat to his well being. Where is the crime? Our soiciety has moved beyond reason and there seems to be a serious lack of common sense in the legal community. As Ben Franklin said 'Those who surrender basic libertites for safety deserve neither safety nor liberties.' (parapharse)

        • Trevor

          As this occurred here in Kansas City and I am aquainted with the victim's family, perhaps I can shed some light on the circumstances surrounding this incident.

          Westport is-for lack of a better term-a bar district. Brian, a college student, was home for the weekend and got fairly inebriated with some friends. They parted ways at the end of the night. At this point Brian allegedly began belligerently harassing people outside another bar; though to my knowledge the only people who testified to this were the accused and his girlfriend who turned him in several months after the incident.

          In reaction to Euston's behavior, Griswald punched him. There were no witnesses of this besides Griswald's girlfriend.

          The case remained open without leads for several months before Griswald's girlfriend came forward. It received quite a bit of local news coverage as well. The notoriety of the case and the lack of objective observers no doubt led to the DA's decision to bring charges.

          That and-I hate to even point this out-Euston was a white college boy whose parents own several hardware stores around town, and Griswald was a corn-rowed black man with no political connections.

        • Johnny S

          Is you rock my sentiments exactly. I'm an ex sherrff deputy and ex-army Sgt.and with 10 years martial arts. Training. I would never hope to kill anyone in ever.but its better to have a little more training if you can get it.I carry at times but would rather use the martial arts and subdue th
          em till the cops drive.then to kill them. Rather be judged by 12the then carried by 6.

  • Brian

    Physical conflicts happen. How is this man who threw a punch, "…ignorant of the laws…"? Never mind the fact that the article doesn't state how it started in the first place. Just that an argument turned physical. Maybe it was self defense. The fact is that this happens so rarely it shouldn't be deemed intentional. Just like when a stun gun or taser is used and the person goes into cardiac arrest or falls over and hits their head. Rarely does it happen but it does. Is an officer just as responsible as the man in the article if he uses a taser and the subject has a heart attack? I applaud the jury in this case, and question the author. And please don't be that guy who says, "I'm a police officer, I'm trained, I know everything." What should be taken from this article is- In any self defense situation, right or wrong, physical or a shooting, before inflicting any harm to someone- know your states self defense laws.

    • Doug T.

      Brian is right, I teach CCW but it can be very difficult sometimes no matter what the laws are. It is best to keep your eyes open and avoid trouble and think before you act.

  • Tory II

    Because of ignorance of the laws, most people wisely know to avoid or walk away from trouble. It's not worth the trouble. Some courts will convict people for acting in self defense (usually Blacks and Hispanics, but Whites too).

    But when attacked we may not have a choice.

  • DRZ

    Even with the Castle Doctrine being extended in many states to include places outside your home, the concept of walk away if possible is still the best policy. If you can not walk away then and only then should self-defense be considered justified. Speak loadly saying hey I don't want trouble. I will just leave, etc. It is always good if you can have witnesses that you tried to avoid a fight if things do get crossways.

    • http://yahoo Chuck

      You sir are too nice and too compasionate. A man that just walks away and doesn't stand up for what is right is an easy mark for the bad guys. I admire the fact that you are trying to set a good christian example, but you will only continue to be victimized if you don't stand and fight when you are wronged.

      • david

        Sorry, Chuck. You missed the point. Make sure that you don't appear to be the aggressor. If the ass***e persists (to victimize) you're vindicated. You are proposing face off to everyone. Not cool, sorry. But….. I do understand your initial reaction. …dave…

      • Beau

        Wow chuck your realy ignorant I’m a very large guy with a military background if I wanted to fight I would not lose but I don’t because I’m a real man that can use his word not his fists next time you post have the mentality of some one older then 15 thanks

        • pyrolighterfightet

          Beau, there's always someone bigger, badder, and tougher than yourself.

