An Arkansas district attorney will not file charges against Osceola Police Officer Jennifer Ephlin after she “accidentally” discharged a round into a suspect while attempting to get him out of a vehicle.
A prosecuting attorney is not filing charges against an officer after he says the shot fired was an accident.Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington wrote a letter to Arkansas State Police Tuesday indicating no criminal charges would be filed against Osceola Police Officer Jennifer Ephlin who shot and injured a suspect in February.Ellington stated in the letter that Ephlin was the first officer to arrive on the scene of a reported armed robbery at a gas station. She had her gun drawn as she was exiting her patrol vehicle.As the officer entered the store, three juvenile suspects ran away. One went through the front of the gas station and the other two through the rear exit.Ephlin told another OPD officer to arrest the suspect that went out the front while she chased after the others.The officer ordered one suspect to stop. The suspect did not comply and entered a car not involved in the robbery near a gas pump and sat in the passenger seat.According to Ellington, Ephlin still had her weapon drawn as she approached the car to arrest the suspect.After switching the gun in her hands to open the car door, her weapon went off as she grabbed the door handle.The shot went through the door and struck the suspect in the lower back, according to the letter.Ephlin alerted other officers to the accidental shot so they would not fire at the suspect in the event they thought the juvenile had fired upon her.Medical help was called as soon as OPD officers learned the suspect was injured.
Ephlin experienced a known and heavily-documented phenomena known as interlimb interaction. There have been numerous shootings (in both law enforcement and among regular joes) where people have attempted to clench or grab something with one hand and involuntarily clench the opposite hand as well. When the finger is on the trigger or trigger guard instead of placed high on the frame of the pistol, then these negligent discharges occur.
This shooting of the suspect isn’t the first time shot a suspect when attempting to open a car door; there was an incident (as I recall) where a D.C. Metro officer did the exact same thing after the Agency switched to Glocks, and the suspect was killed with a shot to the head.
Was the determination by the prosecutor not to file charges against Officer Elphlin the right decision? I think it probably was. Do I think that she is in need of remedial firearms training so that she places her finger high on the slide of the pistol to help prevent having a similar incident in the future? Yes.
I know there will be outcries from those claiming that police officers receive preferential treatment in making these sort of determinations, but those who make that complaint almost always overlook the simple fact that we ask law enforcement officers to act proactively and apprehend criminals, and part of their duties not only puts them at higher risk of getting involved in a shooting in general, but also exposes them to far more scenarios and more complex scenarios than you or I are likely to have to respond to in our interactions with other people, including criminals.
The answer to this sort of problem is better, more frequent, and more realistic training for law enforcement officers. They aren’t going to get that however, unless we demand that they obtain a higher level of firearms proficiency than we currently ask of many officers and departments, and we cough up the money to make that training happen.