"I feared for my life, I feared for my girlfriend's life, there was nothing else I could do different," said Nathan Preston, a man who fired several shots at a pair of pit bull dogs from a .40-caliber handgun last month at his home in Valley City.
Preston has filed a $25,000 suit in small claims court claiming that his right to defend himself has been violated because police confiscated two of his weapons after the incident, even though he only fired one of them that evening, he said.
Preston and his girlfriend were in Preston's yard enjoying a fire when the dogs wandered in. "Two pit bulls came by started barking a little bit. My dog started barking a little bit telling them to go away," said Preston. The couple was able to shoo them away he said. "Then our neighbor comes over and said 'those pit bulls just attacked our dog.'" said Preston. "Just in case, I went in and got our handguns."
When the dogs returned, after Preston had been asleep for a while. He heard his girlfriend shouting and hitting a stick around; the dogs left again, he said. Thinking they were safe, Preston went to his boat to get a sleeping bag when he saw the dogs again, ears up and tails up, they were barking and growling. He jumped into the boat with the dogs right on his heels.
"I looked around for help, couldn't see anybody to help," Preston said, then he looked around for a phone. Finding none, he called out to his girlfriend, "Gun, gun, gun!" he said. She replied she couldn't because she had the couple's dogs.
Once again, the dogs retreated, Preston said, so he decided it would be a good time to get everyone (the couple and their dogs) and drive to the police station.
"I went back and I grabbed a gun from my girlfriend and all of a sudden I heard her holler, 'get away! I turned around and the pit bull was pistol distance away. I chose to fire because they were showing teeth, growled, barked and everything else. That was a sign for me. It was either me and my girlfriend or the dogs, I chose to fire at that time," said Preston.
Preston said he fired several times; he believes four times and the police report stated five to seven times, and hit one of the dogs in the leg. It's still unknown whether he hit the other dog.
Immediately after firing, Preston called 9-1-1, he said.
"It was not 27 minutes later, not two minutes later," he said.
When the police arrived, Preston gave them his weapon as well as his girlfriend''s gun, a .45-caliber which was in her sleeping bag.
Police searched the scene for shell casings and confiscated both weapons. Preston, who holds a valid North Dakota concealed carry permit, invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and refused to allow police to search his home because that's what he was told to do so by his firearms instructor if he was ever involved in a shooting.
"I admitted to my guilt in shooting the dogs, but I was justified in doing so," said Preston. "It was our lives or their lives."
Preston's lawsuit is for forfeiture of firearms under a state statute addressing the forfeiture of firearms used in a crime, in this case discharging a weapon within the city limits, a misdemeanor.
The purpose of his lawsuit is to get his weapons back.
"This is the last thing I wanted to do. It's the last thing I ever wanted to do," Preston said adding he is still upset over the shooting.
Read this story in Tuesday's Times-Record.