        • j.s. mccrary

          Well put, Beau – too many of those responding here obviously still have something to prove to themselves. Re-gardless of a person's size, 1/2 inch of blade produced seemingingly from thin air can make the repercussions of the confrontation much more serious than a manslaughter charge in an instance. If at all possible, walk away – in some states a major part of a defense is that you attempted to defuse the situation but were forced to take steps that 'any responsible and prudent individual' would under the same circumstances. Descretion is the better part of valour.

  • bigjohn

    DRZ, excellent advise. I can't stress it enough to try to walk away if you can. No one cares how macho you are if you are dead or sustain a life threatening injury. Men get caugh up in these fist fights in bars, alohol consumption or trying to be macho around women. It might look cool to fight for your woman at the time but if you can walk away it is the best policy. If she thinks you should get shot or stabbed to protect her honor you are probably with the wrong woman. Self-defense is never out provoking violence. When it comes time to use self-defense have a plan and only use the necessary force to stop the agression to clear an escape route. A dead man or woman has no voice to tell what happened.

  • http://billie billie bryant

    i have left two responces bur i guess you sort thru & chose what you want to display? like our govt. does!

  • steve

    Why 2 counts of involuntary manslaughter?

  • dave howard

    DRZ has it right. If you can't walk away your best bet

    would be to speak loadly as we know sometimes the

    other guy wont stop pushing the argument because

    his friends are there watching.

  • E. Zach Lee-Wright

    Hey guys, when you click on "read more" for the ugly guns article it links to the self defense article. The second button for the defense article works correctly.

    • H Stan Boring, PHC,

      No it doesn't, but if you click on "Guns" in the G&A header, you can get to the ugly guns.

      Chief Boring

  • TheTruthisalwaysTrue

    Do you know that walking away or turning your back on an angry person can invite an attack? Just like a vicious dog will attack a person from behind. Do you understand that a legal assault is interpreted as any threatening gestures, verbal or body lanuage? Depending on circumstances the best or only alternative may to be immediately launch a counter attack. This is why knowing the law isn't enough and we need juries to sort things out.

    • Ken R.

      Finally, a sensible comment on"walking away".

  • Tim Cobb

    I live in KC and have heard all about this, here is a link to more of the story, it has more links at the bottom..

  • August R. Endsley

    Because a human died, it is a Homicide. However, homicide is not a crime, it is just the definition that a human has died at the hands of another human. There are three basic types of homicide, Justifiable homicide, manslaughter, and murder. Depending on the legal jurisdiction, that the event took place in, each of these categories can/must be expanded. Justifiable homicide generally is found when the living individual, who was responsible for the action that caused the others death, took that action in self defence. Howere, self defence does not usually include actions taken as a result of mutual combat, The individual claiming self defence must have had the confontation forced upon him. Manslaughter, expands to three general types, involuntary, voluntary, and neglegent.

    "Involuntary manslaughter" is an unlawful killing that takes place, during the commission of an unlawful act (not amounting to a felony), or during the commission of a lawful act which involves a high risk of death or great bodily harm that is committed without due caution or circumspection.

    If the participents in the fight outside of the bar were both intentionally participating then this is a case of mutual combate or the very least disturbance of the peace, both of which are misdemeanor crimes not amounting to a felony. If this was the case then the survivor should have been charged with and convicted of, Invountary manslaughter.

    Voluntary manslaughter generally, is when you, intentionally kill another person (without a legal excuse for doing so), or, act with a conscious disregard for human life,you either commit murder, voluntary manslaughter. The difference between the two is whether you acted with "malice aforethought".

    Malice aforethought exists when you act with (a) an intent to kill or (b) a wanton disregard for human life. When you kill another person (or fetus)…and act with malice aforethought…you are guilty of murder. However, when you kill someone during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion, generally the law presumes you acted without malice…which is why we have the reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter.

    Negligent Homicide or manslaughter is different from involuntary manslaughter in that it supposes that the suspect was acting under demished capacity (such as being under the influence of some incapacitating substance, such as alcohol or drugs) but otherwise meets the discription of involuntary manslaughter.

