July 2, 2008

Suffolk Cop Sues Over Injuries at Firearms Range

By Christine Armario, Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Jul. 2--A Suffolk County police officer has filed a lawsuit claiming that he was struck and injured by a bullet fragment that ricocheted off a metal target holder at the department's firearms range.

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court by Officer Daniel Koenig in April, names Suffolk County and Action Target, the Utah-based manufacturer, and alleges both were aware that officers had been injured using the targets but failed to take remedial measures.

Suffolk police, citing ongoing litigation, would not comment on what mechanisms are in place to prevent ricochet or how they have responded to Koenig's complaint -- stating only that all complaints the department receives are investigated thoroughly.

Tom Wright, president of Action Target, said the manufacturer was only recently made aware of Koenig's leg injury, and that the company is investigating. He said the company's targets are used by hundreds of law enforcement and private agencies across the country and this is the first complaint of its kind.

County Attorney Christine Malafi said she plans to vigorously defend the department.

Koenig was struck by a ricochet bullet fragment last July during a close-quarter combat drill involving a turning target whose base and frame are made of steel, according to the lawsuit and Koenig's attorney, Anthony Grandinette, of Mineola. Koenig testified in a November hearing that a supervising officer told him the fragment appeared to ricochet off the target holder from someone firing to his left. It struck him in the right calf.

Koenig was taken to Central Suffolk Hospital in Riverhead and has remained on restricted duty. However, he will need to return to the range this month to requalify, Grandinette said.

The suit says three other officers were also injured from ricochets at the range since 2004. The three could not be reached and are not plaintiffs in Koenig's suit.

The target in question is the Deluxe-90, Grandinette said. On its Web site, Action Target states the steel base can be protected with a piece of lumber or an angled steel deflector plate in order to stop splatter.

Nassau police said they used the Action Target system in the early 1990s, including a similar version of the Deluxe-90 target. But they switched to a different company after having problems with ricochet bullets. Sgt. Anthony Biancardi of the firearms training unit said officers also train mostly with frangible bullets that decompose on impact, which has significantly reduced the problem.

According to minutes from the hearing, the fragment in Koenig's leg measures 6 millimeters and has not been removed because doctors felt that could cause more nerve damage. Koenig testified that he suffers from "numbness and pain in my foot, and constant pain -- in my calf down to my foot" and has been prescribed pain medication.

Koenig declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Mark Fettinger, chief of program services for the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, said there are standards for target size, but not for the target base or frame -- the parts in question in Koenig's lawsuit.

In a statement, Commissioner Richard Dormer said the department has one safety officer for every five shooters, and that officers are given extensive training.

"Keeping our officers safe and well-trained is a top priority for the Suffolk County Police Department," he said.


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