From the Annals of Police Militarization: How Many NDs Don’t We Hear About?

Pharr, TX SWAT (courtesy brownsvilleherald.com)

“A former member of the Pharr [Texas] police SWAT team has sued a colleague and the city after suffering a gunshot wound to the leg two years ago during a training exercise the victim says was covered up,” brownsvilleherald.com reports. Cops training to be pseudo-military ninja warriors. What could possibly go wrong? And police cover ups are almost as common as police f-ups, if not more. So . . . what’s the big deal? Let’s call it institutional stupidity. Check out the details of the lawsuit filed by Hector Manuel Mariscal against the Pharr PD . . .

The M-4 described in the lawsuit is a military weapon that can switch from semi-automatic to automatic fire and is made by Bushmaster Firearms International, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The rifle is described in the lawsuit as the most powerful weapon in the Pharr Police Department’s arsenal, yet it is given to every officer — including ones with minimal training who are not proficient in its use.

Pharr police created an unsafe atmosphere with no supervision that risked the public’s safety by having their trainings in the parking lot, the lawsuit states.

Villescas wouldn’t allow his SWAT leaders to participate with other agencies in courses for instructors, and the training for their officers was carried out by SWAT leaders who lack basic SWAT certification or training, Mariscal’s attorney, Mauro Ruiz, claims in the lawsuit.

Even though [Juan Carlos “JC”] Aguirre is a member of the SWAT team, the lawsuit says he didn’t have experience or training with the M-4 since his position is a community officer for events at schools and he was not even proficient with his duty handgun.

Wow. Talk about burning your bridges. Still money talks, ex-SWAT members walk. With a limp. As mentioned above, Mr. Mariscal was shot in the leg when one of the aforementioned M4s—supposed to be unloaded—”went off” in the parking lot. What’s more, it wasn’t the team’s first rodeo mishap. Wrath of God anyone?

Aguirre  had been responsible for a previous firing of his gun in the parking lot and that despite lacking physical and mental qualities needed for SWAT work, Villescas had allowed him to be on the SWAT team, the lawsuit claims.

Police Lt. Gilbert Guerrero had sent a memo to Villescas asking to remove Aguirre from the SWAT team; however, the chief ignored the request, according to the lawsuit.

How many SWAT screw-ups are there across the length and breadth of this police-militarized country of ours? It’s time to shut off the federal spigot pouring-out machine guns, ammunition, tanks and other weapons of war to our fellow civilians.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

63 Responses to From the Annals of Police Militarization: How Many NDs Don’t We Hear About?

  1. avatarBlehtastic says:

    M4′s require training that can’t be done in a parking lot?

    Maybe to consistently hit inside the 8 ring at 300 yards, but to not hit a buddy in the leg? I don’t think so.

    If you can’t not accidentally shoot someone with those dirt simple controls, you shouldn’t even be a cop, let alone SWAT.

  2. avatarSergio says:

    One Three Position Selector, One Bolt Release, One Mag Release, Charging Handle And Trigger. Yep Time To Take Away His Car Keys!

    • avatarTTACer says:

      I just went over this with my 15 yo nephew and somehow none of the guns I let him handle “went off”. With the DA/SA pistol, “this is the slide, slide release, decocker, mag release”. I racked the slide and dropped the mag, me “is is still loaded?” him “Yes.” Pop the round out of the chamber, “Is it still loaded?” “Yes.*” Right answer. Don’t point it at anything you don’t want to wreck and you damn sure keep your finger off the trigger. We were 20 ft from Grandpa’s house.

      *He knew what Jeff C. and I meant.

    • avatarS.CROCK says:

      horn, steering wheel, low beam and high beam head lights, windshield wipers with many settings, left and right blinker, radio and air conditioning buttons, emergency lights, emergency brake, and many more basic controls… so ya, i totally agree with you

  3. avatarMike says:

    Notice that Bushmaster is named in the lawsuit. The trick is to sue every deep pocket remotely involved (wouldn’t be surprised if he sued the ammo maker, the maker of the clothes and tac gear he was wearing) for a one BILLION dollars, and let them all settle for a few hundred thousand (which would be cheaper than going through a lawsuit, even if successful).

