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Randy Cassingham

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bullet  Bambi Get Your Gun

Another story that begs to be illustrated by the photo mentioned. From True's 13 September 2009 issue:

Gun Show, Texas Style

Police in Round Rock, Texas, were called to a restaurant on a report of a waitress out front -- with an assault rifle. When officers arrived, they found that five sheriff's deputies from Midland, 350 miles away, who were in town for training, had given the rifle to the waitress, known as "Bambi", for photos of her sitting on their patrol car. "We take a lot of pictures here, you know what I'm saying," said Sam Baiocco, manager of "Twin Peaks", where waitresses wear halter tops and short-shorts. The county attorney declined to press charges against the officers, but one was fired, three were suspended without pay, and the other was reprimanded. "At no point at any time was anyone in any danger because we took proper precaution," said Vanda "Bambi" Purvis, 25. "Besides, I know how to use that gun." (Austin American Statesman) ...And had the officers gone to the training class, maybe they would have known how too.

Gun Give-Away
'Bambi' sits on patrol car with officer's (unloaded) 'assault rifle'. Well Armed and Well Legged: Her nametag says "BAMBI" but this is Vanda Purvis, 25, a waitress at the Hooters clone "Twin Peaks" in Round Rock, Texas. The cops thought it'd be a lot of fun to get her photo on the back of their patrol car. One of them thought it'd be a real hoot if she was holding a police 'assault rifle'. She didn't fire the unloaded gun, but he was fired over this photo. (Photo courtesy Midland County Sheriff's Office)

Why yes, in fact the back of that patrol car does read "CRIME INTERDICTION". You'll notice I didn't rise to that bait.

I now have details on who was punished, and why the punishments differed. Deputy Daniel Subia, 30, was the officer who was fired -- because he was the one who handed the waitress the weapon. Deputies Christopher Lee Evans, 34, Ronald Eugene Wright, 37, and Miguel Valdez Ramos, 31, were each suspended for three days without pay. Deputy Arturo Nunez Jr., 40, who said he remained inside the restaurant while the other officers went outside, was the one who was given a letter of reprimand.

"They violated my policy about being professional wherever they go," explained Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter.

A few more story details I really didn't have room for in my regular format: the reason "Bambi" knows "how to use that gun" is because she has one just like it, she told a reporter.

"I think it's funny that everyone made such a big deal about it," Purvis said, noting that she received an inquiry as to whether she would consider posing in Playboy -- but she turned that down. Another wonderful tidbit: she grew up in Pflugerville.

- - -

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44 Comments on This Entry

All comments in this blog are reviewed prior to being published. Spammers: don't waste your time. The posting criteria are simple: if a comment is worth visitors' time to read, it's approved. If not, it's not.


Posted by Charles, Al on September 18, 2009:

This is one time I am scratching my head. What did the police or the waitress do wrong? Is it against the law to sit where the cops often tell suspects to place their hands? Is taking a picture of a pretty girl against the law? "Bambi" is wearing more clothing than most football team's cheerleaders, so she must not be breaking any indecency laws. She is not even holding the firearm in a threatening manner. Is it against the law for an off duty policeman to frequent a place that serves liquor? What's the beef?

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Even assuming the officer did unload it (did he clear the chamber? Does he really want to bet his life on that?), handing police-issued weapons over to a civilian is certainly improper. Police officers already have a problem being viewed as professionals; this certainly didn't help. And assuming she's not a felon, the waitress did nothing wrong, and was not arrested or cited. Had she been a paroled felon, holding the gun would be a felony. (Did the officers check her background to ensure they weren't abetting a felony? Unlikely!) -rc

Posted by John, Texas on September 18, 2009:

This smacks of zero tolerance. If Sheriff's Deputy Subia insured that the weapon was safe then it becomes simply a prop in a picture of a cute girl.

Were these officers on duty, or, were they simply a bunch of guys away from home out for dinner after work? Do they owe their entire lives to the department? Perhaps, they could have some time off after work. After all, they were 350 miles from home.

Furthermore, why did someone call the local cops anyway? I suspect an ulterior motive. Was there an upcoming competition scheduled in the training?

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Did you read the whole page, John? You know that the gun was properly unloaded? I don't. If she had foolishly pulled the trigger of the "unloaded" weapon, and there had been a round in the chamber, and she shot and killed someone -- you know, like the accidental discharges that happen all the time! -- I imagine you would have been right at the front of the line to say how stupid the officers were to hand over their department-issued weapon to anyone. The department would lose the resulting lawsuit. Who called the local police? A citizen who saw a scantily clad woman in the parking lot with a rifle, who rightfully thought that was rather suspicious.

So how does a department avoid stupid accidents and lawsuits? They demand that the officers act professionally, which certainly does not include handing over their weapons to civilians for fun. When it comes to ZT, I've always said that "the punishment should fit the crime." This punishment does. The officer who handed over the weapon showed extremely bad judgment, and I don't want a cop that stupid working where I live. You should think about why you think that would be OK in your neighborhood! -rc

Posted by Natane, CA on September 18, 2009:

Hmm, something tells me that those who are saying the sheriff's deputies involved shouldn't have been punished are being swayed by who's holding the gun in the picture. If it was a pic of somebody who looked like, say, a skinhead or a gangbanger, I think we'd be hearing something completely different. Personally I think those working in law enforcement should be held to a higher standard of conduct and agree with their punishment.

