Ohio: Despite training, officers sometimes lose guns

Police are taught how to keep their weapons out of the hands of bad guys

Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND — In Cleveland's police academy, cadets undergo at least 60 hours of training on how to position their bodies to keep the gun away from people.

"We are taught to protect and maintain our weapons at all costs," said Lt. Thomas Stacho, a police spokesman.

Still, officers occasionally lose control of them.

On Thursday, 38-year-old Kenneth Calloway grabbed an officer's gun at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and shot another patrolman in the chest.

The bullet hit Patrolman Steve Walker in the chest, breaking ribs, passing through his lung and lodging in a muscle in his back. The 18-year police veteran, who has worked about 10 years at the airport, remained in critical condition Friday at MetroHealth Medical Center after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot in his lung.

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Walker, 52, had his wife and two adult daughters with him at the hospital Friday.

Walker was not wearing a bulletproof vest Thursday, despite a department rule that officers wear body armor. Police supervisors reiterated to their patrolmen Friday the importance of wearing their vests.

The gun that Calloway took belonged to Patrolman Daniel Kelly. Walker and Kelly had confronted Calloway at the United Airlines ticket counter after ticket agents called about Calloway's behavior.

Calloway attacked the officers, and all three men wrestled on the floor. Calloway bit Kelly in the neck and took his weapon, then shot Walker. A third patrolman, Gregory Cornett, shot Calloway, killing him.

David Klinger, a former Los Angeles police officer turned professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has written about police involved in shootings in his book, "Into the Kill Zone." One of the accounts in the book is about an officer shot by his own gun.

"I don't think we can criticize an officer early on in an investigation about whether he should have been able to keep his gun," Klinger said. "If I attack you when you're not expecting it, I'll get that gun out."

Statistics are not kept on how often this happens, he said. But he pointed to FBI data that indicate about 10 percent of felonious police deaths nationwide from 2000 to 2004 involved officers being killed by their own weapons.

Last year in Cleveland, Patrolman John Franko shot and killed a man while fighting to keep him from taking his gun.

In 2002, a man high on PCP disarmed Patrolman Michael J. Schmitt and shot him in the face before Schmitt's partner shot the man to death. Schmitt recovered from the injury and continues to serve as a Cleveland patrolman.

Safety Director Martin Flask met with airport officials Friday to talk about the shooting. Officials determined that their security procedures were adequate and that they had been followed, Airport Commissioner Fred Szabo said.

Flask said that the last police-involved shooting at the airport was more than 20 years ago when a 42-year-old Cleveland woman used a handgun to attempt to hijack a plane. SWAT officer James Gnew confronted the woman. She shot him, then she was shot by another officer and arrested.

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