    • avatartfunk says:

      Yep, total BS that Bushmaster is named in the suit

      • avatarMark N. says:

        Actually. without reviewing the lawsuit itself, there is no way to make this judgment. Although gun manufacturers are immune from simple negligence suits, they are still exposed to products liability (defective products) claims. In other words, if the M4 malfunctioned, Bushmaster would be liable. It is unwise to jump to conclusions without sufficient facts.

        • avatarAccur81 says:

          It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to safely handle a select fire Bushmaster. I think it’s pretty damn safe to say that the lawsuit against Bushmaster is BS.

        • avatarMark N. says:

          Are you saying that there has NEVER been a Bushmaster M4 that malfunctioned? Amazing. I should buy one of those before California outlaws them all.

          You also have to consider that there is probably SOME evidence that the rifle malfunctioned–specifically the word of the guy who fired it. “I don’t know what happened man, I was just jogging along and BANG! it went off! I didn’t TOUCH the trigger, I swear!” And the attorney would be remiss–even negligent–if he did NOT name Bushmaster, even if it ultimately turns out that there is no case against it because an inspection by a qualified gunsmith/armorer fails to disclose the existence of a mechanical defect. But you know as well as I that machines malfunction all the time, and the possibility of that occurring cannot be dismissed out of hand, especially where, as you yourself say, it isn’t rocket science to operate an M4 safely..

        • avatarihatetrees says:

          @Mark N.
          Actually. without reviewing the lawsuit itself, there is no way to make this judgment.
          Horse Hockey.
          Examine the Bushmaster in question. If it currently functions properly and has no unauthorized modifications, operator error is 99.99999999999% likely. Bushmaster is as likely to be negligent as a baseball sized-meteor is likely to come through my window in the next 5 minutes.

          Of course, for the statistically, mathematically, and mechanically illiterate Trial Bar and the jurors they favor, this is not good enough. Pimping the fantasy that guns magically fail by ‘going off’ and then fixing themselves (leaving no evidence of defect) is SOP for clowns in the (mostly) firearms hating trial bar.

          It is unwise to jump to conclusions without sufficient facts.
          The fact that Bushmasters work properly millions of times per year and that the human operator, in this case, was a known repeat defective, is conclusive enough for me.

          Are you saying that there has NEVER been a Bushmaster M4 that malfunctioned? Amazing. I should buy one of those before California outlaws them all.
          Well done deflection and change of subject from ‘negligence’ to ‘malfunction’. Firearms often fail to FIRE. Maintained firearms almost never (see above meteorite example for probabilities) fire when properly cleared and safe. Equating the two is idiotic.

      • avatarAlan says:

        Look, I’m a lawyer. It doesn’t matter whether Bushmaster’s product was defective. They’re in the suit so the real negligent parties can’t blame everything on Bushmaster without Bushmaster there to defend themselves.

        The plaintiff will depose an expert from Bushmaster who likely will say the M4 in question was not defective and that it was a ND. Then they will be dropped.

        But that way the plaintiff won’t have to deal with the PD/etc. screaming during trial, “Why didn’t he sue the REAL bad guys, Bushmaster? It’s all their fault!”

  4. avatarMichigunner says:

    Quite a privilege to be a cop! If any one of us accidentally shot someone with an honest to god M4 (legal or not) we would get the fastest ticket to federal prison you have ever seen. Hell, you would be screwed beyond belief if you did that in ANY branch of the armed services. I dont think this type of event is commonplace at all, but it gives a man reason to stop and think. Apparently, your local PD and it’s members could truly be above the law.

  5. avataroutwardhound says:

    think I read somewhere, sometime about stupid people doing stupid things in stupid places…..

  6. avatarChuckN says:

    It will be interesting to see if the department actually has to address
    the qualifications (or lack thereof) of its SWAT team members in court.

