David A. Cole, center, a deputy with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department, has filed suit against New Hampshire-based gun maker Sig Sauer, alleging that in 2022 its widely distributed P320 pistol unintentionally discharged, shooting Cole while in the line of duty. Cole is joined by his wife, Kimberly, and attorney Michael Bigos during a news conference in Portland on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A Maine detective is suing a New Hampshire gun-maker, saying that he was injured by a defective handgun the company has vigorously marketed to law enforcement agencies across the country despite being aware of problems with the weapon.

Somerset County Sheriff’s Office Detective David Cole, 40, was executing a search warrant in Sangerville in May 2022 when his holstered gun discharged, according to a civil complaint filed in Somerset County Superior Court.

The detective was walking in a residential building, surrounded by more than half a dozen others, when he heard a gun shot. Officers thought they were under fire, Cole’s attorney said Monday, and quickly hit the ground to brace themselves for the worst.

Cole quickly realized he was the one who was shot – by his own gun, a P320 striker-fired pistol designed and sold by Sig Sauer Inc., which is headquartered in Newington, New Hampshire. Cole is the son of former Somerset County Sheriff’s Cpl. Eugene Cole, who was shot and killed in in the line of duty in 2018.

His attorneys, Michael Bigos, of Lewiston, and Robert Zimmerman, of Philadelphia, said their client is one of more than a hundred people who have had a P320 discharge unintentionally. The company did not respond to a voicemail left with its media team and an email to its human resources department Monday afternoon.

Sig Sauer denied similar allegations after more than 20 people from multiple states sued the company in December, The Associated Press reported.

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“The P320 is designed to fire when the trigger is pulled,” Sig Sauer spokesperson Samantha Piatt said in a statement to the AP. “It includes internal safeties that prevent the firearm from discharging without a trigger pull.”

Cole was carrying a jacket with both hands and the gun had never left its holster, his complaint states. The bullet went through his right thigh and lodged in his ankle. He needed surgery to remove it, hospitalizing him for three days and subjecting him to months of physical therapy.

“He clearly didn’t want the gun to fire a round into his thigh, through his calf, and into his ankle,” Zimmerman said. “And he does not want another law enforcement officer to suffer the same fate that he and over a hundred others have suffered.”

FALSE STATEMENTS

Cole’s complaint alleges the company not only has a defective product that’s prone to mistaken discharges, but that the company has failed to recall the firearm or make meaningful improvements. The complaint also alleges fraudulent concealment, meaning the company continues to market the gun to law enforcement and military agencies despite knowing the risks.

Cole alleges that Sig Sauer has even shared false statements about known reports of unintentional discharges.

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Days after a Connecticut SWAT team member sued Sig Sauer, alleging that an unintentional firing of a P320 injured his knee, the company issued a statement denying any reported drop-related incidents of its gun. This was false, the complaint states, because another Connecticut officer had reported being shot in a similar incident less than a year earlier.

Cole’s attorneys say Sig Sauer made another false statement when the company promised its voluntary P320 upgrades met “rigorous testing protocols for global military and law enforcement agencies.” There are no federal standards for gun safety, the complaint states.

While such standards would make regulation more uniform, Bigos said, gun-makers have “an incredibly powerful lobby.” He believes a jury trial would allow a more private remedy, where Cole can be a “private enforcer of safety in the absence of federal safety standards.”

Zimmerman said Monday that the lawsuit is not a commentary on gun regulations or the industry in general.

“It’s not about guns – it’s about this gun,” Zimmerman said. “It’s about making sure with any product, if there is a defective product, that it be corrected and that a manufacturer be held accountable.”

PAST INCIDENTS

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There have been more than 120 other incidents of unintentional discharge since the model was introduced in 2014, the complaint states. The document lists dozens of these firings.

In February 2016, a Michigan officer was driving in a snowstorm when his fully holstered gun went off. In 2017, another Michigan officer’s gun unintentionally discharged, striking a school teacher’s neck. In 2018, a Virginia officer’s gun unintentionally went off, severing her right femur and causing career-ending injuries.

Cole is the first Maine law enforcement officer to sue over the P320. Zimmerman said he’s representing at least 50 other plaintiffs across the country who have sued Sig Sauer for similar P320 incidents.

Cole and his wife, Kimberly, who were both at a media briefing about the case Monday but declined to make any statements, are suing for compensatory damages, punitive damages and damages for loss of consortium.

Cole’s father, Eugene Cole, was the first Maine police officer to die in the line of duty in 30 years. It took police four days after the shooting to find and arrest John Williams, who was later convicted of Cole’s murder.

“This family has given their lives, their professional lives and their personal lives, to the law enforcement community and to public safety,” Bigos said on Monday. “So the last thing that any law enforcement officer wants to have happen is their equipment failing on the job.”

The Somerset Sheriff’s Office stopped using the P320 model after Cole was shot in 2022, Bigos said. Sheriff Dale Lancaster and Chief Deputy Michael Mitchell did not respond to inquiries Monday, seeking a reaction to the lawsuit or further explanation on the decision to change firearm models.

Bigos said on Monday that he believes the weapon has been widely distributed in Maine, and that Sig Sauer has a sales team marketing the P320 to law enforcement agencies.

It’s unclear how many agencies in Maine use the P320. Maine State Police don’t, according to spokesperson Shannon Moss, nor do Portland Police or sheriff’s offices in York, Cumberland and Penobscot counties.

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