And besides, if Bambi was so easily able to convince them to give her one of their guns for a picture, who's to say they would exercise good judgment if someone tried to bribe them or even worse? To chalk it up to them just having a little fun just encourages a "good old boy" system that will inevitably lead to corruption and injustice. Believe me, I've lived in some small towns in the south that uphold the "boys will be boys" excuse when it comes to the conduct of law enforcement, and it's not a good thing.

Posted by Bruce, Royse City, Texas on September 18, 2009:

Law and zero tolerance are not at issue here. These officers are (or were) voluntary employees of this department. Sheriff Painter is quoted as saying they violated his policy, he being their boss. I'm sure they knew the policy that was in place. If they disagreed with it, they were free to protest through proper channels or to seek employment elsewhere.

Sure this is ZT, but it's ZT against dishonorable conduct, something that deserves no tolerance. Rather, it is too often ignored because honor is of so little value these days.

Posted by Michael, Phoenix AZ on September 18, 2009:

Suppose it were her own rifle and she brought it to the "photo shoot". Would the police have been called because it looked suspicious? Would heads have rolled?

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Question one: Probably. Question two: Not hers, but the officers might have had some sort of trouble, depending on what happened. But so what? "If the situation had been different, would the response had been different?" Well, yeah! And? -rc

Posted by Stef, Melbourne, Australia on September 18, 2009:

Randy, why do you question reader John for stating that the gun was unloaded? The photo includes a caption from the original news article, and it states the gun was unloaded. If you're going to question that part of the story, why don't you question everything else?

I believe that since police are given great power, they should be held to greater standards than ordinary people. But that shouldn't come at the expense of their humanity. Quite frankly, all else being equal, I'd rather have cops in my neighbourhood who relaxed with a harmless photo than by going out and getting stinking drunk, or by using their badge as an excuse for bullying people.

In this case, it should be treated as "no harm, no foul". The police had exhibited responsible gun safety by ensuring that the weapon was unloaded. You can play "what-if" games all day. What if the waitress shot somebody. What if she had brought her own gun?

The suggestion that the police should be held responsible for abetting a felony if Bambi was violating parole by handling a gun is ridiculous. Should cops be responsible to run a background check on somebody before they give them a drink just in case they're a paroled felon and drinking alcohol would violate their parole? If that's the law, it's a bad law.

I don't own a gun, I think the gun culture is stupid, but this is a storm in a teacup and the officer who was fired should feel really hard done by. I wouldn't be surprised if the "policy" to be professional wasn't written down anywhere, and even if it was, the sin deserved nothing more than a verbal reprimand, if that.

I'm fascinated by the idea that some citizen saw a person -- the fact that she was a "scantily clad waitress" is irrelevant -- holding a rifle and was concerned. (As if people holding guns in rural Texas is something unusual.) Looking at the photo, it looks like it was after dark, which makes it almost impossible that they were seen by a passer-by. So we're supposed to believe that somebody there in the restaurant or carpark noticed the gun, but didn't notice the four police officers, and thought that they were in danger and needed to call the cops. Yeah, right. It sounds like a blue-nosed wowser was offended more by the idea of deputies taking photos of a waitress and decided to get them in trouble. Heh, who knows, maybe one of the other waitresses was miffed that the cops didn't want to take photos of her!

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People are shot by "unloaded" weapons all the time because they forgot to clear the chamber. So much so that the number one gun safety rule is "All guns are loaded." If these officers, who were apparently drinking, didn't have enough sense to keep control of their weapons, it's quite plausible that they didn't have enough sense to clear the chamber. Either way, their actions are extraordinarily unprofessional, period. -rc

Posted by Brian, NV on September 19, 2009:

Generally speaking, I'm all for holding the police to higher standards but in my opinion getting fired was overkill. Here's why:

1. Anyone who has handled weapons for any time would know how to clear it. And I would expect these cops to have been trained prior to being handed the weapon or the sheriff is guilty of much worse.

2. They were in town for training so they would have had to clear the weapon when they left the range.

3. This isn't a cheap, undependable weapon that would have discharged accidentally HAD there been a round in the chamber. The article doesn't mention any round so I figure it was empty since that WOULD have made the story much juicier.

4. This is a restaurant that has many photo ops. It must be part of the attraction.

5. This is a waitress, NOT a skinhead or gang member as someone else tried to connect.

6. The waitress has knowledge of this same firearm. It's possible that she has more training that some of the posters here.

There was some bad judgment here and the reprimands and suspensions were warranted, but getting fired was over the line. It's not like he mistook his gun for a taser and shot someone.

Posted by Tom - Stuttgart, Germany on September 19, 2009:

One comment about the weapon being unloaded, based on what I learned in my military days:

Clearing a rifle means that the magazine has been removed, the chamber cleared, and the the weapon is then "fired" (usually in a sand-filled barrel or some other safe device) to ensure that there is still not a round in the chamber.

While the first two steps can be easily followed in a restaurant parking lot, I don't see how the third step could be safely conducted there. So by most people's standards, the weapon should have been considered loaded.

Some type of punishment was in order, in my opinion (but I won't comment on "too severe" or "too moderate" -- I'll leave that to the people involved) because the weapon could not have been "certified" as being unloaded.

