The union representing the sworn non-supervisory members of the Milwaukee Police Department has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming that the service weapons issued to officers are faulty and unsafe — as demonstrated by several instances of the pistols inadvertently firing without officers pulling the trigger.
The Milwaukee Police Association (MPA) lawsuit is the third to be filed this year regarding the safety of the Sig Sauer model P320.
Since the firearms were issued to the Milwaukee Police Department in 2019, they have discharged four times without officers pulling the trigger. Three of those discharges happened in the last two years, leading to two officer injuries.
“We don’t know why,” then-Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said to FOX6 News after one of the instances, in July 2020. “There are a number of different variables we have to look at in that incident.”
In the case Morales was referencing, 41-year-old Officer Adam Maritato was shot in the leg by his partner’s unholstered gun when attempting to get a suspect into his car. Then, in January 2021, another unintended discharge occurred as an officer was getting out of a car. Surveillance footage showed that the officer had his hands full and could not have pulled the trigger. In March of that year, the MPA sent a notice warning the city it would file a lawsuit if it didn’t provide the department with safer firearms. That didn’t happen — and then, on September 10 of this year, an officer was shot in the knee when his partner’s pistol went off while they were investigating a hit-and-run crash.
But it’s not just Milwaukee police who have experienced problems with the weapons. In June, a case was filed in Philadelphia after a U.S. Army veteran was seriously injured in the leg following an inappropriate discharge of his weapon while it was holstered. Similar incidents have been reported by officers in Florida, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The New Hampshire-based gun manufacturer responded to the charges by denying that the weapon was defective.
“It is unacceptable that we now have hundreds of cases around the country with known unintentional discharges and the city is failing to act,” MPA President Andrew Wagner said in a statement.
The union leader said they decided to go ahead with the lawsuit after the city ignored their request in 2021 to replace the unsafe weapons. He even suggested a gun buyback program through SIG Sauer or Smith and Wesson, but noted that such a process could take months to get safer guns back into holsters.
Maritato was named as a party in the lawsuit, which alleges that the city is culpable for purchasing the defective weapons.
“[The city] failed to disclose that the P320 had issues with discharging without a trigger pull, and the officers relied on the safety training to be accurate and complete,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit goes on to blame the city for endangering the safety of its officers and the public, and is demanding that the city pay damages for the injured officers and replace all of the department’s P320 firearms, estimated to be around 1,600 guns.
According to the lawsuit, Sergeant Allen Groszczyk, who initially inspected Maritato’s gun and found that it had a risk of accidentally firing, had recommended the department replace it and even discussed the issue with Sig Sauer during a conference call.
Groszcyk said the manufacturer was “unwilling to state that the P320 would not discharge if it was dropped, slammed or jostled.”
Wagner added that the incidents have shaken officers’ trust in their sidearms.
“It’s scary to the officers. The officers are not only in charge of these weapons while they’re on duty, they also have to take them home to their families in most cases. So they’re bringing these weapons around their wife and kids,” Wagner told Wisconsin Public Radio.
Wagner was also concerned about the possibility that a child could be killed in a repeated accident.
“We go inside schools, we have kids around our squad cars all the time and the heights of children are below our holster level. So that’s the most concerning,” he said. “I can’t imagine the devastation for both the community and the officer if his weapon were to discharge in the holster and were to kill somebody. The effect on both would be astronomical.”
City leaders say they are taking the case seriously and are working with the city attorney’s office to resolve the issue. Milwaukee Common Council’s Public Safety and Health Committee Chair JoCasta Zamarripa said the council will discuss the issue at their next meeting.
“We want the officers to be safe, we want the public to be safe, and so this is being taken very seriously,” Zamarripa told Wisconsin Public Radio.
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson also voiced his concern about the weapons following the September incident.
“What really concerns me right now is the safety of the officers. And that’s what my focus is. And I’m certain MPD is looking into it, have been looking into it and will continue to look into it, especially in light of what happened this weekend,” Johnson told WISN News.
The city must respond to the lawsuit within 20 days.