    • avatarHank says:

      I’m still shocked to find that Pharr, a tiny dot of a place, has a SWAT team. It takes longer to drive a across a Wal-Mart parking lot than it does to cross Pharr on the interstate.

      • avatarJus Bill says:

        It appears that Pharr is big enough to have someone who can complete Federal grant applications, even if it is in crayon.

        • avatarL1A1Rocker says:

          THAT right there is the problem sweeping our country right now. Too much free money to buy all the cool toys. Then the problems start when trying to justify the toys – they get used when they shouldn’t be.

    • avatarJoe says:

      Sounds like a rinky-dink SWAT team.

  7. avatartdiinva says:

    Not that this would save anyone from a ND but rank and file city/suburban police officers do not need a rifle to do their jobs. If you want to give them and edge over the bad guy give them a pistol caliber carbine just like the give the police in Europe.

    There is a need for SWAT units but let’s get back to the original concept, i.e., use them for special situations like that posed by a Charles Whitman. You don’t need a specialized unit to serve a warrant even if the suspect is a threat. Four-six regular officers armed with pistols and maybe a couple shotguns/PCCs should do the job. And let’s get away from the camos and kevlar headgear used by the military.

    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      Let’s not. Camo and armor make all the sense in the world, especially for special (the S in our favorite acronym) situations.

      I have no problem with well-equipped cops. Their level of exposure to hazards is typically somewhat higher than that of your run of the mill shoeshine dude or pizza deliverator.

      However, training, skill and a deap-seated awareness of their dutes and obligations should also be present in heaps and mounds.

      There are some first-rate departments out there, and first-rate LEOs are legion. Unfortunately, they don’t make the news because the only good news is bad news.

      I’m thinking that our erstwhile Barney Fife should be subjected to a serious demotion, and that everyone who enabled, em placed and retained him in the Wrong Job should be kissin’ the gun, and then the keel.

      ‘Nighty ‘night.

      • avatartdiinva says:

        Camo patterns are very terrain specific. Your standard pixelated pattern makes you stand out like a sore thumb in an urban environment. BDUs are a waste of money for urban police. Police also don’t need to don the “Fritz” to give them ballistic protection for their heads. You can use some other style headgear.

        • avatarRuss Bixby says:

          Yeah, I was thinking urban camo rather than field.

          They’ll have invisibility suits soon enough, anyway.

      • avatar16V says:

        “Their level of exposure to hazards is typically somewhat higher than that of your run of the mill shoeshine dude or pizza deliverator.”

        The average pizza dude is neither armed, nor issued body armor. He enters unlit areas, late at night, with only his wits and maybe a 6D-cell Maglite for protection. He has no backup. He’s only marginally ‘on guard’ – he’s just trained to bring the ‘za. When he gets beaten and/or killed, there might be a 5 second blurb on the news. Might. There will be no taxpayer-funded lavish parade send-off, with many hundreds of other pizza men from other stores (and even other chains) all driving their company-issued delivery vehicles in a long parade down the highway. There will not be a massive investigation, with unlimited OT and people reassigned from other cases to find the pizza man killer. There will not be hours of local news covered to the tragic death of the pizza man, nor his “heroic” life, nor collections started to help pay his widow and child.

        There’s a reason tens of millions of folks in very ‘average’ non-dangerous jobs have a far higher work death rate than cops – because being a cop isn’t very dangerous at all.

        • avatarMatt in FL says:

          Except for that guy in West Melbourne, FL last week. That guy had his shit together.

        • avatar16V says:

          True, true he did. But very, very few delivery companies of any stripe allow their employees to be armed.

    • avatarCliff H says:

      I fail to see how any vegetation design camo can be necessary or convey any advantage to your average SWAT team. It’s not like they are sneaking up on an enemy encampment in some third world jungle or crossing a poppy field in Afghanistan, they are in almost every case assaulting an urban location and use speed rather than stealth to gain the advantage of surprise. Even if the camo pattern wasn’t so ludicrous in an urban environment all the camo and M4s accomplish is to enforce the concept that they are some sort of para-military force in an occupied and hostile environment.