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Plus, as can plainly be seen in the photo, there's a magazine in the rifle, casting further doubt. -rc

Posted by Bob, Ireland on September 19, 2009:

Guys, guys get a grip of yourselves! Felony, background checks, secret bullet in the chamber, dishonorable conduct!, gangbangers?

Was it a dumb thing to do, sure, was she cute, yes. was it a great picture, of course! Was the sheriff a bit embarrassed? I bet!

But give them a break, she might have been a crazed armed communist, illegal immigrant but somehow I doubt it! and yes I admit it, I am being swayed by her good looks and skimpy dress, so what? and no, I probably would not have given my gun to a skinhead and asked him to pose for photos on the back of my car, but that's just me :-) !

stinks of zero intelligence matched by an equal measure of political correctness gone wild,and a lack of any discretion!!

A quiet phone call from police chief to sheriff and a reprimand or two, no one's career ruined.

If I got in trouble for every dumb thing I did around a pretty girl (in a skimpy dress!!) I would be serving multiple life sentences by now! So I suspect would most guys!

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If it's wrong to give a rifle to a skinhead for a photo (as you state), why is it "right" to give it to a cute girl? You admit your judgment would be clouded, but think it's OK for law officers to have clouded judgment ...just because. Sorry, but we hold our law enforcement to a higher standard here. -rc

Posted by Ellen, Illinois on September 19, 2009:

I am opposed to zero tolerance when it is directed against students or other plain citizens, especially when officials are only trying to cover their rear. But in this case the deputies obviously violated department rules and showed poor judgment. Did I perhaps miss the part of the story that says this restaurant serves alcoholic beverages? The fact that "Bambi" owns an assault rifle and knows how to use it doesn't excuse anything.

Posted by Fred, Gillette WY on September 19, 2009:

So they must have thought it was a good idea at the time. That darn 20/20 hindsight. Should he have been fired? Well it was not our decision to make.

Posted by JIM, DENVER on September 19, 2009:

Behavior like this falls back on the whole department. Public perception is half the battle in law enforcement. You may have the best sheriffs department or police department anywhere but if some of them act like knuckleheads it alters the public perception of the whole department. There are people watching everything law enforcement does. In this case, if the sheriff had not done something about this, believe me, he would have heard about it come next election. He would have been portrayed as a bad administrator who does not care if his officers let scantily clad girls handle department weapons while sitting on marked police vehicles.

Posted by Paula, Oregon on September 19, 2009:

Agreed. Unprofessional conduct, but firing was a bit much. When are people going to realize that when men spend time around women, the lesser brain has a way of taking charge (No offense, guys, we enjoy the results!). Especially scantily clad women. Sigh. You're only young once Vanda, enjoy it!

Female, 48

Posted by Sandy, Utah on September 19, 2009:

I'm firmly in the camp that firing was too severe for this action. But keep in mind, we don't know if it was just for this incident. He could have had several write-ups over the course of his service. This may just have been his last strike.

I don't mean to slander him in any way. But we can't know all the reasons that lead to the firing. (Sorry to offend those who think this thread has too many "what ifs" already!)

Posted by Barry - Philadelphia on September 19, 2009:

Males who can be mind controlled and manipulated by females. Give them a badge, authority and a gun. Bad idea.

Posted by Pete, NJ on September 19, 2009:

The issue is not about the gun or the waitress. The officer in charge broke department policy. In most cases, this brings disciplinary action. It demonstrates poor judgment. Does it deserve termination? That depends on how the Chief has handled other policy breaches. Is the gun unloaded? I am an NRA Certified Instructor. Even after clearing a gun, it is treated as if it were loaded. If you point a "cleared gun" at me, be prepared to use it or eat it. Police should know this and should be held to a higher standard. Since a cop can carry off duty, they are never really "off duty". If people are to trust the police, their behavior is always under the microscope.

Posted by Mike from Dallas on September 19, 2009:

Firearms are a huge political issue. Politically, those who see no problem with guns also see no problem with this incident. And, of course, those who DO see problems with guns feel vindicated by stories such as these. As evidenced by someone who needed to call the police, not on a waitress with a gun, but on 3 cops AND a cop car already on the scene.

It's already been stated that what-if scenarios can be endlessly debated, and those usually devolve into the sublime. The comparison between handing a firearm to a pretty waitress or to a skin-head for a photo op really doesn't make any difference. Why would one presume a skin-head is more likely to suddenly erupt in a shooting rampage? Or a waitress?

What I don't understand is why someone actually handing the weapon over is a firing offense, but those complicit in the offense are not fired. Or why someone suffered a formal reprimand in his employment record for nothing more than simple association. He distanced himself from the incident. What was he supposed to do, arrest his fellow officers for a "crime" that even the local prosecutor refused to address?

Yes, had it happened in my own neighborhood, right in front of my house, I would have watched with amusement and interest, and probably even have joked around with the cops involved.

Posted by Doug, Kansas on September 19, 2009:

Count me in with the people who don't think it is such a huge deal. HOWEVER, they definitely broke department policy and deserve to be punished *appropriately* -- I can't say if that includes firing or a reprimand. The biggest problem I have with what they did is that they did it in public.

