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James Crocker, Float Trip Shooting Suspect, Was Attacked, Feared for His Life, Attorney Says

jim-crocker-mug.jpg
Police photo
James Crocker.
James Crocker, the 59-year-old Steelville resident who fatally shot a man by his property on the Meramec River last month, was first attacked by a group on a float trip. That is according to his attorney Michael Bert, who says that his client suffered injuries at the hands of a large crowd of people who were on his private land.

"Legally speaking, he has a right to defend his property," Bert tells Daily RFT. "And more importantly, James Crocker was in imminent fear of death or serious bodily injury. He said he was fearful for his life."

Crocker -- who is facing second-degree murder charges in the death of Paul Dart, 48 -- did not intend to hurt anyone, Bert says.

See also:
- Cops: Homeowner Mad at Urinating Man on Float Trip Shoots, Kills Paul Dart
- Widow in Mourning After Meramec Shooting, Says "He Was My Rock"
- Woman Who Called 911 After Float Trip Shooting Says He Was "Very Calm"

The shooting got a lot of attention two weeks ago when police alleged that Crocker, angry that a man was urinating on his private property, shot and killed Dart, who was reportedly trying to break up the confrontation.

james-crocker-2.jpg
Provided to Daily RFT
James Crocker.

According to court records, Crocker told police, "It's my property, and I was going to protect it." Loretta Dart, the widow of Paul Dart who was on the float trip, has said that her husband was attempting to diffuse the situation and that Crocker needlessly fired a shot into his head.

Bert, a St. Louis-based lawyer who recently met with Crocker, says that his client was trying to tell the group to leave his private property when they began attacking him.

"My client was hit in the head with rocks," he says. "My client sustained several injuries about his head."

Thumbnail image for loretta-dart-paul-dart.jpg
via KSDK
Loretta and Paul Dart.

"They picked up rocks off of that gravel bar and started pelting him, stoning him," Bert continues. "He was bruised and battered."

Bert says some of the rocks were as large as softballs.

"They were arming themselves with rocks," he says, adding, "they were closing in on him."

Crocker was simply asking them to leave, but because some on the float trip were very intoxicated, the discussion became heated and confrontational, Bert says.

He adds, "They were basically treating his yard as a public restroom."

james-crocker-3.jpg
Provided to Daily RFT
James Crocker.

Bert notes that the photo of Crocker police released after the shooting (the first one in this post) was not taken that day and thus did not show the injuries he suffered. Bert also alleges that Crocker requested medical care while he was in Crawford County Jail and was denied.

Daily RFT left messages with Crawford County sheriff Randy Martin, though an official tells us the department is unlikely to comment beyond its initial press release. A representative of the Crawford County Prosecutor's Office tells Daily RFT that while the case is pending, prosecutors will not be offering comment. We also reached out to Loretta Dart and will update if we hear back.

loretta-dart-1.jpg
via KSDK
Loretta Dart.

As we reported with our interview with the neighbor who called 911, Crocker, after the shooting, ran to another property owner along the river and had her alert authorities, Bert notes.

"It's not like he was trying to escape," he says. "He immediately went to the police."

Crocker is from the Ozarks and works for a plastic manufacturing company, Bert says.

"Public sentiment down in Crawford county is very much in favor of Jim Crocker," he says. "There's a lot of support."

james-crocker-4.jpg
Provided to Daily RFT
James Crocker.

In the wake of the shooting, there has been a lot of debate about property rights along the river, where float trips are common. The neighbor we spoke with told us that floaters so often trespass on their private property that they don't bother using that part of their land anymore.

"Jim Crocker is a good guy. He does have great support down there," Bert says. "He's very well-respected in the community."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.


My Voice Nation Help
77 comments
VanessaJ
VanessaJ

There is public easement under federal law to use the bed and banks of navigable rivers like the Meramec. Therefore, it IS A MURDER. River law is clear and straightforward, check out nationalrivers.org

Peg Keller
Peg Keller

So surely he saved this particular t shirt and went and got an independent DNA test to show that all that blood is from his face wounds.

Chris Ferguson
Chris Ferguson

What a compelling argument. You must be a genius.

Thee Lovingcup
Thee Lovingcup

I think Mr. Crocker's story keeps evolving now that he has lawyer'ed up. Now he is claiming he was attacked, not just threatened by a guy holding rocks once he drew a firearm. Keep talking, keep making statements, you are only contradicting yourself and making it easier for a jury to convict in record time.

Andy Sims
Andy Sims

Having witnessed many a drunken float trip raising hell, sounds legit.

Nathan Nico Vize
Nathan Nico Vize

Afterwards, their is no difference between a dog pissing in your grass and a human. Besides being an incredibly rural area, mother nature is truly dead when you can't even piss in the grass without getting shot.

Katie Wohldmann
Katie Wohldmann

How is peeing on someone else's property disrespectful? Did it hurt anyone or anything? No.