      Yes, LEOs should have adequate protective gear and weapons suitable to the task at hand. But IMO these should be a reflection of their civilian “Serve and Protect” function, not a Spec Ops assault team. Even if they were tailored exactly like military uniforms their SWAT gear should be identical in color and decoration as the everyday uniforms worn in their department, patches, badges and all.

    • avatarDaveL says:

      More to the point, we need to stop using SWAT raids for situations that used to be handled with strongly worded letters.

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      While I mostly agree with you, I want to make one small point. I went and looked, and I invite you to do the same, at where exactly Pharr, TX is. Pharr isn’t just your average American city/suburb. It’s right on the border in deep south Texas, part of a larger metro area with population of 800k on the US side (and nearly another million on the Mexican side). It has it’s own not-insignificant border crossing and is immediately adjacent to an even larger crossing that feeds into McAllen, TX, and the city literally straddles one of the major roads that leads away from one of those border crossings.

      My point is, they have a little more to worry about than your average city of 70,000 located in, say, Missouri or Iowa.

      • avatarneiowa says:

        So the local POPO are conducting armed patrols along the border shooting invading narcos? Or been watching too much Rambo and Terminator.

        How many of the {mexican named) officers involved are US citizens?

        • avatarjim says:

          Actually, the majority of the US citizens born in the Valley since statehood have Hispanic names and grew up speaking Spanish. Pinkies who don’t hable the local lingo are known as “snowbirds,” “carpetbaggers” or “gabachos.”

      • avatar16V says:

        I’ll try this one more time, since my first one vaporized. I’ll leave out the link this time, maybe that’ll help.

        When you start looking at Pharr TX, keep looking, all the way to their actual crime stats, not something that people just think it ‘must be’. Pharr has a lower crime rate than TX on average. It is also safer than the median US National crime rate. Like pretty much every other TX border town.

        Truth is, living on the MX border only makes you closer to live donkey entertainment options and OTC Xanax. Crime and violence? Not so much…

        • avatarMatt in FL says:

          I take your point. All I did is look it up on Google maps and then Wikipedia for a little demographic data. I didn’t see anything about crime rates in my thumbnail search.

        • avatar16V says:

          No big deal, it’s one of those popular-wisdom/propaganda things that I always hear locals trying to dispel on in-depth, non-sensational news stories. We hear the lie so much from the spin doctors, that we start to just accept it.

          There’s lots of reasons (most of them monetary) that some folks want us all to believe these border towns are some scary, scary place ’bout to be over-run with hordes of MX drug lords and there will be blood in the streets. Truth is, in most of them you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Fed of some ilk.

        • avatarJus Bill says:

          And I guess they don’t have Mutual Assistance calls in Pharr and McAllen, either.

  8. avatarBob4 says:

    I was an USAF SP. SPs typically carried an M-16 every day depending on our posting, and we carried no less than 120 rounds depending on theater. I worked in several SP groups exceeding 1500 airmen. In 8 years, none of the airmen in any of the units I worked ever misfired an M-16. These rifles have got to be the simplest firearms to operate safely. It really makes me wonder about the competency of some civilian police departments.

    • avatarJoseph says:

      This is true, I was an USN MAA and not once have I witnessed a ND from our M4′s, 16′s or Mossy’s. While they do happen they drill gun safety so far into your head that the most common time for it to happen was during shift change due to fatigue and not while prancing around in parking lots.

  9. avatarMark N. says:

    Most of these cases never see the light of day because they are covered by Workers’ Compensation. This guy’s issue I imagine, is that he suffered a permanent injury disqualifying him from police work, and what Workers’ Comp pays, even for total disability, is little more than a chump sum lump sum settlement for future wage loss plus meds for life.

  10. avatarHasdrubal says:

    Well, a few things here. My guess from reading between the lines of the story is that the parking lot training may involve live rounds. As in, they are using live rounds to do weapons manipulation drills that should be done with dummy rounds. Not specifically stated that I noticed, but if the claim is that the parking lot is unsafe and there’s been a previous ND in the parking lot, it makes sense.