Posted by Bob, Virginia on September 19, 2009:

Sorry Randy, but I completely disagree with you in this instance.

There are two villains in this story: the troublemaker who called the local police when there was obviously no need and the sheriff who grossly over-reacted. There is absolutely no justification for a letter of reprimand for the officer who stayed in the restaurant. The other three officers should have been told by the sheriff to not place one of their weapons in the hands of anyone else in a public place. And there should be no other punishment ... except I hope the citizens at home are reminded of the sheriffs actual punishments before the next election so he came be voted out of office.

Incidentally I favor strong gun regulations that prohibit hand guns and assault weapons except to members of a well regulated militia.

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I'm not sure how you're aware of every possible fact in the case to be so sure there's "no justification" for the letter of reprimand, but I agree there appears to be poor justification for it. But we disagree that the sheriff should have to tell officers not to hand their weapons over to civilians. Should he have to tell them, "Oh, and hey: don't commit any crimes!" so that if they do, he'll be able to point to a policy violation? Ridiculous! -rc

Posted by Bruce, SC on September 19, 2009:

We don't know, based on the story, whether a) alcohol was available, b) whether, if so, the officers had been drinking, or c) whether, in fact, the officers were off duty.

The story doesn't say whether the officers were in uniform, either. (Here in SC, someone employed by a law enforcement agency cannot purchase alcohol while wearing any uniform provided by the agency, whether it's a law enforcement uniform or not; practically speaking, if the uniform bears an agency patch.)

If they were drinking, there should have been a designated driver (who could have been the officer inside the restaurant). Anyone who had been drinking should not have had the keys to the vehicle, or been able to remove the weapon from the trunk, where it should have been stored.

Posted by Kenneth, Tennessee on September 20, 2009:

If the regulations for that department did not ban officers from letting a member of the public hold an unloaded department owned firearm, then the officers involved may be able to sue.

Personally, I wish more officers were like the ones in the story. They were friendly with a civilian, were promoting good police community relations and they were not paranoid about being in the presence of a law abiding civilian holding a firearm.

Officers that freak out at the mere thought of a citizen with a firearm are a real danger to anyone with a concealed carry permit, a hunter or someone just going to do some target practice. Not to mention anyone with a toy, cell phone, hairbrush or their wallet in hand, as all of these items have led overly paranoid officers to shoot innocent civilians that they just 'assumed' were holding a weapon because they had something in their hand.

If more officers were like the ones in the story, maybe the public would have more faith in law enforcement officers.

Posted by Catherine, Georgia on September 21, 2009:

I happen to agree with the punishments dished out. This men are suppose to be "law enforcement" personnel. They had no business giving an assault rifle to anyone not qualified to use it. It is also the property of the police department, and unless they were holding a class on the handling of assault rifles, they had no business allowing the waitress to hold it for a photo op. The reason the officer who remained in the restaurant received a letter of reprimand was because he did nothing to stop his fellow officers from doing something so stupid, but sat idly by and let them do what they did. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to feel safe with police officers allowing any Tom, Dick, or Harry access to their assault weapons just for a photo op with a pin-up girl. That does not instill confidence in their ability to protect and service.

Posted by Ed, Hopewell Junction NY on September 21, 2009:

Maybe the sheriff wanted to get rid of that guy anyway. Maybe the sheriff has other problems with his deputies.

An unloaded rifle is an effective club in trained hands, probably not in Bambi's. Other than that the entire social order ought to return to the days of allowing people to be people and not instantly assume the worst that can happen will happen.

I'd rather assume these guys know what's important and have a good sense of priorities when they respond to a call or stop a vehicle.

Policies of zero tolerance and self-righteous rigidity cause many more problems than they "solve".

In the real world how was the guy who stayed inside supposed to stop the others -- and still be able to work with them?

It looks like the photo was taken at night - was it the camera flash that illuminated the rifle with the dark finish held by the woman with the white shirt? Is that why the person who called the cops not notice the marked police car and the cops with the camera?

Posted by Brent, Mobile, AL on September 21, 2009:

Randy, I'm rather surprised to see you using "what if" scenarios regarding whether or not there was a round in the chamber or the waitress was a felon. If the officers cleared the chamber then "what if" ceases to be relevant and the argument immediately loses its power of persuasion. The same goes for all other undisclosed facts that people are speculating on. The officers had come from training and were in a police issued cruiser with police issued weapons and were there representing their department. But they were at a restaurant using the fact that they were police officers and using the cruiser and weapon as props to flirt with the waitresses. I definitely believe a reprimand was in order.

I also believe (indulging in a bit of speculation myself) that the officers were likely to have been in uniform (but at least certainly it should have been obvious to any onlooker that they were officers due to the photo op on the back of a cruiser) and so it is likely that the real reason someone called the police was not about a safety issue but that they did want to report the officers for abusing their position. As far as handing their service weapon over to a skinhead or a pretty girl for a photo op goes, I'm sure the real safety concern isn't that the civilian will suddenly succumb to bloodlust and start plugging away but that they might get cute and pull the trigger thinking that the officer would not have handed them a weapon that wasn't cleared... but this goes back to whether or not they had cleared the chamber. I don't care to play the what if game about it. I have held and handled a police officer's service weapon myself. I would hate to think that their chief would have fired them over it because they "might not have cleared the chamber". They did clear the chamber and I too know how to handle a firearm and would never even place my finger on the trigger unless I intended to fire it.