Nathan Nico Vize
Nathan Nico Vize

Perhaps someone is claiming that; nevertheless, generally people zip up their flies before starting an altercation and even if an altercation did occur, I doubt he is going to be able to establish just cause in starting it. And yes he did start this altercation. I live right next to train tracks and I-44, that brings with it certain problems that were understood when moving in, such as an occasional vehicle crashing into the house or a crack whore that followed the highway or trains taking a rest on the front porch. No one told this man that he had to live next to a river popular with float trippers. But since he did, he is to be expected to deal with the factors that come with living in such a location responsibly. I don't go outside with my gun to yell at the crackwhores that end up in my yard and then shoot them when they respond with aggression because that would be stupid and homicide second. Until the intruder comes into this asshole's home, the Castle Doctrine does not apply.

Chris Ferguson
Chris Ferguson

Do you know it was not life threatning? Like I said, the jury will decide.

Steve Dixon
Steve Dixon

Agreed. This is another situation where both sides showed incredibly poor judgment, but that does not justify killing someone.

Ellen Chandler Elsner
Ellen Chandler Elsner

Also stay off other peoples property... Floaters have no respect for other peoples property...

Matthew Baumgart
Matthew Baumgart

Clearly, we have a laundry list of eyewitnesses in this case, isn't there something to be said about that, sounds like it will all get ironed out in court.

Thee Lovingcup
Thee Lovingcup

I think the lesson is to not bring a gun into a non-life threatening situation, clearly. All the other non-sense you wrote is just that, non-sense.

James Wright
James Wright

Sorry peg, I have heard from ones close to this story that there was a person in the party that was waaaay over the prop line and was doing more than pissing. As far as what happened afterward it seems both stories have a bit of gray area. Do I think everyone is innocent not at all, but some of these comments are hilarious. The fact they are regurgitating this story again is just annoying. It is one case in the summer of thousands of people on the river.

Peg Keller
Peg Keller

All the jury needs to hear is that he left the scene to get his gun and came back and it's game over. He already said he only shot the guy because he was closest to him, not because that guy was a threat. There are no injuries visible in his mugshot, no dried blood, the police did not see any injuries and you can't use deadly force against simple trespassers.

Peg Keller
Peg Keller

There is no right to defend your property with deadly force.

Peg Keller
Peg Keller

Right James, it was marked. You stayed on the other side- just like the floaters in this scenario did.

Barry Gates
Barry Gates

there we go. flood gates officially open. use that zimmerman defense.

Thee Lovingcup
Thee Lovingcup

I guess Mr. Crocker plans to get on the witness stand to tell his side of the story? I doubt any of the friends and family of the victim will be much help to his defense. Also, since he is charged w/ 2nd degree murder already, police found enough evidence to bring charges. If it was an obvious case of self defense, he would have never been charged. Even a jury of his peers will find him guilty b/c everyone knows you don't start something and try to claim self defense. Property is not worth dying or killing for in civilized society.

smdrpepper
smdrpepper topcommenter

Oh great, they are going to do the Zimmerman defense..I didnt WANT to shoot, but I thought they were going to kill me..  If he did not cause the event, nothing would have happened!

sandyj
sandyj

I'M ON JIM'S SIDE, HOW MANY WAS COMING AFTER HIM WITH ROCK'S, I BET HE WAS SCARED FOR HIS LIFE, ALL THEM AFTER ONE MAN, W.T.H. HE HAS TO PROTECT HIS SELF.

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Thee Lovingcup Actually, if you go back and read the initial reports, Crocker ALWAYS claimed that they were throwing rocks, and the man that was shot was trying to grab the gun.

willtcrane
willtcrane

@Katie Wohldmann Nathan Nico Vize ,good give me your addresses so i can come and urinate in your yards, you would probably not like it. you stupid  _itchs

jamesl934
jamesl934

@Nathan Nico Vize  How would you like 1,000 people a day pissing on your grass. That's not even talking about shitting.  Maybe the canoe rentals need to get  together and place porta-potties along the river. I was born and raised in Steelville and I have seen the destruction that is left behind. People need to clean up their messes and garbage as they float.

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Nathan Nico Vize - It's called criminal trespass.  Look it up!

willtcrane
willtcrane

you stupid bitch, do you want to see people in your yard whipping out there johnsons and pissing in front of your family 

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Katie Wohldmann - It's called criminal trespass.  Look it up!

If they had left like they were asked to, then nothing would have happened.  Instead they threw rocks and the guy that was shot tried to grab Crocker's gun.  That was all in the inital reports.

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Nathan Nico Vize  - Wrong!  Castle Doctrine in MO applies in your home OR on any property you own, lease or have a legal right to be on.  He told them to leave, and they didn't.  At that point, it's game on!

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Katie Markert  - Nobody looks good in driver's license photos or mug shots.

