Milwaukee's police union argues its service weapons can fire without a trigger pull. Here's what to know about the lawsuit.




  • In US
  • 2022-09-26 11:00:16Z
  • By Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A Milwaukee police squad car sits outside City Hall in August 2019.
A Milwaukee police squad car sits outside City Hall in August 2019.  

Last week, the union representing Milwaukee's rank-and-file police officers sued the city to replace all of its service weapons, which officers argue are vulnerable to firing without someone pulling the trigger.

The lawsuit comes after the Milwaukee Police Department reported on Sept. 10 that an officer's holstered gun fired "inadvertently" as he searched a vehicle and injured another officer nearby.

It's the third time since July 2020 that a Milwaukee police officer's gun fired without the trigger being pulled, according to Andrew Wagner, president of the Milwaukee Police Association.

And it's not the first time safety concerns have been raised about the model of firearm in question - the Sig Sauer P320. Since 2018, the same year the Police Department began transitioning to that service weapon, at least 22 lawsuits have been filed in federal court against the German gun manufacturer, which has its U.S. headquarters in New Hampshire.

In 2017, Sig Sauer created a "voluntary upgrade" program where owners can submit their P320 to the company for safety upgrades free of charge. But the company maintains on its website that the model "meets and exceeds all U.S. safety standards," and that the upgrades augment safe handling practices.

Here's what to know about the issues surrounding the gun carried by Milwaukee police:

Sig Sauer P320 replaced Smith and Wesson M&P 40 in 2018

In 2018, the Police Department transitioned away from using a Smith and Wesson M&P 40 as its service weapon. In a statement, the Police Department said the transition began because the warranty on the previous firearm was expiring.

The decision to select a new pistol was decided by then-Chief Alfonso Morales "after thorough research and analysis based on the information known and available at the time," the statement said.

The first incident came in July 2020. Police said officers were trying to take a man into custody following a brief vehicle pursuit. A struggle ensued as officers tried placing him into a squad car and a shot discharged from one of the officers' holstered guns, injuring another 33-year-old officer.

In its lawsuit, the union argues the gun fired "randomly."

In January 2021, another officer was getting out of a vehicle with his hands full when his weapon fired from inside the holster, Wagner said. Nobody was injured.

Two months after that, the police union filed a notice of claim - which is usually a precursor to a lawsuit - against the city alleging the Sig Sauer P320 was prone to inadvertent discharges and demanded the city purchase a new service weapon for all personnel.

The claim argued the city was aware of the random discharges before its selection as the department service weapon but did nothing to address the issue.

On Sept. 10 this year, after a vehicle crashed into a building on Milwaukee's northwest side, the holstered gun of an officer who was searching the vehicle fired and injured another 41-year-old officer.

The police union filed its lawsuit against the city in Milwaukee County Circuit Court nine days later. It demands the city purchase new service weapons for all sworn personnel.

Replacement recommended after inspection of gun

After the first incident in July 2020, Sgt. Allen Groszczyk examined one of the department-issued P320s and discovered it was missing a part, according to the complaint. He authored a report stating concerns that the gun had a risk of accidental discharge.

Around that time, Groszczyk was contacted by Major Pete Villani of the Department of Veterans Affairs, who said his agency also experienced an accidental discharge with the P320 that injured one officer, according to a complaint.

James MacGillis, then a captain in the Milwaukee Police Academy, later joined Groszczyk for a conference call with Sig Sauer.

Its representatives were unwilling to say the P320 would not discharge if it was dropped, slammed or jostled, and they said there was an additional risk of the gun not firing even if the trigger was pulled in certain circumstances, the complaint said.

The lawsuit does not say when that conversation happened, but Groszczyk and MacGillis soon after recommended the Police Department immediately research a replacement service weapon. MacGillis was named the police chief in Wauwatosa in July 2021.

Other issues with P320 around the country

At least 22 lawsuits have been filed against Sig Sauer since 2018 alleging the P320 fired without anyone pulling the trigger. The lawsuits originate from Missouri, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Georgia and elsewhere. Eighteen have been filed since 2020.

The complaints describe law enforcement officers and gun enthusiasts whose P320 fired while it was holstered on their hip, in their hand or in a bag, and were struck by the gunfire in their leg or foot. In one case, a bullet hit a Texas detective in the groin, narrowly missing her femoral artery.

Sig Sauer has settled at least one case and won a jury trial in at least one other, according to online court records.

Contact Elliot Hughes at elliot.hughes@jrn.com or 414-704-8958. Follow him on Twitter @elliothughes12.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: What to know about lawsuit over Milwaukee police service weapons

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