    Also, in four years in the Army, I knew of several ND’s in my company. Including but not limited to, a PFC firing into the ground when jumping off a Stryker ramp, another PFC firing into the ground between the PL and the PSG during a team movement live fire range, a jammed M240 being brought off the firing line and fired into the back of a Stryker when it was set down on the ramp (driver was sitting right next to where the bullet hit), and a Captain climbing into the airguard hatch on the back of a Stryker using the trigger of another M240 as a handle. Fired a burst into the wall right above the doorway where a Lt Col and two Majors had just walked into a meeting with some local big shots… That one got written up as a weapons maintenance issue.

    And lastly, while NDs are never justified and can usually be avoided through proper training, they’re not just limited to police. How many police NDs don’t get reported in the media? Fair question, and it’s probably not even ten percent. In fact, I bet it’s about the same as the number of NDs from the general public that don’t get reported in the media. I’ve gone to more than one call that doesn’t make the cut for news at 11.

    • avatarHasdrubal says:

      Actually, now that I think about it, the first M240 ND I mentioned was a different company in the same battalion. They also had a guy fire half a mag from an AK-47 into the ceiling of a room with the rest of his platoon immediately upstairs, because he was bored and goofing around with the gun. Somehow nobody was hurt.

      I actually had a company commander ND a M240 into a clearing berm right next to me at the end of a convoy run. Fired a 3-4 round burst over my head from the Humvee turret, said “my bad, guys,” and nobody felt the need for any official action to be taken. In fact, out of all of those, the jumping off the Stryker and the AK into the ceiling were the only ones that ended up in official disiplinary action. Not serious, but at least it’s down on paper somewhere.

      To be fair, the clearing berm is by definition the proper place to have an ND. It wasn’t kept secret, and nobody felt like he had gotten away with something due to his rank.

    • avatarRuss Bixby says:

      A captain used the bang squeezie thingie on an M-240 as a fu¢king grab handle when hoisting his pig-sodding arse into a Stryker?!?

      How in the Nine Hells of Danté did that not result in a summary beheading?

      • avatarHasdrubal says:

        I swear to God, I did not make that up… and I never said it was a _good_ unit. I think the battalion commander was so worried about everything else going on that he felt it would just make him look worse to have it become public knowledge.

  11. avatarPhoenixNFA says:

    If you at unfamiliar with the geography of Texas (or are too lazy to google “Pharr, TX” let me say that it is a hop skip and jump away from Mexico on the Rio Grande in Deep South texas.

    • avatarjim says:

      Well…. yeah, Pharr is right across the bridge from Reynosa and is right in the middle of that whole border drug war. (Which exists because of the American market for illegal stimulation, which we haven’t come up with a solution to no matter how much we argue over it, but that’s another story…) So I guess if you are as worked up over drugs-n-aliens-n-people-what-don’t-speak-English as the average Houston Chronicle commenter is over Obamacare, I suppose you could argue that the PPD (wasn’t that an old Commie Tommy gun?) really needs a SWAT team. However… the Valley is the most Federalized, militarized area of the United States, and you can’t walk your Chihuahua without tripping over ICE/ ATF/ DEA/ TNG camoed up and armed to the teeth. It sounds like the thing for the Pharr cops to do is give up on the tacticool envy and go back to being policemen. You know, traffic tickets and burglary reports. And if you’ve studied the colonia region.. the town clowns down there are not well trained or paid cops, and have a rate of corruption that rivals their cousins on the other side of the bridge. Yeah, it’s a border town with problems (many of them rooted north of the border) but giving Barney Fife some woodland pajamas and a stutterin’ cousin is not likely to ease the situation.

  12. avatarroadkill6 says:

    You show me a police station without a few bullet holes in it and I’ll show you a brand new police station.