In my estimation that what these officers did wrong is not that they allowed a civilian to hold a properly cleared service weapon but that they did so in the public view while using their position of power and authority to do something that they themselves would not have stood idly by and allowed a civilian to do. It is an abuse of authority. It is unprofessional and it does not matter if the weapon was properly cleared, inspected, or even dry fired to insure it was empty, did a background check on the model to insure they were not abetting in a felony or any of those other "what ifs". If the sheriff believed firing was the appropriate course of action in this case (as was mentioned, this may not have been the only determining factor) it was entirely his call and the officer that lost his job can feel put out by this but what he did was stupid. Lots of people lose their jobs and don't think what they did was that bad. It's the bosses prerogative to determine the appropriate response.

Barring any other determining factors, I think firing may have been a little harsh but I'm in no position to second guess the sheriff. I think the suspensions were right on the mark but I also feel the reprimand was a bit over the top... but then again, what's a reprimand? Probably no big deal if the officer can stay out of trouble and the sheriff doesn't have to look like he has no control over his department.

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Several people expressed dismay because "the weapon was unloaded, so what's the harm?" Simply, a lot of people are killed and injured by "unloaded" weapons every year, even in the hands of "experts" -- like firearms instructors, including one who shot himself on-camera (which video ended up on YouTube), and a police chief (which story ended up in TRUE). Simply, as you note it's STUPID to screw around with firearms like this, and the officers paid for that stupidity dearly -- and appropriately. We do agree that no, they certainly would not have allowed a civilian to do the same thing! I'm glad you know not to put your finger on a trigger unless you're ready to fire. Yet we commonly see photos of people pointing the weapon up -- with their fingers on the trigger. Last, you know they cleared the chamber ...how? -rc

Posted by Brent, Mobile, AL on September 21, 2009:

Thank you for your response. I'm not sure in what regards your comment on how I know they cleared the chamber was meant. If the “they” you were referring to were “they” who allowed me to handle their service weapon... I know because I not only watched them do so, I checked behind them immediately afterwards to verify for myself. If you meant “they” the officers in the article then obviously I wouldn't “know” not having been there to watch them and then check behind them to verify for myself.

I chose my wording to suggest that they had properly cleared the weapon to emphasize the point that what they did wrong had nothing to do with that unknown fact; not to make claims that I knew one way or the other. The officers in question are more likely than most people to have properly cleared the weapon so it seems warrant-less to accuse or assume otherwise without evidence to the contrary. Yes, even “experts” have accidents, but whether or not the officers properly cleared the chamber is not the issue. If it was the only issue then I think that the firing was definitely over the top unless it can be proven that they did not, in fact, properly clear the chamber. My point is that playing the “what if” game weakens the argument if it can't be proven. There is no evidence to prove that the officers did not properly clear the chamber or that the waitress ever handled the weapon in an unsafe manner so why try to base an argument on what can be seen on YouTube?

A lot of people, including myself, have handled weapons, loaded or not, for photos or for sport or in the line of duty. Some of them were careless or stupid but lucky. Others, you get to see and read about, weren't so lucky... and still, many others, just happen to be a little smarter and more careful so its no accident that they have done so without incident. Its pointless to accuse or judge the officers actions based on assumptions that they might not have been careful or responsible when they placed their service weapon in the hands of a civilian. Their actions should be judged on the merits of what is known rather than what is feared. They were acting like little boys showing off their work issued toys to impress the cute little girls at the restaurant. There is no question that their behaviour was in violation of the policy of remaining professional. In retrospect, I think all of the officers could probably agree that they weren't acting in accordance with that policy and that it wasn't one that needed to be spelled out for them.

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We're pretty much in agreement. My point about the chamber is that (as we agree) accidents happen even when "experts" are in training mode, so it's stupid (as we agree) to take the risk -- and thus put the department in a position of liability -- for the purpose to make time with a cute waitress. It's needless liability in a profession that's already the subject of lawsuits on a daily basis, and it's unprofessional in that it puts the profession in a bad light. So I guess in summary, it's a bad idea on several different levels, any one of which could be considering a firing offense. It's not like they were all fired; clearly the sheriff looked at each case individually, so it's not like he acted rashly in meting out punishment. -rc

Posted by Andy, Pennsylvania on September 22, 2009:

Recently you added the term "obliviot" to our language. I propose that you add the term "orificer" to those induhviduals employed in law enforcement who inexplicably elect to place their head up their rectum.

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Well, I think you just did! -rc

Posted by Don in Phoenix on September 22, 2009:

You people are missing the point. It *Doesn't Matter* if the weapon was loaded or not. It *Doesn't Matter* if it was a thermo-nuclear device with a hair trigger or a cardboard picture of a slingshot. They were termed for being un-professional. They violated rules of their employment and the contract was broken. If you agree to wear a pink tu-tu to work every day, your employer has the right to terminate your employment the day you show up in a Brooks Brothers suit.

As insignificant as it might seem, it was still unprofessional.

Posted by Billy, Texas on September 22, 2009:

You're missing the point. Bambi is HOT! If police couldn't use their positions to get some play with someone who otherwise wouldn't look twice at them then why would anyone become an officer?