    Because we do not have all of the facts it is not possible to determine which of these categories is the correct one.

    I am assumeing that because the jure did not convictr in this case based on a defence of"self defence" that the charged individual must have had the fight thrust or forced upon him and acted without malice dring the confrontation, and that if the other participant would have desired to stop fighting the suspect would have allowed him to leave and would also have stopped fightin himself.

    As I indicated before, there just is not enough information to correctly categorize this incident.

  • John

    The exact same thing happened in Pensacola, FL except for the fact that the ruling was the exact opposite. The guy that threw the punch is in prison now.

  • Juan A. Torres

    Maybe this my not be "legally" correct in that state where the fight occurred, but it depends on who throw the last punch. If the person that started/provoked the fight punched the other guy, then yes, it should be manslaughter. If the person just attempting to prevent being beaten to death, then no. It should be ruled self defense because he did not use excessive force. Is there really true justice in our courts, probably not. It depends on the attorneys' biases and career objectives as well as who can present or twist the truth to there advantage.

  • Tim Cobb

    In case you didn't read my link, this is a summary of what happened; a guy and his girlfriend where outside at Westport (its a part of KC, MO. with about 20 bars) he was sober. A drunk guy came out of a bar and got in his face and he told the drunk guy to go away, he didn't and kept getting in the sober guys face, starting trouble so the sober guy hit him one time and the guy fell and hit his head and died. The reason for all the media attn. is because the guy that died was a yuppie white guy and the guy that threw the punch was a black guy with corn rows…

  • Steve C

    The information from Tim Cobb was appreciated. Clarification is always good. Someone else also made the comment about not being in a bar. Maybe not being in a bar, near a bar, or even not drinking are also good habits? The amount of carnage and family destruction we have seen that involves booze, the bar environment and the results on the road is off the charts. What always gets my blood up: the drunk is most often NOT the dead party.

  • LARichard

    A lot of good comments, however – If Tim Cobb's information and the news information were correct the agressor was the man charged. Even though the "drunk" may have been harrassing him – getting in someone's face without an assault does not provide any justification for an assault and it certainly isn't self defense. Therefore, in the absence of any other mitigating information the assailant

    ( the individual charged) committed involuntary manslaughter. The defense attorney must have done a masterful job picking and convincing a jury otherwise.

  • Up North

    In many jurisdictions there is a difference between self defense and mutual combatants. In most cases if you accept an invitation to step outside and settle a dispute with violence it is not self defense. (Unless of course one of the combatants would pull a knife or gun and threaten deadly force). All bets are off at that point.

  • Tim McNamara

    Well, Griswold has a criminal history of violence according to the information. No one enjoys dealing with an impaired person but, drinking establishments are places where violence occurs constantly. In Canada, our laws state that a person is entitled to use "reasonable force, up to and including

    lethal force to repel an attack where death or grievous bodily harm is feared". Did Griswold act in a reasonable manner?

    If Euston was merely annoying and clearly intoxicated, why did Griswold not simply leave? Why did Griswold not call the police? Why did he leave the scene? I submit that Griswold did not act in a reasonable manner. I do not think that Griswold struck Euston with the intention of killing him however, as a retired peace officer, I know that punching someone in the face because they are ticking you off is not

    reasonable. If it was, our airports would be littered with bleeding security personnel who had groped one too many of our spouses.

  • porkchop6209

    In Virginia the law says that if you have any involvement in the provoking of the incident you can't claim self defense. Virginia is what's known as a contributory negligence state, so if they show either party contributed even 1% to a situation then blame is spread equally. However, this "ideal" has been convoluted and perverted on many occasions and self-defense is very difficult to use in court. Plus cops, prosecuters and judges pretty much do as they please whether it's within the law, precedent, truth or facts of a case. I've seen it firsthand several times and it's left me more and more boggled each time.

