It was February 2 of last year when Sam McGraw’s life changed forever.
The then 24-year-old former volunteer firefighter was sleeping inside his parent’s home in Deepwater, New Jersey when he heard a commotion outside.
“I thought people were breaking into my house,” McGraw said. “So I got a gun thinking it would keep everyone safe.”
Fearing for his parent’s safety, McGraw says he grabbed his Benelli 12-gauge shotgun, which he legally owns, and stepped outside to confront who he initially believed were intruders.
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It turns out they weren’t burglars however. Instead, they were Pennsville Police officers.
The officers were searching the area with a flashlight for a suspect who ran from a fight at a local bar. McGraw was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm with an unlawful purpose and aggravated assault by pointing a firearm.
Police accused McGraw of pointing his shotgun at the officers. McGraw insists that he only cocked his weapon and didn’t point it at anyone however.
“I just don’t see how people can grab a shotgun and rack it and stand on their front porch and point it at someone,” said Pennsville Police Chief AJ Cummings.
Under New Jersey’s Graves Act, which enforces strict mandatory sentencing for gun offenses, McGraw faced a mandatory minimum of five years in prison.
“I had to put my life on hold to see how this trial went,” McGraw said. “I could have essentially gone to prison for 10 years.”
According to Cummings, NJ gun laws are strict in order to protect both citizens and police. Cummings also believes McGraw should have called 911 before he even thought of picking up his gun.
“Why not call the police?” Cummings asked. “Why pick a gun up, go on the front step and take it in your own hands?”
“The weapon is a lot closer than police,” McGraw said.
McGraw was found not guilty and acquitted last March. Despite his freedom, McGraw, who now works at an auto parts store, says the incident has hurt his reputation.
His attorney, Tim Farrow, says he hopes his client’s ordeal will spark a conversation.
“It’s up to the police and prosecutors how they charge essentially,” Farrow said. “Because once the ball rolls and charges are filed, a judge can essentially do nothing to stop it.”