Officers facing inquiry in death Arlington training
Demonstration of fake ammunition led to fatal shot
by Tanya Eiserer; Eve-Marie Ayala
Staff writer Gabrielle Crist contributed to this report.
Saturday, June 30, 2001
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2001 Star-Telegram, Inc.

The Police Department is investigating five of its officers in connection with the June 7 death of Cpl. Joey Cushman, who was shot by a fellow officer during a training exercise.

Police released new details Friday about the moments leading up to Cushman's death. Officer Blane Shaw instinctively pulled his loaded 9mm service revolver from his holster instead of picking up a handgun with fake bullets that he had placed on a nearby table, said Sgt. James Hawthorne, a police spokesman.

Instructors had been allowed by their supervisor to bring loaded weapons to "active shooter" training exercises, documents released Friday show.

" It is against departmental policy to allow officers to bring any kind of live ammunition into any kind of training environment," Hawthorne said during a news conference.

Cushman, 27, died from a shot to the forehead during training at Ousley Junior High School in far southeast Arlington.

Police presented the results of their preliminary investigations during a news conference and said "performance of duty complaints" were opened Thursday against officer Johnny Spruiel, Sgt. Mark Garber, Lt. Roy Mitchell and Deputy Chief Jerry Kendrick.

The complaints include using poor judgment, allowing live ammunition during training and not properly coordinating the exercise.

A "use of weapons" disciplinary case previously was opened against Shaw, who has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. A criminal investigation into Shaw's actions also is ongoing.

The other four officers remain on duty. Disciplinary action could range from an oral reprimand to termination, Hawthorne said.

The five officers were not available to comment. Police Chief Theron Bowman also was not available, Hawthorne said, because Bowman is awaiting completion of the investigations before commenting.

The department's announcement was expected, said Richard Carter, an attorney for Shaw.

" I'm sure that there will be a good and thorough job of investigating," Carter said.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office has ruled Cushman's death an accident.

James Cushman, a retired Fort Worth police officer, said he is reserving comment until the investigation of his son's death is complete.

" Like every law enforcement family, they would like to see full disclosure of the facts surrounding this tragic event," said the Cushmans' attorney, Dwain Dent of Fort Worth.

Hawthorne said the internal investigation also will address what role supervisors played in the tragedy. Arlington Police Association president Randle Meadows said members of his organization want to know "what role does the department have in this tragic accident?"

On the day of Cushman's death, the officers had returned from lunch and were about to resume "active shooter training," designed to teach them to immediately approach and overcome a shooter. The instructors decided to demonstrate … a Simunition® round, Hawthorne said.

Simunition®, composed of a powdered laundry detergent, is wrapped in a fragile plastic casing.

Previously, the training coordinators had used an inanimate object, such as an orange cone, for such demonstrations, Hawthorne said.

This time, Spruiel decided to demonstrate on a person, Hawthorne said.

The students were standing in a crescent shape around Spruiel, Cushman and Shaw as they conducted the demonstration. Five Stephenville police officers, nine Arlington police officers and five instructors were present, Hawthorne said.

Shaw had been holding a handgun converted to fire Simunition®, then laid it down on a table, Hawthorne said. A gun converted to fire Simunition® has a blue clip and gold on the barrel, he said.

Hawthorne said Spruiel first fired a Simunition® round from a shotgun at Cushman and missed. After that, Shaw mistakenly pulled his loaded 9mm Glock from his holster and fired at Cushman's face shield rather than picking up the Simunition® handgun, Hawthorne said.
" The actual time that elapsed between when Officer Spruiel shot the shotgun and Officer Shaw shot Officer Cushman was nine seconds," Hawthorne said.

Meadows said Shaw is still dealing with the tragedy. "He has his ups and downs," Meadows said.

Hawthorne said the evidence indicates Shaw believed he was firing … Simunition®. He said the criminal investigation determined Shaw failed to perform a weapons check before the demonstration as required by department policy.

Hawthorne declined to discuss whether the practice of allowing instructors to carry loaded weapons was widespread or why they were allowed to do so, saying that was part of the internal investigation. However, Mitchell has previously said it was a practice of instructors to do so.

Shortly after the shooting, Mitchell was reassigned from his position of tactical commander to a patrol commander's post. Hawthorne said it was not punishment for the shooting.

Mitchell and Kendrick were not present when Cushman was shot. Garber had been at the training earlier, but left to take part in a drug raid, Hawthorne said.

On Tuesday, Arlington investigators forwarded the case to Mike Parrish, deputy chief of the criminal division of the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office.

Parrish said it will take several weeks to review the information, which will be presented to a Tarrant County grand jury.

The shooting was "obviously not an intentional act," he said.

Under Texas law, a person is guilty of manslaughter if he recklessly causes the death of another person. A person is guilty of criminally negligent homicide if he is unaware of the risk, but should have known it existed.

To prevent such an incident from happening again, Hawthorne said the department will no longer use kits to convert duty weapons for use in training exercises. Blue-colored weapons that fire only Simunition® rounds will be used, he said.

The department had initially planned to restart training July 2, but that has been delayed until at least July 9. Hawthorne said safeguards will be adopted to ensure that no live ammunition is present.

Also, the department will no longer train at Ousley Junior High when exercises resume. Hawthorne said the department is looking at two other sites.

A committee that includes representatives from the three police associations will review the safety protocols and procedures, Hawthorne said.

" We have to make sure we do everything we can to ensure that this type of incident doesn't happen again, and to restore confidence with the public and with our own employees," Hawthorne said.

5 Arlington officers under investigation

Deputy Chief Jerry Kendrick, 51
Role: Head of Operations Support
Years of service: 30
Commendations: 15
Previous disciplinary actions: 4
Complaint filed: That between November 2000 and June 7, he failed to exercise supervision of Garber as he planned and conducted the active shooter training.

Officer Johnny Spruiel, 37
Role: Was in charge of the demonstration
Years of service: 9
Commendations: 28
Previous disciplinary actions: 1
Complaint filed: That he failed to use "appropriate judgment" when he decided to change the Simunition‚ demonstration from shooting at an inanimate object to shooting at another instructor.

Officer Blane Shaw, 32
Role: Fire fatal shot
Years of service: 6
Commendations: 28
Previous disciplinary actions: 2
Complaint filed: That he used his weapon in an unsafe manner.

Sgt. Mark Garber, 30
Role: Made decision to allow officers to bring loaded duty weapons
Years of service: 7
Commendations: 10
Previous disciplinary actions: None
Complaint filed: That between May 29 and June 7, he used bad judgment and allowed the instructors to carry their loaded handguns during the active shooter training exercises; failed to ensure that no live ammunition would be available during training; did not demonstrate the qualities of leadership expected of a sergeant; failed to effectively plan the active shooter training and did not exercise appropriate supervision.

Lt. Roy Mitchell, 55
Role: Garber's supervisor
Years of service: 21
Commendations: 53
Previous disciplinary actions: 1 Complaint filed: That between November 2000 and June 7, he did not exercise appropriate supervision of Garber's development of the active shooter training program.

SIMUNITION® is the registered trademark of General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems-Canada, Inc.