9 hours, 41 minutes ago
SMYRNA – An accidental police gunshot into lobby carpet at Town Hall startled officials attending a Town Council workshop Thursday night.
No one was injured after the weapon of Lt. Earl Barnes, the SWAT team commander, discharged after he tied his shoes in a chair in a lobby area. Doors were open next to the meeting room while his boss, Police Chief Kevin Arnold, was explaining upcoming training for his records office to elected officials.
“When it first happened, I thought it was one of these light bulbs (in the ceiling) that burst,” Arnold said during an interview Friday in the same meeting room.
After hearing the gunshot, the chief moved quickly from his seat in the meeting room that was closest to the door, reached for his holster and even thought it was possible an intruder had sneaked through the back door of Town Hall and shot Barnes.
“My main concern was not only him but ‘do we have a situation developing here,'” said the chief, who was relieved to see the lieutenant who usually provides security detail for Town Council meetings was unharmed. “Police officers are trained to go to the threat. It was very brief. He said, ‘I had an accidental discharge.'”
The kind of “accidental discharge” he had was preventable (well, I guess they all are). Seriously though, they did have quite the “situation developing here.” The chief pulled the trigger of his weapon in the wrong place at the wrong time. But it gets even worse and weirder.
Lt. Barnes asked if he could go home after the incident, and the chief agreed.
“He was very embarrassed,” said Arnold, who estimated that Barnes has served with Smyrna Police for more than 25 years. “He’s an outstanding officer, but unfortunately, he made a mistake.”
The chief said Barnes will face discipline to be determined after Arnold discusses the gun discharge with Human Resources staff and Town Manager Harry Gill.
“It will usually be several days of suspension without pay,” Arnold said. “We are very lucky Lt. Barnes wasn’t injured. We’re very lucky that no citizens were injured, and no members of staff and no members of council were injured.”
Barnes made two mistakes, the chief said. One included Barnes failing to snap his holster to ensure the weapon would remain in place after he had used his pistol as part of a felony traffic stop to arrest a man accused of armed robbery of a gas station/convenience store at 33 N. Lowry.
“What we think happened is he didn’t snap it down enough in place,” Arnold said.
The other mistake came after Barnes sat down to tie his shoes and then reached for his gun when the pistol fell out of his holster.
Yea, I’ll bet he wanted to go home. Listen to me very carefully so that you don’t act like the man in the article. If your gun is falling and you have a round chambered, do not ever try to catch it. Ever. Ever. I’ll leave it to the readers to explain why in the context of grip safeties, trigger brush guards, etc.
“We train our officers several times a year in using these weapons,” said Arnold, adding that his officers are expected to be armed and ready to shoot. “Unfortunately, we’re in the line of work where we have to carry weapons.”
Arnold said Barnes did what would be human nature to reach for something that was falling and forgetting the training to let the gun drop to the ground.
“Unfortunately, he made the mistake, and we are held accountable for our actions,” the chief said. “I have accidentally dropped mine at home. I cringed. It didn’t go off.”
A 25-year officer with Smyrna who has been chief for eight years, Arnold said his department has had four or five incidents involving officer guns firing by mistake. Only one of those in 1998 involved an injury to Officer Muhammad Ali (formerly known as Robert Ladell Haynes).
“He almost died,” Arnold said.
My God. It looks like this department needs to be rid of their weapons before someone gets hurt even worse. At least the (nearly lethal) negligent discharge didn’t happen to an artist formerly known as Prince. Then I might think they were making this whole thing up. It almost looks like that anyway.