Police warn against dangers of gun-toting Coralville homeowner who thwarted burglary

'Potential was there that it could have been disastrous'

James L. Travis Jr.
James L. Travis Jr.

Police said a Coralville burglary was thwarted by a gun-carrying homeowner.

However, police said they don't recommend citizens act as police officers - even if the law permits them to do so.

"I don't think there's anything legally he did that was wrong," said Coralville Police Chief Barry Bedford. "It turned out very well, but the potential was there that it could have been disastrous."

According to a Coralville police criminal complaint, the homeowner of a residence on 19th Avenue caught 22-year-old James L. Travis, Jr. inside the homeowner's vehicle at 7:44 p.m. Wednesday. Police said the Travis was dressed in black and wearing a black stocking cap. The homeowner held Travis at gunpoint until police arrived.

Bedford said Iowa law allows for any citizen to make a citizen's arrest. However, Bedford warned that such an action "can be legal, but it can be extremely dangerous."

"The first thing to do would be to call police or 911 and have somebody stay on the line," he said. "We don't encourage people to take enforcement action."

Bedford said when police arrive on the scene and see one person holding a gun on another, they might not be able to tell right away who is the potential threat.

"When police respond, they'll focus on the perceived threat," he said. "The person with the gun, they don't know if he's the good guy or the bad guy and if they do anything that can be interpreted as a threat to the officer, the officer is going to respond."

That issue is not limited to police responding to citizens legally carrying guns, Bedford said. Nationwide, there have been incidents involving undercover of off-duty officers pulling their weapon on a suspect, putting them at risk when uniformed officers arrive and don't know who is the officer and who is the suspect.

"Nationally, there's a real problem with blue on blue shootings," Bedford said. "That's the trouble. We have problems with our own and we try to train for that. Then you add John Q. Public out there who isn't thinking about it at all."

Locally, Bedford said incidents like these are rare.

Police said Travis has two previous burglary convictions from October 2013. He was arrested and faces one count of third-degree burglary - second or subsequent offense.KCRG reporter Ashley Hinson contributed to this report.

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