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Denver PD Officer Fired for Using Unauthorized Tracer Rounds

The Denver PD fired officer Robert Fitzgibbons last month over an incident that took place last July. Let no one say the city or DPD rushed to judgement on this one. The problem? Fitzgibbons fired his Smith & Wesson rifle using .223 tracer rounds he bought himself rather than ammo issues by the force. But wait. There’s more…

It all started when Sorl Shead began firing a pistol in the air outside a club where other fights had broken out earlier. Denver beat officers and SWATties were already in the area because of the trouble. When Shead lowered the pistol and pointed it toward some of the officers, they responded as you’d expect.

Officer John Schledwitz and Fitzgibbons both shot at Shead. Schledwitz fired three .45s from his Glock. Fitzgibbons fired five rounds from his rifle. Shead must have been as fast as Neo because he was untouched by any projectile.

Unfortunately Diamond Demmer, who was walking to her car, was hit by three bullet fragments from Fitzgibbons’s rounds. Thankfully, her wounds were not life-threatening.

Among the five violations cited by the manger (sic) of safety as reasons for letting Fitzgibbons go, were prejudicial conduct, violating department rules and mayor executive orders as they pertain to ammunition.

Fitzgibbons’s union rep indicates they’ll be appealing the dismissal.


  1. avatar BLAMMO says:

    There should a department policy of firing cops who “can’t shoot for shit”.

    1. avatar Derek says:

      Well we have to have SOME cops…

      1. avatar Eliot says:

        I believe I read on this cite a dismal stat that the national avg. was 30% accuracy?

        1. avatar AK says:

          I wonder how that compares to any other high stress situation?

          It’d be interesting to compare it to the national average for accuracy in non-LEO DGUs, if there is any statistical information available.

  2. avatar Dave C says:

    So Dept ammo wouldn’t have fragmented?

  3. avatar JOE MATAFOME says:

    These guys fired eight shots and were only able to hit an innocent bystander. They should both get some range time so that they can hit what they’re shooting at.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      Who said they didn’t hit what they were aiming at?

      1. avatar BLAMMO says:

        Who said they were aiming?

  4. avatar TTACer says:

    He wasn’t fired for poor marksmanship?

  5. avatar Sean says:

    I don’t really have any problem with this officer being fired. He broke the rules, and injured an innocent woman. It is not like he was told to only carry Gold Dots , then carried Rangers. He bought, and loaded, completely inappropriate ammo. Ammo that he had no real need for, and was uncalled for. He is lucky the woman was not hurt more severely.

  6. avatar Ralph says:

    If the tracer rounds didn’t contribute to the bystander’s injury, then the penalty does not fit the crime and the officer should not be fired. If the unauthorized rounds had something to do with the injury, firing would be warranted. Does anyone know what the department issues, and whether they fragment less than tracer rounds?

    1. avatar TTACer says:

      The reason (according to something I heard forever ago and have no idea if it’s true) cops aren’t allowed to use their own ammo (in good depts) is so that they can’t cover up a shooting. Count ’em out, count ’em in. The tracer part doesn’t really matter except for the slight chance of causing a fire.

      1. avatar Leo Atrox says:

        Yeah … Except could you imagine what would happen if a cop shot a person with at tracer in the leg, gut or other non-life-threatening area, and if that tracer round embedded itself in the recipient? The kind of trauma caused by such a round embedded in a person’s body would be a lawyer’s wet dream.

  7. avatar Ben Eli says:

    Tracers get their illumination from phosphorus or magnesium. These chemicals burn at extremely high temperatures and glow brightly because of it. I know phosphorus grenades cause intense burning as well as the sensation of chunks of metal ripping through flesh. But as far as I could find out, tracer rounds do not result in a more lethal or painful gunshot. Geneva clearly allows the use of tracers in war, while disallowing the use of hollow points, bayonets, or other weapons that result in what they think is unnecessary suffering. Makes no real sense why the officer was disciplined, if in fact he was let go because of this incident alone.
    The guy still needs to learn how to shoot.

    1. avatar G.R. Mead says:

      Geneva clearly allows the use of tracers in war, while disallowing the use of hollow points, bayonets,

      Bayonets are not prohibited by the Geneva Convention. The last successful bayonet charge was not in 1804 but in 2004 in Iraq, and against five to one odds, handed out ten to one in casualties.
      The Argyll & Sutherland Highlander Regiment.
      Motto: Nemo Me Impune Lacessit :: No One Assails Me With Impunity
      (reinforced by squad of Prince of Wales reg. )

      Never underestimate the power of willful aggression and intimidation.

