Union: 'Drastically high' lead exposures at San Diego PD gun range

A police union claims that appropriate equipment to reduce lead poisoning was never purchased

On June 3, 2022, NBC San Diego reported that an outdoor gun range has shut down after seven San Diego police officers tested for elevated lead levels in their bodies.

By Jeff McDonald
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — Several members of the San Diego Police Officers Association have recorded "drastically high levels" of lead exposure in recent days due to an ongoing renovation at the historic pistol range on Federal Avenue, a newly filed legal claim alleges.

According to allegations by at least four users of the San Diego Police Range, the police union began warning its members earlier this month to get tested.

The claims, which are required to be filed in advance of any civil suit, quote a recent warning from the police union to its members.

"We know that much of the range project was the subject of budget cuts imposed on the police department last year by the city," it states. "It is believed the safety equipment needed to reduce lead poisoning was the subject of budget cuts or never funded despite concerns raised by our members AND at least one previous violation for lead dust."

The claims were filed last week by San Diego attorney Dan Gilleon, who represents at least four current and former law enforcement employees who relied on the gun range to practice their shooting skills.

The City Attorney's Office declined to comment on the legal action.

The claims quote a San Diego police union warning to members that was apparently issued earlier this month. Union officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment last week.

The legal complaints, which seek unlimited monetary damages, assert that recent renovations at the 80-plus-year-old gun range have stymied the filtration of lead dust that is created by firearms training.

"Previously, the dirt backstop and use of water reduced the dust created from firearms training," one of the claims states, quoting the police union.

"There is a piece of equipment that was not installed during last year's renovation that collects lead dust that is designed to prevent lead exposure and harm."

For years, the 5-acre gun range attracted hundreds of police officers and gun enthusiasts. It is outdoors but relies on an underground walkway to the target area and a "sunken area," where targets are serviced, the claim alleges.

The union warning to members suggested that the city's handling of the gun range improvements put officers and residents in danger.

"The primary duty of the city is to protect the people who live and work in it," the legal claim quoted the San Diego Police Officers Association as telling its members.

"A large military housing complex lies right behind the range and the failure of the city government to protect its employees and residents, all to save a few hundred thousand dollars, is despicable."

One claim, filed by former federal agent James Soeten, said Soeten first discovered the city's failure to comply with safety regulations on or about May 23. He said he was exposed to unsafe levels of lead as a range user over the past 30 years.

The claims allege that the city violated several laws and regulations, including allowing the dangerous condition of public property, breach of mandatory duty and negligence of public employees.

[NEXT: Take Police1’s 30 days to better firearms skills challenge]

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit sandiegouniontribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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