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Yep, you're from Texas all right! :-) -rc

Posted by Wally - Derby, KS on September 22, 2009:

I noted that Sheriff Painter claimed ownership of the "Policy" on professionalism stating that the Officers violated "his" policy. I would think that it would/should be a department policy and that there are many people other than Sheriff Painter vested in that policy from inception through debate and approval (just as there would be in termination and reprimand of officers - I doubt that that happens without the involvement of Union Officials, Commission Members, mediators or arbitrators, etc.). But Sheriff Painter (local politician) doesn't miss the opportunity to take a high profile media incident and turn it into a "me" message, probably in anticipation of the next campaign. Granted, the officers were unprofessional and something needed to be done about this incident. But I wish there were ways to insulate these decisions from the personal interests of local politicians.

Posted by Bruce, CA on September 22, 2009:

I find it intriguing that Round Rock is in the TX "hill country." The sexual innuendos just seem to compound the further one digs into this story! :D

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Yep! Plenty of rich ore in this one. -rc

Posted by Derek from New Mexico on September 22, 2009:

The important things have already been said, so I would like to ask some sideline questions of those who know more about police weapons and procedures. How many magazines would a police cruiser of this sort be likely to carry for this rifle, on a normal day? Would there be a policy, that the magazines be kept full at all times? Would it be likely that an empty magazine would be on the weapon as it was transported in the cruiser? How easy is it to unload a magazine, and how long does that take? If an officer unloaded a magazine, what would be the proper procedures for handling the bullets? (I'm guessing that dropping them in your pocket or on the floor of the trunk isn't recommended). How obvious would it be to an officer picking up the weapon, that the attached magazine was full, empty, or partially full?

These questions are not asked rhetorically, but in simple desire to understand one aspect of the situation. I hope a reader or two will fill me in. I will offer one rhetorical question: How disappointed would the officers have been, if they were called upon to use the weapon in an emergency situation, and discovered then that Bambi's empty clip was still on the rifle? The innuendo opportunities in that last question are left to the reader.

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They're good questions. I don't have such a rifle, but I can still answer your questions (and hope someone will correct me if I got anything wrong). No idea how many magazines would be standard, but certainly more than one. They should be kept loaded, yes; I can't think of a good reason to have one unloaded, but can think a lot of reasons why they shouldn't be empty. It's very easy to unload one, and it wouldn't be a problem to drop the shells in a pocket (but not a great idea to toss them on the car's floor). It is not obvious at all when picking up the weapon as to whether an attached magazine (the correct term; "clip" is something else) is full, empty, or somewhere in-between; there's typically no "slot" or window to see. Correct procedure when being handed a weapon of unknown status is to open it up and see for yourself if it's loaded or not -- both the magazine and the chamber -- before considering it "safe" (See Gun Safety Rule #1: "All weapons are loaded!") -rc

Posted by Tristram, Canada on September 22, 2009:

Orificer is my new favorite word!

Posted by Paul, Leander, TX on September 22, 2009:

I "have" to add my comments to this one. Round Rock is next door and so is Pflugerville. Seems these officers may have been "off duty" but is an officer of the law EVER off duty? And these guys were way out of their district but they represented all of the officers in Midland County - they needed to act professional at all times especially if in uniform (that is not stated).

Regarding the weapon - an AR-15/M-16 style rifle. It may have been unloaded, but was it a FULL auto or SEMI auto rifle. Being a rifle from a police car I would suspect it might be FULL auto in which case Bambi probably does not have a license to possess (even for a few minutes) a Fully automatic weapon. Oops.

The punishment was harsh, but I want MY law enforcement officers to be able to protect me at all times - these fellas were out playing when they should have been being professional.

Just in case someone thinks I am some gun hating liberal - FORGET IT!!! I believe that the Second Amendment IS our Homeland Security and am a Front Sight Firearms Training Institute Graduate - something I think EVERYONE should go and experience. Oh, and by-the-way, to Bob in Virginia, check out the Second Amendment and the thinking behind it - just who do you think IS the "well regulated militia"?

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It wasn't stated if the deputies were in uniform or not, though we can certainly see they were driving in a marked car. Nor was it stated if this was a full-auto, or semi-auto, rifle. Either is plausible. -rc

Posted by Mike from Dallas on September 22, 2009:

I did a little more checking into the story. The Midland Co. deputies were in civvies. Three had a few beers, two were designated drivers. The call was made by a passing [nearby] Manor, TX police officer who was off duty in his own car. The statement about "professional courtesy" seems to be about the attitude of the Round Rock police acting in an uncivil manner; in other words, they could have acted more professionally courteous as expected for any other investigation.

It's impossible to say just who suggested what, concerning the pictures, but it seems that both sides were more than simply passive. According to "Bambi's" Myspace and Facebook sites, she seems to be an aspiring model.

As noted, the rule for any firearm, loaded or unloaded, is to never point it where you don't want it to fire, either deliberately or accidentally. I notice that the pose was with the muzzle pointed in the air. I've heard all the arguments about a bullet fired straight up and coming back down, and I'm not here to debate the effect. Suffice it to say that no one has ever been killed by a free-falling bullet (although it has caused minor injury). And this would be a .223, a very light projectile.

