To some in Colorado Springs, Thomas Allen Martin Jr., 49, was within his rights to go outside with an air rifle and hold at BB gunpoint six teenage girls he said he caught toilet-papering a neighbor’s tree.
Police overreacted, they say, when officers arrested him. They blame the girls’ parents for letting them run wild late at night. But others — including the neighbor who got “TP’ed” — think it was Martin who overreacted to what the neighbor said was a harmless prank on a schoolmate. The responses to his arrest — dozens of phone calls to The Gazette and messages posted on the newspaper’s Web site — run the gamut. The incident has people talking about how far a homeowner can go to protect property in his neighborhood. Martin is due in court today to be advised of the three felony charges he faces in connection with the incident, which occurred just after midnight Friday on Haystack Drive, north of Constitution Avenue between Powers Boulevard and Peterson Road. Martin was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, menacing and false imprisonment. He was released from the El Paso County jail on $10,000 bail. If convicted, he faces up to 12 years in prison on the kidnapping charge. Martin told a Gazette reporter Saturday he was frustrated because his house had been “egged or toilet-papered at least 10 times” in recent months and police refused to do anything about it. So when he saw the girls at his neighbor’s house, he thought they were the same ones who vandalized his house and confronted them, he said. Colorado law allows citizens to make arrests “when any crime has been, or is being committed, by the arrested person in the presence of the person making the arrest.” State law also allows people to defend property with physical force, but the defense must be “reasonable and appropriate.” Colorado Springs police have no record of Martin calling to report vandalism at his house in 2005 or 2006, according to police spokesman Lt. Rafael Cintron. A neighbor said Tuesday he recalls seeing Martin’s yard with toilet paper on it one time in recent months. Martin declined to comment Tuesday. He has a teenage son who goes to Sand Creek High School with the girls involved in the incident. The girls told police that Martin “pointed the rifle directly at them,” according to an arrest affidavit, and that “all of the victims said they feared for their safety.” The rifle was either a BB or pellet gun, according to police. Martin, also allegedly brandishing a baseball bat, made the girls lie on the ground with their hands above their heads. The target of the girls’ “prank” was Brandon Kitchen, 15, also a Sand Creek student. “This was not a big deal,” said Brandon’s dad, Mark Kitchen. “The ‘TP’ing’ is really harmless. . . . It’s a harmless prank from people my kid knows. “I think he (Martin) was definitely overreacting.” Brandon said the girls also tied balloons to the porch. He said he had TP’d one of their houses weeks earlier, and they warned him they would be paying him back. “It was a joke,” Brandon said. “It was fun and games.” The girls’ names were edited from the affidavit. Some of them later told Brandon they asked Martin to let them ring the doorbell so they could prove it was a joke, but Martin wouldn’t let them, Brandon said. “It was one of the girls’ birthday Sunday,” Brandon said. “I felt pretty dang bad about it.” Brandon said he also felt bad for Martin. “He was just trying to help out a neighbor,” Brandon said. Chief Deputy District Attorney Lisa Kirkman said prosecutors are still investigating the incident and that it was too early to comment on it. Many who called The Gazette were sympathetic to Martin. “His house was being egged. That is very traumatic for people,” said Colorado Springs resident Marlin Sigaty, who said he doesn’t know Martin or live in the area. His wife, Jewel Sigaty, said police should thank Martin for reporting it. While she said Martin’s actions probably scared the girls, she said, “I think they needed a little scaring. They had no business being out there doing that.” “I think the police overreacted,” said Colorado Springs resident Ron McKinney. While he said Martin may have also gone too far by holding the girls at gunpoint, that should have only warranted a warning. He believes the girls should have been punished. “They should have been arrested, not him,” McKinney said. “They’re underage. What are they doing out at midnight?” said Colorado Springs resident Alexis Asseff, who also doesn’t know Martin, but doesn’t understand why he was arrested. The girls received a warning for juvenile loitering, or being out after midnight, according to a police spokesman. CONTACT THE WRITERS: 636-0110 or firstname.lastname@example.org; 476-1605 or email@example.com