SEPTA’s new service weapons are here after Sig fire flap

(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

(Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

SEPTA police officers will have Glock 17s on loan from the Philadelphia Police Department to replace the Sig Sauer P320 as their service weapon as soon as Monday. 

The news guns arrived about three weeks after a SEPTA police officer’s P320 service weapon discharged without manipulation while holstered at Suburban Station during rush hour. There were no reported injuries. 

The shooting prompted an emergency purchase of 350 new Glock 17 pistols and holsters to replace the Sigs. SEPTA expects to have the new guns by the end of the year, but in the meantime, they’ll use the PPD’s spare Glocks. SEPTA’s own holsters for the weapon arrived Friday.

SEPTA will distribute the firearms and provide training to officers on the new weapon through the end of the month, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said.

Troy Parham, vice president of the SEPTA police union, said the union supports the switch over. 

“Once is enough for us,” Parham said. “If it went off on one officer, it could go off again. We want to make sure we have a safe weapon.”

Sig could not be reached for comment. Busch said the authority is in talks with the New Hampshire-based company about the incident and the emergency purchase that cost SEPTA more than $175,000, not including unanticipated processing and labor costs. 

“It comes out of funds generated by taxpayer dollars and revenues from riders,” Busch said. “We have a responsibility to be good stewards of those funds.” 

The P320s “will be securely stored at a SEPTA transit police location,” the spokesperson said. 

The future of the weapons is unclear, he said. The agency will “determine what to do from there as part of our discussions with Sig Sauer.”

The U.S. Army selected the P320 as its standard new sidearm in 2017. Even so, the pistol has developed a reputation for firing when dropped or jostled. The unintentional shooting at Suburban Station is one of at least three reported incidents this year where a law enforcement officer’s P320 service weapon discharged without intention.  

Less than two weeks after the shooting incident at Suburban Station, a Virginia sheriff’s deputy’s department-issued P320 “unintentionally discharged” in a locker room of an adult detention center, according to a statement from the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department. The deputy suffered minor injuries, which were treated at the scene. The incident is under an internal review. 

This is the second reported unintentional discharge of the P320 at the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office. 

Sheriff’s deputy Marcie Vadnais claimed her P320 service weapon discharged as she was removing the holstered weapon from her belt in 2018. The gun fired a bullet into her leg, shattering her femur, and causing permanent damage. She filed a lawsuit against Sig seeking $10 million in damages. Both parties settled for an undisclosed amount this past June. 

In May, a school resource officer’s P320 discharged in a middle school cafeteria in Pasco County, Florida. No injuries were reported. The incident is under investigation, according to a Facebook post from the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.  

Attorney Jeff Bagnell represented Vadnais in her case against Sig — his second multi-million dollar lawsuit against the gun giant. He said he gets calls from law enforcement officers every week or two, and the frequency is increasing. 

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Bagnell said. “Because I don’t think, for whatever reason, Sig was able to fix this problem with P320.” 

Bagnell blames a faulty mechanism that is supposed to stop the gun from firing unless the trigger is pulled. The lawyer urged Sig to recall the weapon before it results in someone losing their life. However, it may be too late. 

Justin Schneider of Rocky Ford, Colorado faces charges for manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the shooting death of his wife Wendy Schneider in December 2018. Police officers in the town responded to a call about a shooting that was the “result of a possible accidental discharge,” according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. 

The weapon that fired the deadly round was a P320, according to sources. 

While Schneider’s case plays out in Colorado, Sig is defending itself against a possible $5 billion federal class-action lawsuit. Dante Gordon of Katy, Texas is suing on behalf of himself and other P320 owners claiming Sig knowingly sold defective P320s to the public for more than a year.

Gordon claims Sig knew the weapon was prone to firing when dropped at an unusual rate since 2016. The suit estimates about 500,000 are in circulation among the public.

Though Sig made efforts to address the alleged defect with a “voluntary upgrade program,” while affirming the P320 “meets and exceeds U.S. safety standards,” the suit claims it was a “mandatory safety repair for the P320 in disguise.”   

SEPTA received its upgrade in 2018.

The suit also lists four incidents, including Vadnais’, involving law enforcement officers whose weapons discharged unintentionally between 2017 and 2018. In addition to Vadnais, two of the officers dropped the weapon and one officer fell. 

Sig filed for a dismissal of the suit in April for reasons including that Gordon’s pistol “did not manifest the alleged defect” and that he “lacks standing to represent consumers in the 49 states where he does not reside.” Both parties are awaiting a judge’s final decision.

Sig could not be reached for comment, and though Bagnell could not speak on cases he may be working on, he foreshadowed that the P320 will continue to be a thorn for Sig’s legal team. 

“There are more [cases] coming,” he said. “And I have no doubt there will be others down the road because the CEO of Sig Sauer will not recall the weapon.”

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