DGU: Hotel robbery becomes wrestling match, gun included
A Michigan hotel desk clerk took unusual action recently after looking down the barrel of a robber’s handgun. For our armchair quarterbacking luxury, the crime and ensuing struggle were caught on camera.
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Desk clerk Alan Noel, 58, was working behind the reception desk around 6:00 AM when a female wearing a mask came through the door and demanded cash. After an entire minute of discussion, the moolah is still not being handed over, so she ups the ante by pulling a gun. Noel then begins pulling small wads of cash from the drawer, placing the bills on the counter.
Intentionally or not, Noel’s action caused the bills to be spread out a bit. The obviously unconfident robber, struggling with something on her mask, sets the gun down in order to gather up the cash. In one swift move, Noel grabs the gun. Both appear stunned and freeze for a moment, and then the argumentative crook demands the gun back. Noel, not exactly looking like a paragon of fitness, scales the desk as if to physically descend upon the crook. He reconsiders and instead comes out from behind the desk, with her gun in his hand, and attacks her.
A mighty wrestling match ensues. Noel fights to regain the cash; the robber attempts to get her gun back. During the process, Noel grabs and removes the mask from her head. In the melee, the gun fires once, an apparent unintended discharge resulting from a finger or something getting inside the trigger guard. A hotel guest near the lobby hears the shot and opens her door to see what’s going on. The gun goes sliding toward the guest, whose call to 911 indicates Noel shoved it in her direction to get it out of the scene. Having taken possession of the gun and retreated to her room, she makes the 911 call that summons police.
The physical struggle in which both parties go to the floor is now vertical again, with Noel in control for a moment. But the agile 32-year old robber sees a window of escape, making for the door as Noel is attempting to guide her into the hallway bathroom for safekeeping until police arrive.
The epic struggle is over and Noel, missing a shoe and limping a bit, takes a moment to rest his arms and head on the counter. In seconds, he’s already back to work, pushing debris from the fight into a pile on the floor. His exhaustion is evident as he abandons bending over to pick up this evidence in favor of kicking it across the carpet. He was taken by ambulance to a local hospital for reported chest pain, but soon released.
The robber was arrested soon after the incident, and is now also a suspect in another hotel robbery. Police say the handgun belongs to her boyfriend. Stephen Wenger, a firearms instructor who operates gun-related listservs, has commented that this is possibly the only known case in which gun registration resulted in a crime being solved.
In a follow-up interview, Noel says he was just doing his job and doing what was appropriate for the safety of his hotel guests and community.
Options for action
There’s no questioning that Alan Noel went above and beyond the call of desk clerk duty. His actions resulted in uncovering (literally) the identity of a criminal who, for the time being, is off the streets. With the advantage of a fly-on-the-wall perspective, we can identify some other options for him—and ourselves, should we ever be in a similar situation.
Had Noel been armed, deadly force would’ve been justified. The robber had the ability (a loaded gun), the opportunity (point blank range) and put the man in immediate jeopardy. The wood of the desk isn’t bulletproof.
Since he was apparently unarmed at the beginning of this crime, he managed to arm himself after it began. Good! Here is a time where he made a choice that put his life in danger, by pursuing the criminal once he had the upper hand. Letting her leave with the cash would’ve been a loss to the business and public safety, but also would virtually have guaranteed no harm would come his way.
When a fight began, Noel was unwilling or unable to fire the gun into his assailant. It’s a plumb bad idea to take a gun to a fight if you’re not willing to use it. Being knocked to or on the ground during a fight leaves you vulnerable as force expert Rory Miller says, “the person who wins a fight that goes to the ground is the one whose friends show up first.”
It’s likely Noel encountered a feeling of resistance to putting a round into his fellow human, particularly a female whom our society sees as the weaker sex. Thing is, this female wasn’t intimidated by the gun and was willing to fight for her fistful of cash. By confronting her physically, Noel put himself into a second situation where deadly force appears justified. By not using it, he risked serious physical injury and was fortunate the stray round didn’t land on him.
Physical disparity of force, obvious from the video, is stated by the 911 caller. She called Noel “an older guy” and named that as her reason for helping him at least get the gun out of the equation.
To his credit, the mighty desk clerk never gave up once he decided to engage. He surely felt pain during the fight, and though exhaustion caused by the extended engagement is evident, he never gave up. This is the best take-home lesson. The decision to not give up until you win is critical to survival. It’s one you can make now, so you don’t have to face that decision if an attack comes your way.