November 27, 2014

Medina
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No charges, but a scolding for Medina police chief

MEDINA — Medina Police Chief Patrick Berarducci will not face charges or disciplinary action after accidentally shooting himself in the leg, Mayor Dennis Hanwell said Friday.

While not disciplining the chief, Hanwell used forceful language in a “counseling/training” letter he wrote to Berarducci.

“Accidentally shooting yourself obviously reflects very poorly on you, the department, and the community,” Hanwell wrote.

Chief Patrick Berarducci

Berarducci was shot in the upper right thigh April 18 at about 9:45 a.m. when his service pistol went off as he holstered the weapon while at home preparing to go to work.

The 40-caliber, hollow-point bullet pierced Berarducci’s outer thigh, penetrated about an inch, and came out about four inches lower, on the same side it entered.

Berarducci and his wife, Judy, were able to stop the bleeding and he was taken to Medina Hospital, where he was released that afternoon. He returned to work April 26.

Berarducci said the pistol fired when the portion of his leather holster that normally covers the trigger guard buckled inward and caught the trigger.

Hanwell, who served as the city’s police chief for 13 years before becoming mayor in 2010, said the investigation of the shooting substantiated the chief’s account.

Investigating officers ran tests that determined Berarducci’s leather holster was “worn and aged” with flexible sides that “with minimal pressure could fold in while the weapon was being placed in holster and press against the trigger mechanism,” according to the mayor’s written statement released Friday.

Hanwell said the report of the investigation was given to city Law Director Greg Huber, who declined to file charges.

“Mr. Huber felt that the accident occurred as a part of the discharge of the Chief’s official duties which is a complete defense to any criminal charges,” the mayor’s statement said.

Discharging a weapon in the city is a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

While the shooting was an accident, the mayor said it could have been prevented had Berarducci had the pistol’s manual safety on, which “would have prevented the accidental discharge if it had been.”

Department regulations did not require officers to use the safety.

Hanwell said he was changing that policy for all officers using the pistol involved in the incident — the Smith and Wesson M&P “Shield” model.

“All members who carry the Shield, which is issued for plain clothes and off duty use, will be required to do so with the manual safety on at all times until the member is ready to shoot at an intended target,” Hanwell said in his statement.

Hanwell also directed that all officers carrying the Shield attend additional safety training and will be required to use holsters “specifically made for the Shield, that are constructed of hard plastic or other material that will not easily contort.”

Although department regulations did not require the use of a pistol safety or a specially designed holster, Hanwell criticized Berarducci for not doing so in his counseling letter.

“As the Chief of Police you are held to a much higher standard than the other staff members and are expected to set a proper example,” Hanwell wrote. “You have not done so with regard to this incident.”

The mayor also warned in the letter: “This is a very serious incident and any future incidents of a similar nature will result in progressive discipline up to and including termination.”

Asked whether he had considered disciplinary action against Berarducci, the mayor said that the tradition in the department was to provide training rather than punishment.

Hanwell said there had been at least three accidental firearm discharges when he served with the department. Only in one case — where an officer hung his weapon on a door stop in a restroom stall — was any disciplinary action taken. The officer was suspended one day without pay.

In the other two incidents, the officers only underwent retraining.

“We don’t consider training discipline,” Hanwell said in a telephone interview Friday. “When something clearly is an accident, we try to correct the behavior.”

Hanwell said he wrote the counseling letter to the chief “to put him on notice that things could have been done to prevent this from happening.”

Berarducci acknowledged the accident wouldn’t have happened if the safety was on.

The chief said he didn’t use the safety because he wasn’t accustomed to carrying a pistol equipped with a manual safety because many firearms used by police don’t have manual safeties.

“In my 39 years, I’ve never carried a service weapon that had a safety,” said Berarducci, who served nearly 30 years as an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives before becoming Medina’s police chief.

“This is something we will drill on,” he said. “And I’m going to have to get used to a new holster.”

Berarducci said he did not dispute Hanwell’s “counseling letter.”

“I have the greatest respect for him,” Berarducci said. “The last thing I would want to do is disappoint him.”

Contact David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.