Neighborhood watch committee discusses stand your ground laws

Group asks Chief what rights they have when dealing with crime

ST. MARYS, Ga. - The George Zimmerman trial happening in Sanford is bringing up an issue being dealt with by neighborhood watch organizations across the country.

Neighborhood watch committees like the one in St. Marys, Ga., are asking what rights they have when it comes to dealing with crime. 

Tuesday night the group in St. Marys talked specifically about the use of deadly force, like what happened in the George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin case.  

After multiple car break-ins and and then home break-ins in the Sugar Mill Plantation subdivision of St. Marys, Georgia, neighbors decided to take a stand against the criminals who were disrupting their lives, and set up a neighborhood watch program. The group doesn't just look out their windows, they have roving patrols to keep their neighborhood safe.  

"I do carry, have a concealed permit," said neighborhood watch member Michael Kersey. "I'm former military and have permit. I'm trained how to use a weapon, the weapon is to protect myself.  If I am out and about, if I'm walking, if someone approaches me, I will use the force I need to defend myself." 

Kersey is unique in the group by carrying a gun. As a whole, the group in St. Marys asks their members to only observe and never confront a criminal unless they have to.

"We tell everybody not to have guns, because that could lead to somebody getting involved in something they don't want to be involved in," said neighborhood watch member Kathleen Reihing. "But we don't check everybody, we encourage everybody not to use guns."

St. Marys Police Chief, Tim Hatch, showed up during Tuesday night's meeting to speak to the group. Hatch agrees that it is best to never confront a criminal, but to call police instead. 

Hatch took the group through the laws to let them know things like what is at the center of the Zimmerman case. Under Georgia law, if people feel threat of harm, they can meet force with force.

"If you're in that situation where you reasonably expect to be a victim, you have the ability to use force to defend yourself or a third party," said Hatch.

"It's good for the community knowing what we're allowed to do so you don't wind up with somebody in neighborhood watch trying to do what they think is a good thing, then getting in trouble for it," said Shane Hoffmeyer. 

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