Suit Against Flashlight Manufacturer After Shooting Death

The estate of a man who was shot and killed by a police officer in October 2010 is suing the company that manufactured the flashlight mounted on the officer’s weapon.  The officer has sworn that he was attempting to switch on his weapon-mounted flashlight, when he accidentally pulled the trigger and shot 25-year-old Michael Alcala.

The flashlight in question was a SureFire X300 with an optional grip switch and it was mounted under the barrel of the unidentified detective’s weapon. The switch to turn on the light was mounted below the pistol’s trigger guard, flush with the grip.

According to the suit, the location of the grip-switch under the trigger creates a substantial risk that the user will accidentally pull the trigger and fire the gun while intending only to activate the flashlight.

In a sworn affidavit, the detective who shot Alcala wrote that he previously used a weapon mounted light which had pressure switches on the side of the grip. However, he was issued an X300 light and it was the only light he was allowed to carry. He said while attempting to turn on the light, he pulled the trigger and Alcala was shot.

A study performed Dr. Bill Lewinski of the Force Science Institute says that the switch design used on the officer’s pistol was unsafe.  Dr. Lewinski wrote that in non-stressful conditions, the flashlight will likely work as intended.  “But under high stress, when an officer’s hand movements tend to be automatic and rapid, it can be a much different story.”  The study goes on to say that the problem with the design cannot be corrected by training.

The SureFire company released a statement after Dr. Lewinski’s study was written. In the statement, the company defended their products and said additional officer training could have prevented the shooting of Alcala, as well as a similar shooting that occurred in New York.  The company claims that officer error is the cause of the shootings and the two incidents are the only two known incidents of an accidental discharge involving a SureFire light since the company began manufacturing lights in 1986.

What the company did not mention is that the vast majority of its lights do not include the grip switch that was in use during the Alcala shooting.  The design of the grip switch puts – in close proximity to the trigger – a switch that is intended to be pulled in the same direction and manner as the trigger.  It seems quite foreseeable that this design could result in users accidentally pulling the weapon’s trigger when intending to activate the flashlight.