By all accounts Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Brown was a good man and a committed cop. A Bay County Sheriff’s Deputy in Bay City, Michigan, Brown spent more than 21 years as a Law Enforcement Officer. Most of that time was invested as a school resource officer at Bay City Western High School and Middle School. In 2012 Brown was named Police Officer of the Year.
On April 23, 2018, Deputy Adam Brown went to jail. Through a series of events that was most unfortunate, he accidentally shot a teacher named Brenda Amthor in the neck with a .380ACP handgun. Though Amthor’s wound was thankfully superficial, she has justifiably struggled with the subsequent trauma of the event. The circumstances that led up to the shooting stand as an object lesson for anybody who spends time around guns.
The Infamous Negligent Discharge
After I left the Army, I returned home to finish my prerequisites for medical school. For two semesters I was a 31-year-old former Army officer amidst hundreds of enthusiastic young college students. While I was back in school that year there was an accident involving our local University Police Department.
The UPD cops carried Glock 17 9mm handguns. They had a professional development class one day on weapons maintenance. I really would have thought that by the time you were packing a gun professionally you would have known all about that. However, one of the female police officers in the second row retrieved her weapon, removed the magazine, and squeezed the trigger to disassemble the pistol without having cleared the gun. The round struck the officer seated ahead of her in the shoulder. He survived, but it was a mess.
There was an understandable furor over this. The UPD chief was interviewed for the school paper and said that essentially accidents sometimes happen and that it wasn’t that big a deal. I had worn the uniform two months before and couldn’t let that go unchallenged. I wrote the paper explaining that a negligent discharge in an operational environment was the unforgivable sin among most serious military units. If you were trusted to carry a weapon among civilians there was an implicit assumption that you would know how to maintain the gun without inadventently shooting somebody.
Most striker-fired pistol designs like the Glock must have their triggers pulled prior to disassembly. All serious gunmen appreciate this as a potential weak link in the safety chain and check our weapons multiple times before pointing them in a safe direction and squeezing the trigger. Those companies whose weapons do not require a trigger pull for disassembly rightfully trumpet this fact as a safety feature.
The major players in this sad tale eventually got different jobs outside of Law Enforcement, but the teaching point remains. If you’re going to carry a gun then learn absolutely everything there is to know about it and respect the weapon. Personally I would much sooner be helpless in the face of a threat than to cause harm to come to someone I love. That mantra drives my gun handling and my compulsive drive to practice.
School resource officers are a fairly modern thing. The very fact that we feel compelled to post armed Law Enforcement Officers in our schools is just sad. However, these SRO’s perform an undeniably laudable function. In addition to providing an effective layer of practical security, they serve as positive role models and help the kids come to view cops as the good guys. The SRO who failed to intervene during the critical early moments of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting was a glaring exception. However, in the case of Adam Brown, all involved attested that he was a pervasive force for good in his school.
The day in question was a Friday. Deputy Brown was in the robotics classroom alone with the robotics teacher. There were no kids present. Brown had brought a couple of his personally-owned handguns to school that day. His plan was to use a machine in the robotics lab to assess the trigger pulls on a 9mm Springfield Armory EMP as well as an unspecified .380ACP SIG SAUER pistol.
Under the robotics teacher’s supervision, Brown tested the trigger on the EMP successfully. They then both left the lab. Brown returned alone later with his SIG and set it up in the machine. However, he had failed to clear the weapon and left a live round in the chamber. When he activated the machine the handgun fired.
The .380ACP round punched through two layers of drywall into the neighboring occupied classroom. Inside were thirty students and Ms. Amthor. The round angled toward the ceiling, scraped a ceiling tile, and hit a cement wall. From there the attenuated bullet zipped across the room and struck Amthor in the neck. Though her wound was subsequently described as a “scratch” that did not require medical attention onsite, the ultimate outcome could have obviously been far worse.
At this point in our tale things are bad but not yet catastrophic. No one had been irrevocably harmed, and the entire ghastly episode was clearly a horrible accident. What Deputy Brown did next, however, took things to a whole new level.
Deputy Brown was summoned and held discussions with school staff regarding the origins of the bullet. They actually gave the spent projectile to Brown for safekeeping. At this point he did not admit to having fired the weapon in question. The school was locked down for obvious reasons. With each passing minute Brown dug himself a deeper hole. By now quite justifiably desperate, Deputy Brown discarded the bullet outside in a grassy space covered with leaves.
A stray bullet transiting an occupied classroom and striking a teacher in the neck is not the sort of thing that is easily swept under the rug. Cops descended upon the school en masse and began combing the school grounds for evidence. A K-9 officer located the spent bullet in the school yard. Those police dogs are a force of nature.
At that point Deputy Brown’s story unraveled. He came clean on the details and submitted himself to the criminal justice system. He subsequently lost his job, paid restitution, and spent 30 days in jail.
The Springfield Armory EMP is a concealed carry version of the esteemed 1911 handgun. EMP stands for Enhanced Micro Pistol. The EMP puts the crisp single action trigger and combat-proven controls of the 1911 into a package small and comfortable enough for daily carry. The EMP is designed from the ground up around the 9mm Parabellum cartridge.
I couldn’t find the specific SIG model that was involved in this accident. The SIG 238 is a subcompact single action .380ACP carry gun based upon the basic 1911 action. The P238 feeds from a single-stack 6-round magazine and is small enough to ride in the front pocket of your jeans.
The SIG P230 and P232 are trim .380ACP single action/double action autoloaders made in Germany. Importation of these weapons has been discontinued since 2014. Balance of probability the gun in this instance was actually the single action P238.
The Rest of the Story
The judge in the case was clearly sympathetic. He said in court, “For a guy that has spent his adult life concerned about firearms safety, this was a very adolescent act. But there are more important aspects of this case. There are two reasons I would surmise that police officers are in school. One is the obvious one of security, and the second one is as a role model. It appears for many, many years you were exemplary as a role model. You made a very poor decision to lie about what happened. You attempted to destroy evidence, or to hide it. What you did was a very human decision — one that many of us might make.
“We never know when faced with the decision to do the right thing or the wrong thing what we will do when faced with that pressure. You were under great pressure, you were frightened, you were embarrassed, in fear of losing your job, your reputation, your career. Many of us being human may not have had the courage to do the right thing, but it was the wrong decision. The court needs to take cognizance that it was the wrong decision.
“I feel that because of the circumstances, it’s necessary I impose some incarceration. I need to show the school community that even good people who make mistakes need to be punished.”
There are several timeless messages here. From a basic morality point of view it is always better to just face your failings and deal with the fallout. Trying to lie your way out of a problem never works, unless you’re a politician or a lawyer. In that case it is sort of your job (That’s a joke. All the attorneys in the audience please stop sticking pins into dolls bearing my likeness. To the politicians, well, whatever…I call it like I see it).
As gun guys, we always need to appreciate what an awesome responsibility it is to wander about with the means of taking human life tucked into our belts. I am completely comfortable around firearms and thankfully have never had an accidental discharge in hundreds of thousands of rounds fired. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t. Responsible gun ownership is a higher calling. We should remain ever cognizant of that reality.