Special Police Officer Maurica Manyan, District of Columbia Public Library Office of Public Safety, was shot and killed in training on Thursday, August 4, 2022. The trainer pulled his gun from his holster and shot Maurica in the chest, reportedly saying afterward, “I thought I had my training gun.” A trainee said the trainer was “playing around” so “as to not make the training dry.”
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Officer Jorge Arias, United States Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, was shot and killed in training on Wednesday, October 19, 2022. Jorge was shot in the chest during a role-playing scenario by another officer who mistook his training pistol for his handgun.
Deputy Austin Walsh, Brevard County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office, was shot and killed on December 3, 2022. The 23-year-old was playing an online game with his roommate when the two reportedly took a break. The roommate – also a law enforcement officer – was holding a gun he thought wasn’t loaded, “jokingly pointed the gun in Austin’s direction and pulled the trigger.”
These are triply sad. Sad first because of whom we lost. Sad because of whose actions caused the death. Sad also – and maddening – because these tragedies occurred because of a knowing disregard for our collectively agreed-upon firearm safety measures.
On the street, we don’t control most variables in police-involved lethal situations. A dangerous assailant chooses the date, time, place, weather and lighting conditions, victim, the number of assailants we face, the armament(s) used against us, and more. The only variables we control in street fights are our preparation before and our response during the attack.
In contrast with lethal fights, in the shooting cases referenced above and dozens of others like them, law enforcement officers controlled every variable that mattered.
We have safety protocols – often called “safety rules” – based on long-standing institutional experience that would prevent all of these casualties. These killings of our own people are entirely preventable. It should never happen. LEOs understand that and tend to do things right…most of the time. Success, however, requires every individual to follow our safety protocols 100% of the time.
These tragedies would be eliminated if we made NO exceptions to this protocol:
- Never point a firearm at a person unless doing so is legally justified.
Without justification, pointing a gun at a person is a crime, regardless of whether the gun is loaded. Under circumstances that cause the targeted person to reasonably fear being shot, direct pointing is usually a felony assault.  Direct pointing is a use of force,  which must be reasonable if it is to be lawful. So, I use the term “legally justified” to describe when an LEO may point a firearm at a person. 
As a firearms safety rule, this life-saving principle is worded in other ways: 
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Never point your firearm at anything you are not willing to shoot.
- Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
Prior to conducting force-on-force training or realistic scenario training – any training in which nonlethal training weapons (NLTW)  are pointed at humans – trainers must take a reputable NLTW safety class first. Second, they cannot shortcut what they learn in that class. In summary, NO firearm and no lethal ammunition can be allowed inside a scenario training area.
Another important safety measure is NLTWs must be handled with the same deference as firearms, insofar as pointing them at humans is concerned. Therefore, in scenario training the same principle applies:
- Never point an NLTW at a person unless doing so is justified within the scenario.
That eliminates pointing an NLTW at a person while “playing around.”
Pointing a gun at a person for fun demonstrates an individual’s disdain for our safety protocols.
Disregarding long-standing safety measures sometimes comes from neophyte ignorance. Training is a core safety measure. Industry-wide we know we need training before handling weapons and before conducting force scenarios. In very rare cases when an agency allows firearms or scenario training to be conducted by personnel who don’t have proper instructor training, that demonstrates disdain by management and foreseeably leads to casualty.
For the trained and tenured, arrogance is the enemy. Among other problems, arrogance causes complacency. To the degree we are arrogant (or complacent) with guns, we and people near us are in peril.
Arrogance is easier to recognize in others. Knowing I am partially blind to it in myself, my safety net is a constant, intentional, self-subjection to the firearm safety protocols. I remind myself that I am not smarter than the safety measures. I am not so experienced that I may choose when and to what degree I disregard a safety rule.
Sadly, fratricide will continue until every LEO and trainer humbly subjects themselves to our safety protocols 100% of the time. There is hope in those rules.
1. In Washington state, RCW 9.41.230 is a gross misdemeanor and there is no requirement that the targeted person even knows a gun, loaded or not, is or was pointed at them. RCW 9A.36.021(1)(c) assault in the second degree is a serious felony. No battery is required (and no discharge of a weapon is required) for charging either of these crimes.
2. Some examples include Robinson v. Solano County (CA), 278 F.3d 1007 (9th Cir., 2002); Telke v. U.S., 457 F.3d 1088 (9th Cir. 2006, revised 2007); Avina v. U.S., 681 f.3d 1127 (9th Cir. 2012).
3. For purposes of this article, “legally justified” means within the totality of circumstances, a lethal attack reasonably appears imminent.
4. Col. Jeff Cooper’s rules of firearms safety, rule #2. Wood, Wuestenberg, Kurata, “Law Enforcement Rangemaster, A Foundational Guide, 2022,” page 15. NRA safety rule #1.
5. For non-LEO readers, projectiles fired from NLTWs are typically non-penetrating plastic pellets, marking cartridges, or blanks. Some NLTWs discharge a laser but no projectiles. Other NLTWs discharge nothing. Safety gear pertinent to the specific NLTW is worn by participants.