Quick comments and takeaways on the recent negligent discharge by Va. Beach PD.
November 5th, 2015
For the background of the story, see this article from WAVY: Va. Beach officer accidentally shot by fellow officer.
The short version is this: Officers from VBPD went to the Academi training facility in Moyock, NC (formerly "Blackwater"). While cleaning weapons, one officer had a negligent discharge, which struck another officer in the arm. The injured officer was treated and released, so it appears that the injuries were not severe (insofar as a bullet wound can be described as "not severe").
1) Firearms safety is for everyone, not just the average citizen. I am glad that the injuries were not worse.
2) They keep using the term "accidental." Anyone that is even remotely familiar with firearms should understand that this was a negligent discharge. This type of incident can only happen when someone violates at least two of the four rules of firearms safety. That is negligence, not accidental.
3) The incident occurred in North Carolina, so Virginia law does not apply. That being said, Camden County Sheriff's Office has already indicated that no criminal charges are expected. That was quick. I would like to think that this had nothing to do with investigating "fellow officers" and that the average citizen would have received the same treatment. I have my doubts, because...
4) If this had happened in Virginia, and if this had happened to an average citizen (i.e., not a law enforcement officer), it is very likely that the person would have been charged with Reckless Handling of a Firearm in violation of §18.2-56.1.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that a similar incident should be prosecuted as Reckless Handling of a Firearm. I am suggesting that, under similar circumstances, the average citizen in Virginia would very likely be charged with the crime of Reckless Handling of a Firearm. And the average citizen would have no choice but to fight the charge through the criminal justice system.
Under most circumstances, Reckless Handling of a Firearm is a Class 1 Misdemeanor. That carries the possibility of up to 12 months in jail, a $2500 fine, and forfeiture of the weapon.
Under some circumstances, Reckless Handling of a Firearm can also be charged as a Class 6 Felony. (This was a fairly recent change.) That carries up to 5 years in prison, not to mention all of the life-changing consequences of a felony conviction.
The takeaways from this story:
1) Learn, breath, and live the four rules of firearms safety. (Google search: Jeff Cooper four rules.)
2) There are very few "accidents" involving firearms. There are, however, plenty of opportunities for negligent gun handling.
3) To be clear, I agree that a negligent discharge should not rise to the level of a criminal charge. Unfortunately, I know that the majority of citizens in Virginia would very likely be charged under similar circumstances. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you should not assume that law enforcement would be so quick to decide against criminal charges. In fact...
4) You should assume that you will very likely be charged under similar circumstances. With that assumption in mind, you should heed the standard advice for these situations: Don't Talk to the Police and Call an Attorney ASAP.
Having an attorney help you through this process can be incredibly beneficial, especially at the beginning. The responding officers will pressure you to make a statement at the scene. Even if you are not charged immediately, the detectives will often call and leave voicemails incessantly. They will often knock on your door or call you at work to pressure you to give up more information.
You should not have to worry about returning phone calls from detectives. You should not force yourself to give a statement to the police while you are still in shock from the incident.
If you call the office immediately, many of those problems can be handled. At a minimum, I can help you minimize any further damage.
And if you have already been charged, you should already understand the importance of having an attorney represent you. This is not the type of situation that you should try to handle on your own.