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August 01, 2003
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Shell Changes Shotgun Into Lifesaver

Roanoke Times & World News (Roanoke, VA)

At $6 a shell, the Botetourt County Sheriff''s Office''s latest crime-fighting tool may well be the most expensive ammunition around.

What it won''t do is kill anyone, but it surely can knock a 235-pound man to the ground and leave him stunned for a few seconds.

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The weapon is a shotgun-propelled miniature beanbag, known in law enforcement jargon as "a kinetic energy impact projectile." It comes in a clear casing that distinguishes it from regular red shotgun shells and is fired from a 12-gauge shotgun.

Botetourt County deputies have been shooting the beanbags at dummies and paper targets during annual training for almost four years. Until Sunday night, they''d never fired one at a person.

About midnight Sunday, Cpl. R.W. Fletcher and deputies R.B. Stewart and S.M. Gathje answered a call at a Cloverdale motel, where they found a 53-year-old man brandishing a pistol and threatening to kill himself.

Fletcher tried to talk the man into putting down his weapon, but when his efforts seemed in vain, Sgt. D.P. Blessard ordered the use of the beanbag ammo.

Stewart fired a single shot from about 25 feet away, knocking the man down and causing him to drop his .22-caliber derringer.

The impact of the beanbag on the 235-pound man''s abdomen temporarily knocked the wind out of him. He told deputies that he felt a little tender as he tried to get up. He was taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital for medical and mental examinations.

"We wanted to disarm the suspect with the least amount of injury to him," Botetourt County Sheriff Ronnie Sprinkle said. The man was not charged with any crime.

The single-use beanbags, which have streamers and look like kites with tails, are used only in situations where deadly force is not called for, such as with mentally ill suspects or someone threatening to commit suicide, according to county sheriff''s officials.

But they are never used without other firepower backup, Maj. Delbert Dudding said.

About 70 of the nearly 100-plus people in the sheriff''s department have been trained to shoot the beanbags, according to Maj. Gary Guilliams, uniform division commander. Their cost, he said, "makes training expensive."

"I think they are fairly expensive, but they worked out wonderfully," Sprinkle said of the projectiles.

"I''m glad he used it," he said, discussing Sunday''s case.



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