Three San Juan County deputies were injured during active shooter trainings in August on San Juan Island.
“Our job is a dangerous job and we have to practice some things that are dangerous,” said San Juan County Undersheriff Brent Johnson, “but we need to do it as safely as possible.”
Bullet fragments, which ricocheted off metal targets, hit the three deputies at varying times. Deputy Felix Menjivar and Reserved Deputy Doug Harmon were separately injured on Tuesday, Aug. 22 and Deputy Jeff Asher was injured on Wednesday, Aug. 23, said San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs.
The first two injured deputies did not miss work, while Asher missed about a week, said Krebs. Asher returned to work on Tuesday, Sept. 5, he added.
Krebs said sheriff office employees are conducting an investigation into the incident to discover details like why trainings proceeded after injuries occurred.
None of the injuries seemed serious on site because each hit deputy received a “Band-Aid” to treat the wounds, said Johnson, who participated in the Aug. 23 training with Asher.
The third and final session for this active shooting training was canceled and has yet to be rescheduled, said Krebs.
About six deputies in each training session fired rifles and handguns at steel targets about 20 feet away, said Johnson.
Menjivar and Asher were hit in the arm and Harmon on the cheek, said Krebs.
Asher did not respond to the Journal’s attempts for an interview. He will continue to visit Peace Island Medical Center doctors to see if the bullet fragment can be removed, according to Krebs.
Krebs said Asher finished the training and his shift on the day of the injury, before texting his immediate supervisor that he had checked into the hospital that evening.
While he was on leave, Krebs said Asher was “in constant contact with his direct supervisor,” but Krebs did not speak to him.
The final training session was not solely canceled due to safety concerns, said Krebs. The rangemaster, who is a fulltime deputy, canceled due to personal reasons. The rangemaster is the person in charge of the firing range.
According to Krebs, six deputies have to finish the training, including himself.
At the final training session, Krebs said some changes could include using paper targets instead of steel. Adjustments haven’t been finalized yet, he added.
During firing range practices, he said deputies are required to wear shooting or eye glasses, bullet-proof vests and either noise-canceling headphones or ear plugs. However, former San Juan County Rangemaster Ray Clever questioned the range’s safety. He said it would be inevitable for shooters, standing 20 feet from steel targets, to be hit by ricocheted bullets.
Clever, of Orcas Island, said he was the sheriff office’s rangemaster for about five years, after preparing for the position at the state’s law enforcement training facility. No training injuries occurred during his tenure, he added.
Krebs said a benefit of the practices’ steel targets is hearing bullets hit, but Clever attested that paper targets are safer and allow shooters to view their accuracy and calculate scores.
He added that it is difficult to maintain shooting accuracy and instill safety procedures with the office’s current bi-annual trainings. Most departments, he said, shoot at least once a month.
“If officers see something they think is a danger to them on the range, they need to stand up,” advised Clever.
Deputies were shooting on private property near the defunct gravel pit, across from Jensen Boatyard and Marina, said Krebs. Deputies have used this resident’s private property as a firing range for roughly 20 years, he added.
John Geniuch, of San Juan Island, is friends with Asher. He questioned the legality of using private property for the county’s official shooting range because the county’s land-use regulations don’t allow “outdoor shooting ranges” in this property’s zoning.
Geniuch told the Journal he is well-versed with the county code because he is a local permit consultant. He also worked for the county’s planning department for eight years, then sued the county for wrongful termination in 2015 and received a settlement.
Krebs said the area where officers practice shooting is not the county’s official shooting range, but he has permission from the property owner to shoot there. He added that each officer is individually insured if injuries occurred at any location.
Johnson assures there will be safer future trainings.
“We still need to practice that, but we’re going to refigure it to try to make it safer,” he said.
Krebs maintains that the safety of his staff and the community are his top concerns.
“My door is open to anyone and everyone who want to talk,” said Krebs.