June 9, 2014 — The Denver Post reports that a certain type of gun-mounted flashlights used by police officers has been linked to five accidental shootings.
Some tactical flashlights are designed with a switch located beneath the trigger on a pistol. The Post describes several cases involving SureFire X-series flashlights in which police officers accidentally shot and killed people when they were simply trying to press the flashlight switch. SureFire also manufactures grip-activated flashlights that do not have a push-button next to the trigger.
In 2012, the family of a man who was fatally shot by an undercover police officer in Dallas filed a lawsuit alleging that the SureFire X300 flashlight on the officer’s handgun was responsible for his death.
According to the Associated Press, the 25 year-old man, Michael Alcala, was shot and killed in 2010 during a drug bust. The officer said he was trying to turn on the flashlight when he accidentally fired his weapon and killed Alcala. The city of Plano, Texas settled a lawsuit filed by Alcala’s family for $245,000. The officer testified:
“I was attempting to squeeze the light mechanism when my weapon fired and the suspect fell to the ground. … I never intended to fire my weapon. I never intended to have my finger on the trigger.”
Investigators found that at least five people in the United States were shot accidentally by police officers using gun-mounted flashlights, including two victims who were other police officers. However, it is impossible to know how many incidents have occurred because no one tracks the incidents nationally.
Denver’s police chief has banned the use of tactical flashlights with switches below the trigger guard. The Los Angeles Police Department requires police officers to complete a training course on the use of the flashlights and pass a night-qualification shooting test. However, the rules regarding flashlights on guns vary widely across the nation. The Aurora police department has no special training requirements for tactical flashlights.
The Post talked to Steve Ijames, a retired police chief who conducts training programs. He recommended that officers should shine a gun-mounted flashlight to one side of the suspect:
“You can’t just point guns at people because you have a flashlight. … I’ve seen officers use a flashlight-mounted gun to help a person search their wallet for a driver’s license. I’ve literally seen that on a traffic stop.”
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