Editor’s Note: James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and a retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesAGagliano. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Have you seen the viral clip of a gyrating dancer losing control of a concealed pistol while performing a backflip in front of a gathered crowd at Mile High Spirits, a Denver area bar? If not for the fact that another patron was wounded in the leg, it would certainly make any bloopers or practical jokes reel – when considering that the armed dancer was an off-duty FBI agent.
Denver police are investigating the incident that an FBI spokeswoman described a “personnel matter,” as the agent was not arrested after the incident. It has yet to be determined whether the agent had consumed any alcohol before his impressive back-handspring.
The FBI has come a long way from earlier days, when I can still remember a legendary memo that would recirculate from time to time; it referenced J. Edgar Hoover’s policy against agents’ removing their suit jackets, reportedly instituted after some antics he didn’t like during an office Christmas party.
Times may have changed, but sound judgment, decorum and comportment – especially while armed in public – are essential character traits that every discerning agent should exhibit, and ones that never go out of style. No matter how difficult it may be to ignore the gravitational pull of strobe lights, cheering onlookers and a pulsating beat.
The local district attorney hasn’t made a decision about what action to take, but regardless of that outcome, it’s highly likely that the FBI has or will initiate an investigation by its Office of Professional Responsibility into potential misconduct and will have assembled a seasoned “shooting review team” to travel to Denver and commence a full-scale review of the incident.
After reviewing the video numerous times, it appears to me that he had his weapon secured in an inside-the-pants holster – one that most probably clipped onto his belt and didn’t feature a retention strap with thumb-break, which is designed to preclude a weapon’s removal from its holster without conscious effort.
When the agent launched into his backflip, gravity took over. It’s difficult to determine with absolute certainty from the grainy video the kind of gun the young agent was carrying, but the Glock 19M, in 9x19mm, is the FBI’s standard sidearm. If fully loaded with a 15-round magazine – which is standard carry protocol for FBI agents – the weapon weighs 30.18 ounces.
The agent’s weapon didn’t initially discharge when it hit the dancefloor. However, realizing his miscue, the agent hurriedly scooped up the pistol, and in doing so, seems to have gotten his finger caught inside the trigger guard, and inadvertently discharged a round, which resulted in the non-life-threatening wounding of a man nearby.
The agent then sheepishly retreated to the anonymity provided by the crowd; his body posture and hands up – a “what are you gonna do?” gesture – the picture of sanguinity.
The video has made its way around retired FBI agent circles, and many of the responses reflect disappointment, embarrassment, and a sense that this couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the bureau. Unaccustomed to almost daily scrutiny and critical news coverage, the FBI, from numerous sources, stands to endure a major rebuke from the imminent release of the Department of Justice’s Inspector General Report into two major recent FBI investigations.
As a retired agent myself, I have mixed emotions about the dance floor incident.
Part of me sees a young agent out for an evening of innocent fun and electing to blow off some steam. It’s hard not to consider the fact that the bureau has been dealt a series of recent body blows – some self-inflicted and others pure partisan opportunism. With half the country calling for the agency’s head, who wouldn’t concede a harried agent a deserved night out to forget about things? Plus, I’ve always believed in the cautionary proverb: There but for the grace of God, go I.
Yet I also can’t help but be shocked at the poor judgment exhibited by a member of what is still the world’s premier law enforcement agency. Agents are expected to display sound judgment. This agent should have taken better care to conceal and secure his weapon. Even before he lost control of it, you can clearly see the weapon’s outline against his shirt in the video. That’s an egregiously unacceptable concealment effort.
And knowing he was armed, he may have elected to avoid the dance-off. During the likely concurrent district attorney and Office of Professional Responsibility investigations, a determination as to whether the agent was drinking will also be made. Alcohol would certainly change the calculus in determining the extent of potential employee misconduct or criminal liability.
Yes, agents often attend after-work social gatherings and would thus be in an armed capacity. Social drinking while armed – while not something the agency condones – may occur under these circumstances. We do not know whether alcohol was a factor in this incident, which occurred just after midnight Saturday morning and could have been far more catastrophic.
FBI candidate appointees are taught early on during their new agent training at Quantico to safeguard their weapons by secreting and securing your weapon farthest from people you encounter. And though it’s been almost 28 years since I attended this training, as I recall, there weren’t many practical application scenarios that involved maintaining positive control of a sidearm while performing ambitious backflips at a bar.