The AR-15 is a civilian version of the military M-16. While the M-16 is selectable full or semi auto, the AR-15 is semi-auto only. Civilian police are a peace-keeping force, not a military incursion unit. Any military weapons would be restricted to a special weapons division of the force.

And lastly, for those who state that police officers are never really "off-duty", I counter that it means they could never drink alcohol, never sleep, never have sex with their wives, girlfriends, or pickup for a one night stand. They could never swear where there is the remotest possibility that someone might overhear them. They could never voice any political opinion of any kind without violating a professional image of neutrality.

Given that criminals dislike police for obvious reasons, and a public that holds them to a standard unmatched even by the priesthood, no wonder that many of them eventually lose hope and put a bullet through their head.

---

Not to get in a fight over little details, but people have indeed been killed by falling bullets. A quick search finds several from as far back as 1950, and Mythbusters discussed one on their show. The Straight Dope column found that between 1985 and 1992, there were 38 such deaths in Los Angeles alone. -rc

Posted by MaryAnn, WI on September 23, 2009:

I don't get the controversy-if you're an officer you don't hand over your gun to a civilian, PERIOD!

Supervisor: Why did you give your gun to a civilian? You're fired!
Officer: But she was cute!
Supervisor: Oh, well, never mind then!

whatever...(rolling eyes)

Posted by Jason, Sugar Land, TX, USA on September 23, 2009:

In response to Stef from Australia: Firstly, Round Rock is most definitely NOT "rural Texas," though Midland is... sorta. Round Rock is a suburb of the state's capital, Austin, and is a rather affluent area. It's where Dell computers is based.

I was taught how to handle and RESPECT firearms as a child - at the age of about 6. Treat every gun as if it was loaded, even if you just cleared it yourself, and NEVER point a gun at someone unless you intend to kill them, because that's the only thing guns were made to do. 25 years later, I still practice safety first around firearms. I keep loaded magazines in the house, but the weapon itself is locked and in a different location from the ammo, so even if my child found my pistol, it would be useless except as a blunt object.

Posted by Ian, UK on September 24, 2009:

So I've ready many of the comments already posted and loads of you have already (over-)covered most of the main points, but I still felt like I needed to post.

I'm from the UK so the whole gun law thing is obviously a mystery ;-) but a couple of things strike me as off here.

Firstly, these cops were way out of their jurisdiction on a training course. Unless they were on a fire-arms training course what would be the reason for them carry that kind of weapon with them? And based on the fact that they were out at a restaurant having attended their training, it could be fair to assume that they were not on duty and, therefore, that weapon should have been secured in the car.

Secondly, apparently "Bambi" is familiar with the weapon "because she has one just like it"!!! Like I said US gun laws are a bit of a mystery to me, but what possible reason could any civilian have for owning a weapon like that?? And I know I'm going to get a hail of abuse from some quarters for asking that question, but realistically knowing that one of my neighbours owned something like that would scare the living **** out of me!

And finally, there's not much point examining the "what if"s as some one else mentioned. You can only take them at their word that they had cleared the rifle, I'm no expert so I'll let the rest of you argue that one. No-one got hurt (good) but policy was broken (bad), and that can't go un-punished. Should he have been fired, debatable, maybe suspension without pay and desk duties for a few months would have been a better plan, and surely there has to be a verbal/written warning process that would have to be followed.

I'm all for the services interacting with the community, and have no problem with them demonstrating their equipment (my kids have used Fire hoses attached to fire-engines without having to go on some drawn out health and safety training for example), but it should be in a controlled environment under the proper conditions ... which when I last checked is not late at night, in a restaurant car park ... no matter how short your skirt!!

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To better understand the American interest in guns, see my February essay, Guns in America: Why? -rc

Posted by Wally - Derby, Kansas on September 24, 2009:

Yes, people are killed and property is damaged from bullets fired into the air returning to terra firma. There were seven people killed in one day in Baghdad during one of Sadam Hussein's orchestrated anti-American rallies where 70,000 people gathered near the U.S. Embassy. Of course, hundreds and hundreds of rounds of ammunition were fired into the air. Even the relatively light 55 to 75 grain bullet of a caliber .223 rifle (from an M-16 or an AR-15) would gain enough velocity (accelerating at 32 ft/sec² from an altitude of about 4,000-4,500 ft.) to critically injure someone it hit in the head (unless it hit a democrat).

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Sadly, your gratuitous joke at the end changed this from a teaching moment to a slap, so instead of a win you end up with a failure to communicate. And you misspelled "Saddam". -rc

Posted by Bob, New Jersey on September 26, 2009:

I'm just going to add a few thoughts to this thread.

1. A police officer should "never" hand a department weapon to a civilian? That needs a bit more clarification. What if the civilian is a gunsmith? How about when the officer is teaching a firearms safety class? On a firing range where the civilian safety officer asks to inspect and clear a weapon? Presenting a weapon to airline personel to confirm that it's cleared prior to checking it in for travel? Is the officer's spouse allowed to move it from the bed to the nightstand? OK, now we know that there may have to be exceptions to the "rule". Hmmm, ZT issues come to mind.

2. I can easily see that there might be an empty magazine available. The training might include live fire and the magazine was left empty prior to cleaning. Yes, I know that cleaning weapons after having a few drinks is not a good idea, however... It might also be that ammunition was being provided at the training and empty mags were specified.