  • http://MSN Lawrence Kemmer

    The same thing happened in HARRIMAN TENNESSEE July 24,2011

    Has not went to court yet. It was in Roane County News,Paper.

    Of Kingston, Tn. The man that threw the punch. It was his 18th Time

    being booked into the Roane County Jail.

  • Douglas Knight

    Down through the years I have had to defend myself against all sorts of physical attacks. sometimes just walking down the street minding my own business. I've had to fight off 4 or 5 people. When I was attacked by 4 white soldiers in Vietnam I was threatened with UCMJ punishment. Now I'm old & disabled & can no longer physically fight off an attacker, I would be forced to use deadly force. White people, blacks, Hispanics just don't like Americans. That's right, I'm Native American. I don't want to hurt anyone, but I will- just like all those Vietnamese I killed.

    • Tom Farley

      I hate to break the news to you, but you guys were immigrants here, too, at one time. Welcome home, brother. (RVN 69-70)

      • Ken R.

        Immigrants? Surely you're joking. Immigrants come voluntarily.

  • H Stan Boring, PHC,

    OK, how do we get to the ugly guns? Even clicking on the picture takes you to the manslaughter story.

    Chief Boring

    • Tim Cobb
    • jib quinn


      I've been out for 48 years and am curious about what "PH" stands for. I'm hoping that it was created after I left. I'd hate to think that I just don't remember. My best guess is Pharmacist Mate.

      • jib quinn


  • Mak-attack

    People should learn how to fight so they can be in control in any conflicting situation &therefore know how to avoid conflict. I've studied martial arts for many years &the art of fighting without fighting is the most important discipline to master. If the politicians who make the decisions to go to war or to invade another country (despite the vested interests) unprovoked by true just cause would have spent as many years learning a martial discipline as they spend learning how to manipulate others, this world we live in would be a happier place.

  • John Chapman

    In most states, there are four points that need to be considered, to know whether a punch is criminal:

    1) Do the laws of justification permit ANY force to be used?

    2) Given the time, place and circumstances of the punch, is it considered deadly or nondeadly force?

    3) If it deadly force (i. e. a rabbit punch to the base of skull), what are you being threatened with?

    4) In any event, did the actor REASONABLY believe that much force was needed? Stated another way, should it have been clear that the situation could have been resolved by the actor using less force?

    Even if the actor is NOT justified, a single blow will not necessarily result in a manslaughter conviction if death results. Usually, the analysis surrounds whether the actions involved "recklessness" or "criminal negligence". There is much less wiggle room if the actor was not justified in using some degree of force.

    By the way, one thing that continues to amaze me is the number of places that teach "martial arts" without any grounding in the local law. It is stupid to teach how to crush a windpipe and not teach WHEN to crush a windpipe.

  • Tom Farley

    One man is dead… one man is alive. You chose which one you would want to be and act. The "Law" is all BS and is manipulated to death by those who enforce it and those who prosecute. The real deal is, after all is said and done, who walks away and whoo is carried away. The way tis country is headed, we will all have to wise up and not let the failed government dictate how we live our lives. My friends, we are all responsible to protect ourselves and those others we are responsible for, like our families and friends. The police are not there to protect US, they are there to protect the nameless and faceless entity, the "state." The law is the means by which the state controls us and is in no way there to protect us.

    • Brian

      Right on! Spread the good word.

    • Ken R.

      The Spreme Court has ruled that the police have no obligation to protect individual citizens. You are spot on with your comment.

  • Reggie

    Anytime you hit someone there could be a problem if they are hurt bad or dies. I have a Black Belt in Karate and try to only use the amount of force I fell is necessary to handle the situation. Having said that sometimes in the heat of the moment you react when your training kicks in all you are concerned about is survival. I have walked away from many situations and have only had a few street fights, none of which hurt any one badly. In my state if you shoot someone the law says that if you feared for your life or loved ones it is justifiable, the same one apply to using your fists. Note once a person is disabled you must stop your action, this has caused some indiviuals to be charged and convicted because they did not stop.

