Officers' guns loaded for training exercise

Demonstration of fake ammunition led to fatal shot

By Jason Trahan 
Arlington Morning News  
June 20, 2001

The three instructors at a police training exercise ensured that the 10 trainees were disarmed but continued to carry loaded weapons before one of the instructors, Cpl. Joseph Cushman, was fatally shot, an internal police memo shows.

Officer Blane Shaw, one of the three trainers, accidentally shot Cpl. Cushman in the head with a Glock service pistol June 7. The third trainer, Officer Johnny Spruiel, also carried live rounds at the exercise at Ousley Junior High School, according to the memo obtained by the Arlington Morning News.

"Our investigation has shown that comprehensive safety procedures were in place to ensure that none of the students were in the training environment with a loaded weapon. However, all of the instructors were armed with fully functional and loaded handguns," according to a June 15 memo sent to the Tarrant County medical examiner from the Arlington police sergeant in charge of the criminal investigation.

Live ammunition is prohibited at training sessions, except at a firing range, according to the tactical team training portion of the Arlington Police Department's field operations manual.

Police Department spokesman Sgt. James Hawthorne confirmed that the memo was sent to the medical examiner but declined to comment further.

"We're in the process of wrapping up the criminal investigation," he said Tuesday. "We expect to forward that information from that investigation to the district attorney next week. I still can't speak to the specifics because it is still very much under investigation."

The memo from Sgt. Mark Simpson, head of the department's homicide investigations, acknowledges that policies were violated but concurs with the medical examiner's ruling that the shooting was accidental.

"There were a number of errors that led to this tragedy, but none of them rise to the level of criminal negligence," Sgt. Simpson wrote. "While there are procedural irregularities that will be addressed administratively, we have found no act of negligence that would rise to the level of criminal culpability."

According to the memo, the officers had been in classroom instruction from 3 to 5 p.m. and returned from a lunch break about 6:10 p.m. for the practical maneuvers.

Cpl. Cushman donned a training helmet, face shield and neck protector to show trainees that the simulated ammunition being used would not injure them. Officer Spruiel fired a Simunition - or fake - round from a shotgun converted for training, but missed.

"Had Spruiel not missed with the 12-gauge round, Shaw would not have proceeded with the handgun demonstration," the memo states. "Because the demonstration failed, Shaw decided to complete the demonstration by firing a handgun Simunition round at Officer Cushman."

"Officer's Shaw's statement is that he thought he had a Simunition-converted weapon in his holster," the memo said.

The memo said that training weapons have blue handles to identify them but that weapons converted to shoot only training rounds are also distinguishable.

Police Chief Theron Bowman on Monday ordered the delay of the criminal investigation findings - which were to be released this week - until an internal affairs inquiry into possible policy violations is complete. The chief was concerned that releasing the criminal investigation findings could taint the investigation into the safety violations, authorities said.

Officer Shaw remains on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the internal affairs inquiry. Officer Spruiel has returned to the tactical team. Both officers have declined to comment on the case, referring calls to the department's spokesman.

The sergeant over SWAT was not present at Ousley Junior High at the time of the shooting, officials have said. Last week, Lt. Roy Mitchell, who oversaw the SWAT team, was reassigned to supervise patrol activities on the city's west side. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

His replacement over SWAT, Lt. Craig Taylor, referred all questions to a department spokesman.

Police said training at Ousley, suspended after the shooting, would not resume until preliminary findings of the internal affairs investigation are complete, possibly by July 2.