image from YouTube
Remember this story from suburban Detroit last week?
A couple in Michigan are facing felonious assault charges and the possibility of four years in prison after one of them drew a gun during a heated argument in the parking lot of a Chipotle in a Detroit suburb. Jillian Wuestenberg and her husband Eric Wuestenberg are out on $50,000 bond in the incident, though Eric Wuestenberg is also out of a job. Oakland University, which employed him in a veterans-related department, gave Wuestenberg the heave-ho shortly after charges were filed.
The Wuestenbergs are still facing felonious assault charges, and now the couple are telling their side of the story. Eric and Jillian Wuestenberg sat down with Fox2 in Detroit to talk about how the argument outside of a Chipotle escalated to the point that Jillian drew her gun.
“Death, fear, confusion, I don’t know how, why, it got to where it is,” she said. “But just utter terror.”
Jillian Wuestenberg says that’s what she felt – what moved her to ultimately draw her weapon. She says it started after she accidentally bumped into a 15-year-old girl as she was leaving the restaurant.
“They were blocking the entrance to the car, I had a railing behind me,” she said. “I was trapped, I couldn’t go anywhere. I was being yelled at, berated, called a racist and ignorant and I was trapped.”
That’s not when Wuestenberg drew her firearm, however. Her husband helped her into the car, and the four continued to argue once he got back into the driver’s seat.
That is when they say they tried to back up and leave – but the car’s automatic braking system suddenly stopped – at least one of the women was banging on the car. Jillian says she was in fear for their lives.
“At that point I realized we’re not going home tonight, we’re not going to see another day, and the only thing I can do is protect myself and I draw my firearm,” she said.
Here’s the full video recorded by Takelia Hill’s 15-year old daughter, which captured both the argument beforehand and the moment Jillian Wuestenberg hopped out of her van and pulled her gun.
As I said previously, I’m not sure why Eric Wuestenberg is facing assault charges, given that he never drew his firearm. In my opinion, though, Jillian Wuestenberg didn’t actually need to hop out of her van at all. There was a path for the Wuestenbergs to drive away, as they did a few seconds later when Jillian Wuestenberg got back into the passenger side of the minivan. According to the couple’s attorneys, however, Jillian Wuestenberg had no other option but to draw her gun.
“I believe the actions that these two fine people took, were not only justified but they were necessary in order for them to go home to their kids,” said attorney Terry Johnson.
They say the Wuestenbergs were clearly being threatened by the other party.
“Absolutely should there be charges brought in this case, yes,” attorney Dean Greenblatt said. “But not against Eric and not against Jillian.”
I agree that Takelia Hill could also have de-escalated the situation by simply walking away, but Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard made it explicitly clear in a press conference last week that no one would have faced arrest or any charges if Jillian Wuestenberg hadn’t drawn her gun.
Bouchard said the sheriff’s detectives investigating the case were “presented with two very different stories from two different groups, with both sides claiming they felt extremely threatened.”
No gunshots were fired, there were no injuries and, the sheriff added, had the couple not drawn their weapons on unarmed victims, they would not have been facing felony assault charges.
He also urged more calm in stressful times.
“Everybody,” he said, “needs to think about each other.”
Bouchard played six 911 calls, in which various parties described what they saw, two video recordings of the incident circulating on the internet, and tried to piece together the chain of events.
Bouchard, a Republican, also went out of his way to make it clear the charge was decided by Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, a Democrat. He declined to offer any personal opinions of the charges.
Since the incident catapulted the Wuestenbergs to national attention, both Eric and Jillian Wuestenberg have been fired from their jobs, and the couple say their lives have been threatened as well, with “death threats, threatening text messages, calls” and even strangers showing up to their home.
“Our lives are literally ruined because we have no income, no jobs because of this,” Eric said. “All because we were victims of a crime – we were attacked.”
“No one ever wants to have to use a weapon to protect themselves,” Jillian said. “It’s not what you wake up wanting to do in the morning. But we want to stay alive – that’s what this came down to.”
Even if the Wuestenberg’s are ultimately found to have been on the wrong side of the law here, there’s absolutely no excuse or justification for making threats against their lives, and it’s pretty cowardly (though not completely surprising) to see that their employers cut the couple loose based solely on the videos and the charges that were filed, rather than waiting for the legal outcome of the case.
The Wuestenbergs say they plan to fight the felonious assault charges that have been filed against them, and I suspect that the local prosecutor is going to end up offering them a plea deal of some sort. The case against Eric Wuestenberg appears to be pretty weak, at least based on the video evidence that we’ve seen, and I’d be surprised if the prosecutor really wants to take his case to trial.
If Jillian Wuestenberg ends up on trial, on the other hand, she’s going to have to convince a jury that she really did have no other option but to draw her gun because she believed her life was in immediate danger. Based on the video evidence to date, that might be a pretty hard sell.