TAMPA, Fla. — A veteran Tampa police officer has filed a lawsuit Tuesday against firearms manufacturer Sig Sauer.
He alleges his service weapon, a Sig Sauer P320 handgun, fired by itself, seriously injuring him.
The I-Team has learned there have been dozens of other reported incidents in the past five years of that model handgun firing without anyone pulling the trigger.
Bob Northrop has 49 years of combined law enforcement experience, serving as a Tampa police officer for 30 years, then serving as a reserve officer for the past 19 years.
He was on track to become the city’s longest-serving officer, until the unthinkable happened on Feb. 27, 2020.
Surgery, screws, rods and rehab
“I was working an extra-duty job at the high school baseball and softball games,” Northrop said, patrolling the ball fields at Jefferson High school, feet away from dozens of students.
When he brushed his service belt to try to attach a set of keys, he said his department-issued firearm fired by itself while holstered.
“As soon as I touched my gun, it went off. When it happened I didn’t know if someone was shooting at me or what had happened. But it just scared the devil out of me,” Northrop said.
A hollow-point bullet blew apart bones in his leg and ankle, leading to surgery and screws, rods and rehab.
“It resembles many, many other prior incidents that have happened across the country,” said Attorney Nick Gurney, who is part of the legal team representing Northrop in his lawsuit.
The complaint says Northrop is suing Sig Sauer, “for the design, manufacture, sale, distribution and inadequate warnings relating to an unreasonably dangerous and defective firearm.”
“It’s a gun that goes off when the trigger is not pulled. And it’s essentially as simple as that,” Gurney said.
Gun had a history of prior issues
An estimated 500,000 Sig P320 handguns are in police and civilian hands.
Since 2016, dozens of incidents of that model handgun discharging without a trigger-pull have been reported in 19 states.
Northrop's lawsuit alleges that during the time of those incidents, Sig Sauer started a campaign called “Safety Without Compromise” in which the company claimed in marketing materials “The P320 won’t fire unless you want it to.”
The ABC Action News I-Team first reported about potential issues with the Sig P320 in 2017.
At that time, the Tampa Police Department had 1,375 of the guns, purchased at a cost of more than $345,000.
In August 2017, Sig Sauer announced a “voluntary upgrade program” after a Connecticut SWAT team officer dropped his gun while holstering it and was shot by it.
Attorney Gurney says he believes the company didn’t do enough to protect the safety of people who owned that model gun.
“You don’t tell them if you want to send them back you can but they don’t have to. Or if they spent a lot of money on it and they don’t want to send it back, they don’t have to. That’s not a recall,” Gurney said.
The Tampa Police Department participated in that upgrade program and got new guns.
Northrop qualified with his new “upgraded” handgun in April 2019.
“Basically all that they had said was that there had been a problem with the Sig P320, but that it was related to drop. And they assured us that that had been repaired,” Northrop said.
He told the I-Team that at that time, he believed any issues with that gun had been resolved.
Other reported mishaps with “upgraded” Sig P320 handguns
Then other incidents involving the P320 happened.
A Pasco County school resource officer’s holstered gun went off in a packed middle school cafeteria in 2019. The officer was fired, but luckily no one was injured.
Virginia sheriff’s deputy Marcie Vadnais was not so lucky.
When she removed her service belt to attend a training, her Sig P320 fired, striking her in the thigh.
“There are three screws. One that goes into my knee. Two that go into my femur,” Vadnais told Boston ABC affiliate WCBV last November.
“I couldn’t feel my leg at all. There was complete numbness all the way down to my toes,” Vadnais said.
She sued Sig Sauer and settled for an undisclosed amount after undergoing four surgeries.
Northrop believes the number of reported incidents nationwide shows there’s a problem with the gun.
“They can’t all be wrong. They can’t all by lying. They can’t all be crazy. There’s a serious problem. And more people are gonna get hurt,” Northrop said.
Northrop hopes his lawsuit will send a message to Sig Sauer.
“I hope they get the message that it’s time to recall this firearm. It’s dangerous. It’s hurting people,” he said.
We contacted Sig Sauer and the Tampa Police Department about the lawsuit.
TPD, which was not a named party in the lawsuit, says the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
We have not heard back from Sig Sauer.
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