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Steve Dixon  - Not for you to decide.

pam_garrett61
pam_garrett61

@Ellen Chandler Elsner

Really Ellen, you obviously have never been on a float trip before. That’s what people do, you float down the river, pull over on gravel bars to take a break, eat, or maybe wait for your friends/group to catch up. You don’t, and we didn’t ever go past any Keep Out/No Trespassing/Private Property signs, EVER! We also pick up other peoples trash that is in the river. So until you know what happened, or know the group in this case, don’t comment at all!

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Thee Lovingcup  - That's EXACTLY when you need a gun!  I carry mine everywhere I go.

pam_garrett61
pam_garrett61

@James Wright What do you mean "more than pissing", were you there, NO! This is how stories get started and turn into something completely different then what really happened.

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Peg Keller  - Read the damn story!  The mug shot was taken well AFTER the incident.  The injuries were no longer visible.

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Peg Keller  - Wrong! 

RSMO 563-031

2. A person may not use deadly force upon another person under the circumstances specified in subsection 1 of this section unless:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such deadly force is necessary to protect himself, or herself or her unborn child, or another against death, serious physical injury, or any forcible felony;

(2) Such force is used against a person who unlawfully enters, remains after unlawfully entering, or attempts to unlawfully enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle lawfully occupied by such person; or

(3) Such force is used against a person who unlawfully enters, remains after unlawfully entering, or attempts to unlawfully enter private property that is owned or leased by an individual claiming a justification of using protective force under this section.

3. A person does not have a duty to retreat from a dwelling, residence, or vehicle where the person is not unlawfully entering or unlawfully remaining. A person does not have a duty to retreat from private property that is owned or leased by such individual.

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Peg Keller  - Property line extends to the center of the river.

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Barry Gates  - It's called legal self defense, and it was around LONG before the Zimmerman trial.

parallax3d
parallax3d

@Thee Lovingcup  - Zimmerman was an even MORE obvious case of self-defense, but they still filed 2nd degree muder charges.

josh.carter012
josh.carter012

@smdrpepper or, had the people simply left his property like they were required to do, then nothing would have happened.

it is tragic that a man was killed, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. 

you can't piss on a man's property, then attack him when he tells you to leave. clearly, such will get you shot.

girlof72
girlof72

@sandyj  I don't think he was too scared, he had a GUN in his hands....

I think he could do more harm with that,,,,,as far as him and Zimmerman,,both guilty,,should of left matters alone and let the cops handle it..

parallax3d
parallax3d

@pam_garrett61  - The proprty line on that river extends to the center of the river if there is a gravel bar.

cbccadet2002
cbccadet2002

@parallax3d nut i assume you understand and follow the laws when u do. Takes a bigger man to simply retreat to the homestead and dial the police. Warning shots are illegal. It's seems both sides were walking a fine line. I haven't heard of mr cocker blatantly stating that mr dart was the aggressor, or if he even "stoned" him. If people get the mindset that its ones right to just shot whoever you please, then they are falling for the system. If someone throws a rock at my head, id think its more acceptable to throw one back before throwing a bullet. 

cbccadet2002
cbccadet2002

@parallax3d but george had the side of someone aggressing towards him, then mounting him and striking his cranium against the ground. ohh and he called police before hand. very very very wise move. #1 actions before anything else. Shoulda learned that in ur ccw course. Honestly mr crocker has a very good shot of proving his innocence. I'd just hate to see the increased actions of discharging a firearm just because. That's not the way we were taught.


pam_garrett61
pam_garrett61

@nwpawluk @smdrpepper

Once again, to another idiot, you obviously have never been on a float trip before. That’s what people do, you float down the river, pull over on gravel bars to take a break, eat, or maybe wait for your friends/group to catch up. You don’t, and we didn’t ever go past any Keep Out/No Trespassing/Private Property signs, EVER! We also pick up other peoples trash that is in the river. So until you know what happened, or know the group in this case, don’t comment at all!

parallax3d
parallax3d

@girlof72 - So, if I have a gun rocks will just bounce off of me harmlessly, huh?  Sorry, but MULTIPLE people with rocks ARE a threat!  You CAN kill someone by throwing rocks.  Haven't you ever read the Bible where they "stone people to death?"

grantmcbee68
grantmcbee68

@pam_garrett61 @nwpawluk @smdrpepper   Pam, the law is clear if the river is not navigable, you are on the river on the good graces of the property owner.   If floaters did not act entitled the incident would not have gotten out of hand.    

parallax3d
parallax3d

 @pam_garrett61 - They did FAR more than pull over on a gravel bar.  They were well up the river bank onto his property.  Besides, on the river in question, if there is a gravel bar, the property line extends to the CENTER of the river. 

girlof72
girlof72

@cpsims @girlof72 @sandyj he should of went back to the house and called the cops,,,aint no doubt this guy was just sitting waiting on something to happen...

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