  • Jim Varner

    There's much more to the story. The deceased was sloppy drunk and all over people. His buddies tried to corral him, but he refused to call it a night. They left him. He continued acting up and kept wanting to hug people and violate personal space. He was warned to back away repeatedly, and was then struck. He fell and hit his head, which might not have happend so dramatically had he not been extremely drunk. The jury got it right.

  • yp

    Sounds to me like the guy was drunk and came up to the Griswold would could have moved away but chose to strike the drunk. Sad case as there is no glory in what he did. The drunk never got a chance to sober up and the other guy "attacked in self defense" got off. But it sounds to me like he is still in hot water as he probably will be until he gives up the life style he is living. He was found "not guilty" but not necessarily innocent.

  • yp

    the drunk guy had the unfortunate bad luck of walking up too close to a person who lack any mercy and compassion on a fellow human being and chose to strike him for being a helpless drunk. You're off for now but watch out buddy cause the next guy you do that to won't be as drunk and you might be the one going down. Was justice served? Yes, maybe, but Griswold is not innocent, only found "not guilty" IMO.

  • Tom Oh'Ealaight

    Unfortunately dif states have dif laws, average citizen doesnt know the ins & outs or finer print of such laws. sometimes siituations arise and you dont have time to consider what the law is or says. we should all have the right to exercise our GOD Given right to self defence & preservation of our family. in MA some dirt bag can be raping your wife n kids, you cant shoot him, your supposed to call the P.D., REALLY ! while in FL they change Castle Doctrine to Castle Law. which basically means Your person, family, home & property as well as your car. if some one is attacking you, then it is fair to believe they intend to harm you, as such Defend yourself and those around you. They even have a 3rd party Good Samirtan Intervention rule, so if some a*&%hole is mugging an old lady or any one, and you interfere stopping the crime, should the bad guy get hurt too bad for him ! and yes i have lived in both states, dealt with confrontations in both. Give FL over MA any day ! ! ! Self Defence is an Inalienable Right and should not be regulated by Liberal Yahoo's who think if we all just give each other a hug the world will get better. go hug a tree, my hand is on my .40 and will stay there until criminals behave & A$$holes stop gettin drunk and being stupid ! ps Have a Nice Day ; – )

  • micheal windsor

    If a sloppy drunk is coming up to you and wanting to hug on you, that doesn't constitute grounds to slug him in the face. He could have easily walked away. The reason he got off on the charge is the prosecution tried to get him for manslaughter, not something more provable like aggravated assault. BTW, the puncher was still on probation for assaulting a police officer, just to let you know what kind of person was doing the punching.

  • David Evans

    Douglas Knight, "Thank You" for your service. Glad you made it back. I myself am white, but also a Native American. If you're born here, you're a Citizen. If your Grandparents, Parents, and yourself are born here…YOU ARE NATIVE. I do understand your meaning of Native American, and you are, because you're ancestry here is more than 3 generations. But you are the decendent of the Indigenous Inhabitants of this country, which was not "America", until the Europeans started arriving. Irregardless of that, the "Red Man" was not accorded decency & respect that he should have been. And Jackasses like Custer got what he had comin'. Unfortunately, it was/is the Jackasses in every race/color that cause the problems.

    As for the drunk in the article, all I know is that, if you get a man drunk, his real personality stands out. He acts the way he has been wanting to, but hides it inside, so others think he's a really nice person. If the Jackass had refrained from drinking so damn much, he might still be alive today. I've had some real knotheads drink with me, and found them easier to have a conversation with. The last thing they wanted to do was fight. They also didn't go around trying to "hug" people.

  • Robert

    The world is full of hard knocks. The winner is the person that can see trouble coming and avoid it. If it follows you, then you must react according to the force applied. Some times people die by accident. If it's the aggressor, then justice was applied by accident.

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