  13. avatar0351 says:

    3.5 years in an infantry battalion, millions of rounds between us, 14 months total with constantly loaded weapons and only 2 negligent discharges the entire time by anybody. And they were fried immediately. It’s not complicated.

    • avatarJaredFromTampa says:

      They fry 11Bravos for ND’s now? Jeeze. Not only do they have the worst MOS in all the US Armed forces, they have to worry about getting dropped into boiling oil. Poor guys.

      • avatar0351 says:

        Oh yes, though they were both 0311s(Marines), and both in training. As it turns out, one of them shot an instructor through a BFA(idiot), and it happened that the instructor had been shot three times, once in combat, twice in training. He called his own nine line while pistol whipping the idiot responsible. Hilarious.
        And personally, I think boiling oil may just be the thing. Maybe the offending hand as an everlasting reminder…

      • avatarneiowa says:

        11 IS the Army (and USMC). Everything else is support or windowdressing.

        You have not really been paying attention to the Obuma (and Bush) wars have you.

        • avatarJaredFromTampa says:

          Um, I guess I was only paying attention from 2006-2007…when I spent my days (and nights) flying Medevac from Camp Anaconda (or Balad, whatever). I guess we were just window dressing. Thanks for that :) 11 is the backbone of the Army, I agree. It is also the most crapped upon, abused and undesirable MOS in the Army. Much respect if it was yours.

  14. avatarGov. William J. Le Petomane says:

    Civilian police have no business possessing fully automatic firearms. What are they going to have to resort to “spray and pray”?

    I’d make an exception for Border Patrol though.

    • avatarJus Bill says:

      Because they’re sometimes such pathetically bad shots as to NEED a full clip to score one hit?) See Empire State Building.)

      If the yahoo in question did this multiple times and was essentially a Mall Cop, he needs to be assigned to the Bow and Arrow Squad STAT.

  15. avatarArdent says:

    If you work hard, train hard and exist in a perpetually armed group NDs are an if they are a when. This is why you don’t point weapons at friendly.

    I have seen a variety of guns so badly maintained and mistreated as to cause ND’s due to mechanical failure. I’ve seen an SKS begin firing on bolt closure and continue to runaway until it was empty and they’re about and tough and fool proof as a weapon gets. Even the XDS pistols so recently released, from a good name, apparently high quality and all are under recall because they may fire on closing the slide and or slam fire multiple rounds per trigger pull.

    On the other hand, if the goober who shot this guy had a previous ND it would seem to me that he’s awfully suspect. In my experience if no one is hit and nothing too hard to explain is damaged NDs get walked off sort of like car accidents, this stuff will happen, lets learn and move on.

    In this instance it sounds like the suit results from several factors all being in place at once.

    You have the prior ND, the assertion that the firer wasn’t suited to police work in the first place and that command was aware of this. That the individually had a formal request to remove him from SWAT that wasn’t denied but completely ignored. That the training facility was inherently unsafe and woefully inadequate for the purpose for which it was being used. That the aggrieved party suffered permanent injury and disability related to his service/employment . . .

    If a competent guy has a screw up on a prepared range that injures no one and no one reports that he’s incompetent, in writing before or after and no one is hurt, no suit. If 1 or two of these factors exists, still likely no suit. It’s not just the boys in blue. If one of my close confederates managed to accidentally shoot me in such a manner that I didn’t want vengeance I very well might not sue provided I wasn’t forced to due to financial considerations.

    If the assertions in this suit are true this was a cluster **** that eventually lead to maiming the aggrieved. Every ND doesn’t need a news report or a law suit. This one has so much stink on it I’d throw the whole mess at the court room wall and see what stuck too.

  16. avatarRalph says:

    Is it coincidence that the SWAT shot hit officer Mariscal at approximately the same height as a medium-sized family pet? I think not.

  17. avatarJaredFromTampa says:

    Train like you fight.

  18. avatarWI Patriot says:

    Which is exactly why LE shouldn’t have such weapons, they don’t know how to handle them in a safe manner…just because someone is a LEO, doesn’t give them automatic knowledge of such weaponry…

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