Ohio officer shoots friend

By Gabriel Baird, Reporter
Plain Dealer

A Garfield Heights police officer shot a longtime friend in the leg Monday. Police believe it was an accident.

Patrolman Alan Nero had stopped by his friend's house just over the city line in Cleveland while assigned to patrol the streets of Garfield Heights.

Nero and Harold Behnke, 65, were sitting at Behnke's kitchen table about 7:30 a.m. when the conversation turned to the officer's department-issued Sig Sauer handgun, police said.

Nero, 50, pulled out his .45-caliber pistol, and it fired.

The bullet shot through the kitchen table, hit Behnke in the left leg and went straight through, police said.

A Garfield Heights rescue squad took Behnke to Marymount Hospital, then medics flew him by helicopter to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

Doctors released him a few hours later, and he could not be reached to comment on the incident.

Investigators from Cleveland and Garfield Heights opened inquiries into the shooting.

Nero will have to explain what he was doing at his friend's house an hour into his shift. Police Chief Thomas Murphy said Nero was not there on assignment.

The 17-year veteran will also have to explain why he took his gun out of its holster. He was placed on administrative leave Monday, which is standard procedure in a shooting investigation.

He could not be reached for comment on the shooting.

Cleveland's Use of Deadly Force Investigative Team investigates all police-involved shootings in the city, regardless of who does the shooting. Policy dictates that they generally complete their investigation within 90 days.

They take their findings to city prosecutors, who can decide whether to file charges or present the case to a grand jury.

Accidentally shooting someone can be charged as negligent assault. It is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Garfield Heights police will conduct a separate investigation, which could lead to departmental sanctions. The department will try to figure out how the gun fired accidentally.

It is uncommon for Sig Sauers to fire accidentally, said Roy Ruel, an expert on the weapons.

Murphy described the trigger of the weapons as having a heavy pull, meaning it takes a few pounds of pressure to pull the trigger.

Garfield Heights officers, like other police, are taught to keep their fingers off triggers when they are not pointing at a target they intend to shoot, Murphy said.

Copyright 2006 Plain Dealer Publishing Co.

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