An internal investigation into what authorities are calling an accidental shooting by a San Diego Police officer has closed, but little to no details were released as to the investigation’s outcome.
The investigation centered around a foot pursuit on July 4 where an officer’s gun went off during a chase. No one was injured in the accidental shooting but according to Kenneth Hamilton, the suspected vandal who was being pursued, he was in the process of surrendering when the gun went off.
Through state public information laws NBC 7 confirmed this was the only time this year an SDPD officer has accidently fired a weapon. In 2014, SDPD had only one accidental shooting reported, according to the data.
During the incident last month, Hamilton said he was walking around North Park when he saw some graffiti on the CVS Pharmacy building on University Avenue. Hamilton, a self-described admirer of street art, said he stopped to snap some photos.
“It was something that caught my eye,” he explained in an interview with NBC 7. “I just wanted to take a picture of it.”
According to Lt. Scott Wahl with SDPD, the department received reports Hamilton was the actual vandal responsible for the graffiti and when officers pulled up, they say Hamilton decided to run.
“I wanted to avoid the situation at all cost,” Hamilton said, explaining why he ran away.
Officers told NBC 7 they pursued Hamilton on foot down several side streets. According to police, the gun went off near the corner of Herman and University.
“I get my hands about half way up to my chest; I just hear and see the pop and see the muzzle flash,” Hamilton said.
“Preliminary information indicates the officer was not trying to shoot at the suspect,” Wahl told NBC 7 in a statement.
Hamilton said the officer’s gun was pointed in his direction, not towards the ground. In the days following the shooting, NBC 7 confirmed with SDPD that the bullet from the officer’s gun was retrieved from inside a building nearby.
“It's just not right for an unarmed person to get fired upon with a lethal weapon,” Hamilton told NBC 7. "Even if it was an accident he could have shot me in my face."
Hamilton was taken into custody shortly after and was booked on two misdemeanor counts of vandalism and one charge of evading arrest.
In his first court appearance on Tuesday, August 18, Hamilton learned authorities dropped two of those charges, one of the vandalism charges and the evading arrest charge.
Hamilton pleaded not guilty to the single remaining misdemeanor vandalism charge, telling NBC 7 he has physical evidence proving he was only taking photos that night and was not committing an act of vandalism.
Accidental Shootings Across San Diego
Through the California Public Records Act, NBC 7 Investigates obtained data detailing how often accidental shootings involving law enforcement happen in San Diego County.
Records requests were sent to all law enforcement agencies in the county. NBC 7 Investigates heard back from all of the agencies except for two: the local sector of the Border Patrol and CHP’s Border Sector. According to those departments, the request has been received but is still being processed.
According to data from the Carlsbad Police Department, in the past five years, there have been five accidental shootings. The department was unable to tell us what years those shootings occurred because the department does not keep track of this info.
NBC 7 Investigates learned no outside or federal agencies keep track or monitor accidental shootings within law enforcement agencies.
Use the interactive infographic below to learn more about the number of accidental shootings reported by local law enforcement departments.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recently saw an uptick in accidental deputy-involved shootings. The source, according to the department, is the recent issuing of a specific firearm, the Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm model.
The Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm model is said to have a lighter trigger-pull and that was the cause for the LA Sheriff’s increase in accidental shootings, according to the department.
NBC 7’s Artie Ojeda looked at the issue of lighter trigger-pull weapons in this report.
When asked about the lighter trigger-pull on the M&P9 model, a spokesperson for Smith and Wesson said the company does not comment on firearms issued to law enforcement agencies.
All local law enforcement agencies in San Diego County told NBC 7 they have never issued the Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm model.
Chula Vista Police Department indicated the only way an officer could use this model while on duty is if the officer personally owns this specific model.
SDPD’s Range Master Todd Sluss told NBC 7 officers have never been issued the Smith and Wesson M&P firearm but if officers decide not to carry the department issued firearm, they can choose from a list of approved firearms. The Smith and Wesson M&P model is listed on the approved list from SDPD.
SDPD would not released what kind of firearm was used in the July 4 shooting.
Hamilton said he has no intention or plan to sue SDPD, for him, it’s about the bigger issue at hand.
“I’m a father,” he said. “And my child could have woken up the next day father-less…how do you accidentally raise your gun and shoot at someone? The officer said after the pursuit that he didn’t know he had fired his gun. If you don’t know that a gun went off in your hand, maybe you shouldn’t be holding one.”
San Diego Police would not identify the officer involved.
In a statement regarding the internal investigation into the shooting, Wahl said, “The internal investigation is complete but unfortunately we cannot comment on personnel matters. I can assure you it was looked at by the command staff and handled appropriately.”