      1. avatar Ben Eli says:

        Misinformed, my bad. Thanks for the links.

        1. avatar Gunnutmegger says:

          Actually, the Geneva Conventions do not ban “hollowpoints”.

          The Hague Convention of 1899 banned the “use in warfare of bullets that easily expand or flatten in the body”.

  8. avatar Mr. Lion says:

    As these rounds were almost certainly some sort of military surplus or new M196/856s FMJ tracers, they’d be no more (and probably somewhat less) likely to fragment than conventional ammo. Based on that, I wouldn’t say using tracers is a particularly big deal. Were something set on fire, that would be a different story.

    The firing offense, for me, would be the inability to hit a target within pistol range using five rounds from a rifle.

    1. avatar Leo Atrox says:

      Lions galore! Hypothetically, how would you like to have a tracer land in your gut? PD’s aren’t going to want anything to do with the lawsuits surrounding that case.

  9. avatar CUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

    Departments are normally very strict when it comes to weapons and ammo. Usually more so than qualification,sadly. Most departments will fire over using anything but department ammo, it wouldn’t have been as much a deal if he’d been found out before he fired them. Most departments also require qualification with the back up/off duty weapon too, if they allow one at all. It also could be politics-they just wanted to dump him anyway Another reason they are strict on issue only ammo-because some would make the mistake of using or trying to use the wrong caliber. It can come down to fear of weapons damage, and the real biggie: liability all the way around. Say it had been an armor piercing round in front of a school….

  10. avatar CUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

    We should remind readers that we are not putting down all L/E. I use to be a Deputy. It is the bad examples we are talking about. We need some more L/E to chime in, this is a discussion group. I respect law enforcement, but having been in it, I have seen some bad, and good.

  11. avatar Rob says:

    As always we don’t really know the entire story and that makes judging the situation hard.
    Breaking rules by using personal ammo. To me that is grounds for firing alone. They were hired to enforce rules (laws) and yet they can’t follow the rules. Not some one I’d want in that position. I have always had an issue with things of this sort.
    Tracer rounds “may” more likely ricochet and possibly fragment than particular ammo that could be issued. I say ricochet and fragment as the press and even publicity personnel don’t always use the right term or even know the difference.
    Many times the departments choose ammo for its legal reasons. They don’t have to like it, but if you are hired to enforce rules then you should follow them.
    Accuracy under fire, been there, seen it. I’ve seen very high end operators miss aimed shots under stress and absolute beginners nail it on the head during combat. This report didn’t mention if these guys were shootout vets or noobs.
    Still I feel more than likely what was told to the public was that it was fragments from misses that hit her when in reality it may have been they didn’t follow rule four and know the target and whats around then accidentally shot her in the background.

  12. avatar Hunter S. says:


    Maybe the perp was on the move… but the story doesn’t indicate that.

    That’s pretty poor shooting.

  13. avatar Levi B says:

    The issue with using tracers in a department gun likely has more to do with fire risks and added wear to the barrel. Tracers heat the barrel up more than a conventional round as they are ignited by air friction–so they ignite well before they leave the barrel. The extra heat can make a very big difference to how many rounds a barrel will fire before losing significant accuracy. It’s more of an issue with guns that don’t have chrome lining, but it will still affect them under higher rates of fire.

  14. avatar TSgt B says:

    L evi B: Tracers are ignited by the powder charge. The tracer compound is necessarily in the base of the projectile, exposed to the combustion of the powder charge upon ignition; “air friction” has nothing to do with it.

  15. avatar poppymann says:

    It sound to me like the cop needed these rounds to figure out where he was shooting.
    Cop A: “I’m headed to the range to get some practice wanna join me?”
    Cop B: “Range time is for chumps, I got these cool tracer rounds at the Gun Show. I’m gonna get drunk ”
    End scene.

  16. avatar HARADA Shigemitsu says:

    Tracers are FMJ style bullets. Also, as they burn, they loose weight, becoming increasing unstable. Anyone who has shot or has seen a machine gun fire at night has seen the tracers bounce at all angles. If he were using dept issue ammo, like TAP, it would have disintegrated instead of ricocheting. Hollow point bullets have thinner gilding metal at the tip.

    “…they are ignited by air friction…”
    I stopped a fellow shooting tracers at a nearby public range.
    He argued that it was OK, because he removed the tracer part.
    You know, the red stuff on the tip, which, he explained worked like a match rubbing on the barrel to light the trace.
    I walked him down to the berm and made him help putting out the fire.
    Where do these people find such misinformation?

    1. avatar Matt Gregg says:

      I wonder if that same trick would turn AP ammo into ball.

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