St. Louis homeowner charged after shooting teen who broke into his car, police say

ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis County man faces charges for shooting a teenager who was allegedly breaking into his car.

KTVI reports that neighbors support 41-year-old Charles Bams, saying he has the right to protect his property. But that's not what the law says.

Another resident told KTVI several teens were roaming the block Monday night, trying to break into car after car, including Bams'. When told of the charges filed against him, the neighbor exclaimed, “What! He’s been charged with a crime for protecting his property?”

Bams was charged with second-degree assault and armed criminal action.

The teens accused of breaking into cars do not yet face charges, though authorities are not ruling that out, saying the investigation is still active.

One of the teens actually got inside of one of Bams’ vehicles at his home, police said. When Bams confronted the teens, they scattered.

“One of the kids that was on his property appeared to reach for a weapon,” said Bellefontaine Neighbors Police Chief Jeremy Ihler. “He never saw a weapon, we never recovered a weapon. Because he felt like he was in fear, he pulled his weapon and fired several shots, striking a juvenile one time in the leg.”

Sam Alton, chief of staff for St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, told KTVI the teen had run three or four houses away when Bams shot him.

Two bullets hit a neighbor’s house, police said.

Authorities say they empathize with St. Louis-area residents who feel under siege by crime, especially car break-ins and carjackings, Alton said, but this was no carjacking.

Bams’ response far outweighed the threat, authorities said. The same legal standards that apply to police apply to the rest of us: you can only use deadly force when there is an imminent threat of harm.

“Use reasonable judgment. If you’re not in a situation where you’re in imminent danger, you have no real reason to use force,” Ihler said. “In this situation, it could have been better handled if police were called … we don’t want people to put themselves in situations where they have to make a judgment call like this and make a mistake that results in legal action against themselves because at the time they thought they were making the right decision.”

Bams faces up to seven years in prison if convicted. He was jailed but released with no bond.