Milwaukee police union sues city over service weapons

The department-issued pistols have gone off 3 times in the last 2 years without officers pulling the trigger

A flag is reflected in the window of a Milwaukee Police Department vehicle
A flag is reflected in the window of a Milwaukee Police Department vehicle Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/AP Photo 

Milwaukee police officers say their guns have a track record of going off without them pulling the trigger, and that’s inadvertently wounded at least two officers in the past two years. Now, the Milwaukee Police Association and officer Adam Maritato are suing the city.

On July 14, 2020, Maritato was unintentionally shot by another officer’s gun.

According to the suit filed Monday, Maritato was trying to get a person into the back of a squad car with fellow officer Adam Parks, when Parks’ gun fired into Maritato’s leg. Neither officer had drawn the gun or pulled the trigger, according to the suit. Police records indicate it’s possible the subject pulled the trigger.

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But less than a year later, on Jan. 2, 2021, another Milwaukee officer’s gun inadvertently fired. Then earlier this month, on Sept. 10, as two officers were investigating a hit-and-run crash, one officer’s holstered gun went off, striking the other in the knee.

In the suit filed this week, Martitato and the police union are asking the police department to replace the guns with a safer model.

According to that suit, the city either knew or should have known about safety concerns surrounding the Sig Sauer P320 gun before handing them out to officers in 2019.

In 2017, a Connecticut officer sued Sig Sauer, saying the company’s pistol shot him in the leg when he accidentally dropped it on the ground. Then in 2018, an officer in Virginia filed suit against the manufacturer, saying the gun fired into her thigh while she was removing it from the holster. Since then, officers have also filed lawsuits in Florida and Pennsylvania.

Regardless of whether the city knew about these incidents, those safety concerns became clear to department officials after Maritato was shot in 2020, the suit alleges.

According to the lawsuit filed in Milwaukee this week, Sgt. Allen Groszczyk, who inspected Maritato’s gun, said in a report that he was concerned the P320 had a risk of accidentally firing and recommended the department immediately find a replacement.

In a conference call between Groszczyk and Sig Sauer, the manufacturer was “unwilling to state that the P320 would not discharge if it was dropped, slammed, or jostled” and noted it had an added risk of not firing when an officer pulled the trigger, according to the suit.

But in March 2021, with P320 guns still in officers’ belts, the Milwaukee Police Association sent a “notice of claim” to the city, warning the association would file a lawsuit if the city didn’t give them safer weapons.

“It’s scary to the officers. The officers are not only in charge of these weapons while they’re on duty, they also have to take them home to their families in most cases,” said Wagner. “So they’re bringing these weapons around their wife and kids.”

After the accidental gunshot earlier this month, Wagner said “you could tell (the officer) was emotionally damaged by that” even though he wasn’t responsible. But beyond the impact on officers, he said these weapons put the entire community in danger.

“We go inside schools, we have kids around our squad cars all the time and the heights of children are below our holster level. So that’s the most concerning,” he said. “I can’t imagine the devastation for both the community and the officer if his weapon were to discharge in the holster and were to kill somebody. The effect on both would be astronomical.”

With this lawsuit, officers are asking the city to give them safer firearms, Wagner said, whether that’s a new model or a pistol made by another manufacturer. Given the scale of the department, that won’t happen overnight, he said, but they’re asking the city to outline a plan.

If the court rules against them, Wagner said officers will continue to work in fear.

“We take an oath to protect the safety of the community,” he said, “and the officers are concerned right now that they’re carrying a tool in their belt that isn’t doing that.”

The Milwaukee Common Council’s Public Safety and Health Committee will discuss the issue at their next meeting, said Committee Chair JoCasta Zamarripa. City leaders are also working closely with the city attorney’s office to address the concerns as soon as possible.

“We want the officers to be safe, we want the public to be safe,” Zamarripa said, “and so this is being taken very seriously.”

In previous statements, Mayor Cavalier Johnson said he’s very concerned about Milwaukee officers’ safety and that he’s talked with senior level officials about the issue.