Sunday, February 23, 2014

TX:Holes in DHS Houston Air Rifle and SWAT Story

On Monday, 17 February, a soldier in an unfinished development in Harris County near Houston was confronted by a swat team, an armored vehicle, and accusations of criminal mischief, because he was practicing with an air rifle. reports that an off-duty homeland security agent was looking at one of the unfinished houses (that had been damaged by vandals).  The agent is said to claim that one of the windows was shattered.    The agent then looked out, saw a man with a rifle, and called dispatch.   That became an "active shooter event".
 An off-duty Homeland Security agent – and potential buyer -- just happened to be inside that house when the glass shattered right next to him.
He looked out and saw the soldier holding what he thought was a telescopically high-powered rifle so he called the sheriff.

"An "active shooter" call dropped," said Captain Jay Coons with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

The response was that the swat team and numerous police poured into the neighborhood and approached the soldier's house in full battle gear with weapons at the ready.  They found an air rifle and some pellets on the porch.  The agent has not been identified.

The soldier, Ramon  Hooks, disputes the off duty agent's interpretation of events.  Here are his comments:
“Kinda crazy! It all blew up over an air rifle.  It was real intense,” the 25-year-old man said.

Hooks said he had been target practicing at the house next door to his home when his dog got out and he went to look for her.  Hooks said he even bumped into the Homeland Security Agent who was house shopping in the neighborhood. “He was calm. I said, ‘Had you seen my dog?’ He said. ‘Yes, she ran around the back way,’” Hooks said.  

Shortly afterward, the federal agent called for help, saying shots had just been fired into a house he was walking through.  Deputies confronted Hooks and then retrieved the air rifle and pellets Hooks left on his front porch. They said there’s no evidence the men spoke before that call for help.
It is not clear what is being implied by the above paragraph.  How would Hooks  know exactly when the call for help was made?  Perhaps the agents are trying to imply that if the agent saw Hooks unarmed, he would not have made the call to dispatch?   I do not see how they have a clear time-line on when the men spoke and when the call from the agent was made. 

Hooks disputes the claim that he shot a window, either deliberately or through a ricochet.  From
 Hooks, a US Army specialist who served in Iraq, said he wasn’t aiming at the house where the federal agent had been. He said the target next to that house was an old one. “If I felt it ricocheted over here I would’ve said so,” he said.
 KHOU shows some of the broken windows on the house in question.  Most of the windows appear to be broken by vandalism.  Only two show a hole that might have been caused by  small projectiles, and they do not look much like holes in glass that I have seen caused by small, fast, projectiles.   Here is one of the images in question:

The framing is likely .5 of an inch in width, which would put this hole at about 1.5 inches in diameter.

Here is the reporter pointing to what appears to be the above hole:

Here is another picture of a hole in glass found at the site:

Notice the size of the holes.  The framing appears to be about 1/2 of an inch.  The paper label on the inside, would typically be 3/4 of an inch wide.  The windows panes seem to be close to a standard 12 inches square.  That puts this hole about an inch in diameter.

I have seen a fair number of bullet holes in glass over my life, and these seem rather anomalous.  Holes from high speed projectiles tend to have numerous radial cracks and concentric rings.   There are only a few radial cracks in these pictures, and hints of concentric rings.  They do not seem consistent with holes from an air rifle to me.  

Here is a test that was done with an air rifle on glass.  It is not quite the same, because the glass was taped to help preserve the fracturing patterns:

The concentric pattern in this image appears to be about 3 inches in diameter.  This is closer to what I would expect for damage to glass from an air rifle.  Here is the YouTube video that shows damage from a few types of pellets:

Pellet holes in glass

The holes at the site, from my experience, might be made from a slingshot and marbles, or pebbles. 

Having said that, there are many types of glass, and there is considerable difference in air rifles and pellets.  The windows appear to be double paned, which further complicates the matter.   From video of a target at the site, it appears that the air rifle in question is either a .177 or a .22 caliber, by far the most common air rifle calibers.   As both the rifle and pellets are in custody, it should be easy to do a test on a sample of the glass in question and see if the damage is consistent with what was observed at the window that the agent says was smashed.  It is unlikely that a .177 or .22 caliber pellet would smash a window, but they can certainly put a hole in  it.  Damage from a ricochet would be less because of the energy used in the initial impact.

Forensic evidence could determine if a vandal with a slingshot flung a marble or rounded stone at the window with the off duty agent behind it, or if an air rifle pellet could have done the damage.   Perhaps the soldier had the bad luck to be visible from the vantage point of the agent when the agent looked out.  It would have been easy to draw a false conclusion.  A simple forensic test should be able to determine if the damage witnessed by the agent is consistent with the air rifle and pellets recovered at the scene. 

Based only on the evidence gathered by the news crew, my experience is that the damage does not look like that done by an small caliber air rifle.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch


Backwoods Engineer said...

My take from this is that any person with a rifle, air-powered or otherwise, sighted by a "homeland security" "agent" will result in a SWAT team brought down on their head. This is a damned screwed-up country.

Anonymous said...

Some of the holes could also be caused by rocks thrown by lawn mowers or weed-wackers. Unoccupied houses often have lawn care crews maintain the yards and they don't always care about the damage they cause while getting their jobs done quickly. My car in the driveway used to get rocks and such thrown at it all the time from groundskeepers. Luckily, no broken glass, just chipped paint.

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