The FBI faulted agents in 2019 for misusing their guns in two separate shootings, each a rare internal finding of violations of its lethal force policy, according to documents obtained by The New York Times. One involved an agent in Arkansas who shot at — but missed — a suspect who was driving away to flee arrest. That agent resigned before he could receive a 55-day suspension without pay. The other involved an agent in California who fatally shot a family dog that he said bit him during a “family dispute” while he was off duty; he got a five-day suspension. While neither of the 2017 shootings was a major imbroglio, their disclosure is notable. For many years, FBI agents almost never got in trouble for intentional shootings. The two episodes, detailed in records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, add to a small but growing pattern suggesting that is no longer so certain.
The rigor of the FBI’s internal review process is important because local police often defer to the bureau to investigate shootings by its own agents. Under FBI deadly force policy, agents are permitted to fire their guns only if they reasonably believe that the target poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to someone. Dana Boente, FBI general counsel from 2018 until he retired in 2020, said the bureau’s decisions to deem the two shootings violations of its deadly force policy — “bad shoots” in agents’ parlance — were significant. “Any time you have a ‘bad shoot’ it’s important for a lot of reasons,” said Boente. “You don’t want people who are reckless being agents. And you want to make sure you have a great review system that is fair and rigorous.” The FBI process routinely faults agents who were sloppy with their weapons and accidentally discharged them. Faulting agents for intentionally shooting at people or animals has been very rare.