3. One thing taught by every decent firearms instructor is to always point a weapon in a safe direction. While up is not always 100 percent safe, in general it is much safer than any other direction. I would much rather be hit by a bullet falling at terminal velocity than one directed at me.

4. While it may be a bit of a generalization, I would expect the average Texan to be fairly familiar with firearms. Much more so than in my home state of New Jersey. While I would assume that the weapon was cleared before being handed to Bambi, I would also assume that she could clear it as well. For all we know, he did, she did, AND it was always pointed in a safe direction. I read nothing stating that there was careless handling being alleged.

5. I would be very interested to know if the sheriff's policy on "professional behavior" was written or verbal. I'd also be interested to know just how many other photos are hanging on the walls in the sheriffs office of civilians holding police issued firearms in similar situations. While I may think that these guys were acting unprofessionally, if they had precedent that this was acceptable then a firing was inappropriate. I have personally seen police officers behavior that was worse than this and not been subject to discipline at all.

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Bad behavior is often unpunished; it's getting that behavior in the newspaper that seems to demand punishment. I do agree that the "never" in point 1 is too strong, for the examples you state. Last, it's interesting to see how many people assume they were in town for training with that firearm. None of the stories I saw said what type of training it was, and frankly I'd be surprised if it had anything to do with that weapon. -rc

Posted by Neil, Australia on September 27, 2009:

Years ago I was in the CMF (Citizens Military Forces, now called "Reserves") and one day on a live fire exercise on the range, we OR's (Other Ranks) had finished our shoot, so the Officers had a turn with our weapons. We were using 7.62mm FN-SLR's, a very potent piece of firearm.

After the Officers' shoot, they did their own safety inspection and handed the rifles back to us. We laid down a tarp with all the cleaning gear on the ground then sat in a circle to dis-assemble and clean the rifles. The FN-SLR has to be cocked before taking it apart. So each of us in the circle cocked our weapon.

One live round flew out of a rifle and landed between us. You can imagine the stunned looks on the circle of faces!

What was that comment about treating all weapons as loaded??

Posted by Mike from Dallas on November 28, 2009:

Let's see, taking pictures of a woman holding a rifle (especially a police department rifle) is a firing offense. Yet, according to This is True #806 (22 Nov 2009), two Naples, FL police officers admit to leaving (and losing) a packet of cocaine in a hotel room after a training exercise, and that's not even a reprimandable offense. Just "an honest mistake by two hard-working police officers."

In the famous words of Bill Cosby, "RIGHT!"

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As long as you noticed I rolled my eyes on the latter one, we're good! But seriously, handing a firearm to a civilian for cheesecake shots does seem to me to be a bigger deal than hiding contraband for a police dog to find it, and forgetting about one of the hidden packets when you leave. Certainly worthy of a slap on the wrist, but it's hardly worthy of public praise, as was the case. -rc

Posted by Stephen, Idstein, Germany on March 25, 2010:

I have eaten there before. And the waitresses are beautiful and friendly (The tips depend on it). I might take a pic. OK, I would not take a pic of a waitress holding a gun... even in Texas.

Posted by Dustin, Ohio on November 11, 2012:

While punishment should be handed out I do think the firing was a bit severe (assuming he didn't have a long history of blatant disregard for policy). As such my first instinct says it was for PR purposes. Hit hard and hit fast and show no quarter. Show the folks you mean business. With all the bad PR police get (often they deserve it), I imagine that showing that you are willing to fire officers even for policy violations could very well convince the public into thinking you'll also nail officers who step out of line in any shape and form.

Posted by Erika, Columbus Ohio on November 12, 2012:

Just a different perspective for those saying there's no way the deputy should be fired for this: I worked for the state government. We drove state-owned vehicles often, and often stopped to eat after late meetings, etc. These are not marked cars -- the only way you could tell they were state-owned vehicles was because of the special license plates.

We were not allowed to stop at any location that looked like it was a bar. We were not allowed to drink any alcohol at all during the stops, even if it was just one beer and we were there for over an hour on our own time. We would not have been allowed to eat at a boobs-themed restaurant. We were told that anything we did that was construed as unprofessional by a member of the public (meaning someone complained about us) would call for an investigation and possible disciplinary action.

When you drive a vehicle that is public property, there are rules. And you sign a paper saying that you understand the rules before you check out the car. Heck, I couldn't even turn on my state-owned computer without a warning flashing on the screen that the computer a. wasn't mine, b. was for official use only, c. anything I did on the computer could be watched and recorded and d. I could be disciplined if I broke the computer use policy, which of course I'd signed before I was allowed a computer.

If you haven't worked in the public sector, you might not be aware of how carefully governments watch what employees are doing with public property. After all, that squad car and gun don't belong to the officers, they belong to the citizens who are paying their taxes.

If I'd taken a photo of a scantily-clad waitress on the back of a state car, gun or not, and someone called in to complain, I'd be disciplined. I didn't carry a gun, so I don't know how that would have changed things, but it does seem like a greater infraction. Now, my union might have stopped me from being fired in this case, since protecting me is part of its job. I don't know where the deputy's union was in all of this.

There's no way these deputies didn't know about the departmental policy on professionalism. I would be that they had to sign the policy stating that they read it and understood it on their very first day of work. That's how governments operate.

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