The Sheriff’s office appears to be playing down their use of force decisions during the most recent jail death. This is turning out to be a very public example of just how little the sheriff bothers to ensure staff understand the tools they have and use.
“Officials” from her office have implied it’s just an “air gun” like the one’s kids go out to play with. Not really. Not at all for that matter. It’s a less lethal WEAPON that should be treated as a serious tool with the potential to be lethal. It’s called LESS lethal and not non-lethal for a reason.
The Mercury News is reporting that the Sheriff’s PIO stated three plastic projectiles were shot, one minute apart, from what they call an “air gun.”
The “air gun” in question was an FN 303. This is the same less lethal weapon that was used in riots after a sporting event in Boston in 2004 resulting in the death of Emerson student, Victoria Snelgrove. The incident led to Boston PD destroying all 13 of their launchers, stating they were more powerful and lethal than expected, but only after paying a $15 million dollar settlement to her family. Accuracy was also questioned after a death in Israel involving this weapon
PoliceOne.com indicates the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department jail disturbance statistics over the past decade show that impact weapons are the least likely tool that will be employed. They are used less than ten percent of the time. Verbal commands and chemical agents along with a show of force end most disturbances.
According to the specs from the manufacturer, this less lethal weapon is primarily specified for riot and crowd control, not close range incidents.
In a professional article, it’s stated “From 15 feet, we found the FN 303 projectile penetrated 2.5 inches of T-shirt-covered, calibrated ordnance gelatin. Some penetration is both permitted and expected since virtually all impact projectiles, including beanbags and rigid batons, penetrate some amount of gelatin.” Varied documentation recommends thighs and buttocks as the target for this weapon. The PoliceOne.com article mentioned above states distance minimums are a concern in cell extractions, and states that most manufacturers of impact weapons recommend shots below the waist only, or at extremities.
Our sources are telling us the inmate was shot 3 times in the abdomen from no more than 8 feet away. If this is “by the book” according to Santa Clara “officials” as quoted by the Mercury News then they appear to have check out the wrong book from the library.
A biomedical study by NL-ARMS indicates the average distance recommended for use of less lethal impact weapons is 10 meters (32 feet) or four times further than in this incident. This is a great study to read if you’re looking for information on the medical aspect of the use of this weapon.
Other agencies have extensive policy regarding the use of this particular less lethal weapon. One example is patrol operations at Charles County Sheriff’s office in Maryland that requires all users be trained and certified, authorized, and all training documented. I can’t find anyone who is aware of a written or established policy on training and use of these weapons in our sheriff’s office.
A better comparison is a policy from the Minnesota Department of Corrections. This document outlines the use of this weapon in an actual prison/jail setting. It requires re-certification every 6 months. It lays out acceptable target areas. It even lays out the qualifications of the instructor. It details who is allowed to use the weapon, who is allow to authorize use. It REQUIRES that the subject target get medical attention to assess injuries as soon as practical.
And last but not least, this excerpt comes from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Policy and Procedures: “Deputies should keep in mind that while the use of the FN 303 is a non-lethal force, the potential for great bodily harm or death exists if the person’s head or neck is struck at any range, or if the person is struck in the torso or mid-section at range of less than 12 feet. Deputies will observe the range limitations of the weapon as instructed during training…Medical personnel shall evaluate any person struck by an impact round as soon as possible.
I am curious, again, if this was “by the book” what exactly does the rumored policy in the sheriff’s book say and why does it appear to differ drastically from everyone else’s book? We’re left again with yet another incident where training appears to possibly be the critical missing link between life and death and everyone is paying the price but the sheriff who continues with her negligence and circus act to distract everyone from the very real problem at hand — her.