TRIGGERTROUBLE

Eyewitness News' Patrick Nelson goes behind the scenes to find out what the Fresno Sheriff's Department is doing after a gun accident claimed the life of one of their sergeants last year and another gun accident wounded a deputy a few days later.


By PATRICK NELSON | February 10, 2017

It had been years since the Fresno County Sheriff's Department dealt with an accidental shooting involving one of their deputies, but in 2016 a sergeant was killed and another deputy was injured after two incidents where guns were accidentally fired.

The two separate cases took place in the span of just a few days. On Oct. 31, Sgt. Rod Lucas was killed when a backup weapon accidentally fired and on Nov. 4 a deputy accidentally shot himself in the leg during a multi agency operation in Fresno.

Eyewitness News goes behind the scenes to find out why department leaders are sticking with their current gun and believe an emphasis on training will put a stop to cases like this.

On Nov. 4, 2016, a gunshot rang out in southeast Fresno during a multi-agency law enforcement operation.

"That was really kind of a freak accident," said Undersheriff Steve Wilkins of the Fresno County Sheriff's Department.

A Fresno County Sheriff's deputy and 10-year veteran shot himself in the leg. Wilkins says there was an issue with the deputy's gun holster.


Wilkins with the holster that helped cause an accidental shooting

"When he had this [holster and gun] in his trunk, there are straps that go around that help you tie it to your leg. When it was in his trunk one of the ends of the strap that had a clip on it made its way into the holster after being moved around," Wilkins said. "The deputy went to put this on. He put the waist part on and it was hanging. He went to pull the strap and when he pulled the strap the other end of the strap was actually touching the trigger and it pulled the trigger."

This was the first accidental shooting with a department issued weapon since deputies started carrying the Smith and Wesson M&P 45 three years ago, but the incident came less than a week after Fresno County Sheriff's Sgt. Rod Lucas was killed. Investigators say it was the result of a colleague's secondary gun being accidentally fired.

Investigators ruled it was an accident.

"Guns don't fire themselves."

"It was the same platform as this weapon. It was an M&P Shield. It wasn't a department weapon. It was a personally owned weapon by the detective," Wilkins said.

Both cases caused the Fresno County Sheriff's Department to take a closer look at the weapons involved.

"Guns don't fire themselves," Wilkins said. "So, the only time a gun is going to fire is if there is something mechanically wrong with it – which we are comfortable there is nothing mechanically wrong with these guns, or if something pulls the trigger."

Out at the sheriff's gun range Lt. Robert Salazar who has been with the sheriff's department for more than two decades said the focus must continue to be on training.

"Not only training on our equipment, but even the generation. The culture of folks, of our staff, who carried these older guns," Salazar said.

Scott Weishaar helps lead the Fresno County Sheriff's training unit. He's an expert on the M&P 45. It does not have an external thumb safety, it's something that came up after the accidental shooting involving the weapon in November.

"You can have all the safety devices in the world on a handgun, but anomalies like that can happen," Weishaar said.

The department-issued weapon has a trigger safety.

"You can have all the safety devices in the world on a handgun, but anomalies like that can happen"

"If I pull on the top of the trigger, the trigger will not move to the rear. So I need to press the trigger in the center for that block to come up for the trigger to move to the rear," Wieshaar said as he showed us the gun.

The gun will not fire if the magazine is dropped, or if the slide is pushed back at least a quarter inch.

Even with these safety features, deputies are trained to stay off the trigger.

"We train [for] finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. So if they have their gun drawn for any reason, you'll see them indexing their finger on the side of the trigger," Wieshaar said.

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Wieshaar said new recruits will have to practice pulling their guns from their holsters thousands of times to get the fundamentals right before they ever put bullets in a gun.

"You create a bad habit and literally thousands of times you may have to draw your handgun to break a bad habit," Wieshaar said.

With 2016's accidental shootings fresh in their minds, Fresno County Sheriff's Department leaders say when it comes to training, they can't afford to be complacent.

Salazar said, "It's a constant evolution and it's ever changing and it'll continue to change.”

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