This bizarre instance of a home invasion in Ferndale (WA) earlier this week could have easily resulted in criminal charges for everyone involved, including the homeowner.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office said the incident began at about 11:10 a.m. on Tuesday in the 4000 block of Elder Road in Ferndale. A homeowner said the unknown suspects had knocked on and then opened his unlocked door and entered his home. The suspects were wearing masks and bandanas.

“One was armed with a knife and one had pepper spray,” the sheriff’s office said.

When the homeowner — a 19-year-old man — confronted the suspects, “one of them sprayed the victim in the face with the pepper spray. The victim … then armed himself with a rifle and displayed it at the suspects. The suspects ran out of the house chased by the homeowner.”

Three of the suspects jumped into a green Honda and a fourth suspect fled on foot.

“As the suspect vehicle fled, the victim fired two rounds from the rifle in an attempt to disable the vehicle,” the sheriff’s office said.

Deputies found the suspects’ car nearby; it was disabled and had at least one bullet hole in it, the sheriff’s office said.

Three men found near the car were arrested as suspects. Shortly after that, a fourth man who was believed to have run away from the crime scene was found and arrested.

The homeowner was clearly justified in grabbing his rifle for self defense. This was a home invasion and the robbers were armed with both lethal and less lethal weapons. Things went bad when he chased them outside and shot their car as they fled. Firing into a moving vehicle and firing at retreating suspects are both criminal acts for both your average citizen and law enforcement officers alike outside of a very narrow range of circumstances in most of the country.

We recently covered the story ofDavid A. Pettersen, a Minnesota farmer who was charged with several felonies for shooting and killing one of three suspects driving away from his home after casing it for a future burglary. While the 19-year-old Washington homeowner didn’t hit anyone, shooting into a car are suspects flee the scene is almost always a bad idea and is a criminal act.

The sheriff seems to be using his discretion in charging here, but you can’t count on being that lucky. You may end up criminally charged like David Pettersen, and not given a pass like this young Washington homeowner.

Be smart out there folks.