Lawyer for Del. Troopers Blasts Proposed Fix of Police Firing Range - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Lawyer for Del. Troopers Blasts Proposed Fix of Police Firing Range

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP)- The state's $3 million plan to fix problems at a police firing range fails to ensure the health and safety of law officers who will use the facility, an attorney representing three state troopers said Thursday.

Thomas Neuberger, whose clients worked at the Delaware State Police firing range in Smyrna before it was closed last year, said the state's repair plan consists of half-measures that fail to solve problems at the range, which was built seven years ago by a firm with no previous experience.

Neuberger, whose clients claim they have been subject to retaliation by state police commanders for speaking out about the firing range, said the decision to refurbish the existing bullet trap and ventilation systems rather than replace them will lead to more problems in the future.

The state also does not plan to hire trained hazardous-materials teams to clean up toxins at the range once it reopens, as is commonly done elsewhere, has not addressed noise abatement issues, and does not plan to include a sprinkler system in the ammunition storage room, he said.

"Is government totally incompetent, or are there other things being hidden?" said Neuberger, adding that the state twice has refused offers from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to analyze the firing range and provide free medical testing of troopers who worked there.

Neuberger called for the ouster of Safety and Homeland Security Secretary David Mitchell, who oversees the Delaware State Police, and said lawmakers need to hold hearings.

In a prepared statement, Mitchell said no safety issues have been ignored by the steering committee charged with overseeing the project, and that the firing range will not reopen until it is safe.

"At all times the members of the steering committee, myself included, have worked to ensure the health and welfare of the troopers, while also responsibly managing taxpayer dollars," Mitchell's statement reads. "As far as comments calling for my removal from office, I have no plans to leave."

Air quality problems at the $3.3 million range surfaced just two months after it opened in 1998- two years after a consultant warned that the ventilation system as designed would not work.

State police stopped using the firing range in January 2003 after lead levels in two employees' blood rose significantly, and subsequent tests revealed high levels of lead, copper and zinc. The range was closed in March 2004 after members of a recruit class complained of nosebleeds, headaches and a metallic taste in their mouths while training there.

Since the closing, state police have been using a National Guard facility in New Castle.

According to a state auditor's report released last year, an error was made in the bid scoring process used to select the firm awarded the firing range contract, and the winning firm received preferential treatment because it was based in Delaware. Auditors also found that state police never developed written policies and procedures for maintenance and operation of the firing range.

Establishment of standard operating procedures is included in the state's repair plan, which also calls for installation of a ballistic ceiling at a cost of more than $1 million to reduce the risk of ricochets, and construction of an air lock to prevent lead and other contaminants from flowing from the firing line area into administrative offices.

Neuberger said two of his clients, Cpls. Kurt Price and Wayne Warren, are being forced to retire next month because of hearing loss they experienced while working at the range.

Price, Warren and Sgt. Christopher Foraker have filed a federal lawsuit claiming they were subjected to harassment and retaliation for speaking out about problems at the firing range and cooperating with the investigation by state auditors.

Foraker, who was in charge of the firing range from August 2001 until February 2002, has filed a separate lawsuit claiming he was singled out for unfair treatment after winning a federal discrimination lawsuit against former state police superintendent Aaron Chaffinch in 2003. The jury in that case said Chaffinch improperly transferred Foraker in an act of revenge after Foraker disciplined a friend of Chaffinch, and ruled that Chaffinch had to personally pay more than $100,000 in damages.

The state's decision to appeal, then settle the case, wound up saving Chaffinch from personal liability and costing Delaware taxpayers $250,000.

 

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