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Update on accidental flashbang death of Fred Thornton

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe has released information resulting from their preliminary investigation

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe released the findings of the preliminary investigation into the accidental death of Officer Fred Thornton. Chief Monroe indicated that on February 25, 2011 Fred Thornton was assigned as rear security at a residence during a SWAT action, and was issued a flashbang to use (or not use) at his discretion. After the successful SWAT action. Officer Thornton eventually returned home and lost his life in a tragic accident. 

Following are the preliminary results of the investigation:

It is believed that Officer Thornton had prepared to deploy an issued FSDD by removing the cotter pin from the device at the scene of the search warrant
It is believed that Officer Thornton reinserted one “leg” of the cotter pin back into the device making the device stable after he did not deploy the device
CMPD SWAT Training and Procedures is consistent with Defense Technology procedures and dictates that if the cotter pin is pulled; the device should be activated by throwing the FSDD into a safe location
Reinsertion of a pin is not an authorized technique for attempting to render the non-reloadable Def-Tec25 FSDD stable
Officer Thornton kept the device on his person and returned to the SWAT office
Officer Thornton then drove his assigned SWAT vehicle to his residence
While in his garage Officer Thornton removed the cotter pin which was keeping the device stable and shortly thereafter the device activated
Two cotter pins were found at the scene — one pin was found on his work bench and another pin on the garage floor which had one “leg” of the pin straightened
The device would have remained stable had the cotter pin not been removed

“These facts lead us to believe,” said Chief Monroe in a written statement, “that the most likely scenario is that Officer Thornton was fully prepared to deploy the FSDD device during the service of the search warrant at 1400 La Salle Street and had pulled the cotter pin from the device. It is believed when he did not deploy the FSDD, he reinserted the cotter pin using one leg which made the device stable. At some point, Officer Thornton decided to replace the cotter pin and was attempting to complete this action at his residence when the device activated. While this investigation has not determined why the FSDD activated, it is believed that the device was stable until the cotter pin was removed.”

The flashbang that killed Officer Thornton has been inspected by an ATF Post Blast Investigator and at present, there are “no reasons to believe or evidence to suggest the device safety features failed or that a malfunction caused the device to activate” said Chief Monroe

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has been using the Def-Tec 25 for five years, and according to the Chief’s statement, will continue to use it in the foreseeable future. It’s entirely likely that your SWAT team uses these devices, and will continue to do so. Chief Monroe asked us all to keep the Thornton family in your thoughts and prayers, and offered a safety reminder.

“This incident is a very tragic and devastating accident,” he said. “We all must be constantly aware of the inherent dangers we encounter daily in our profession. Fred would be the first to remind us to always be careful and take the necessary precautions to ensure each other’s safety and well being.”

All of us at PoliceOne extend our deepest condolence to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, as well as Fred’s friends and family.

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