Off-duty police officer’s gun discharges into day care with children inside; no one injured

CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio - Investigators are trying to determine if any laws were broken when a stray bullet from the gun of an off-duty police officer ended up inside a local day care center.

The incident happened at about 3:30 Monday afternoon when there were children at the center.

"The person was, I believe, in their upstairs bedroom when the gun discharged and it went through their exterior wall and then entered into the day care center," said Russ Balthis, Cuyahoga Falls city prosecutor.

The gun described by police was a 9mm Glock 19.

"My building is brick and the kids were playing and literally it sounded like a loud noise; dust was flying because it came through one wall and then hit another wall and there's a circle, so it could still be in the circle but I didn't want to pull anything apart and look for it," a caller from the KinderCare Learning Center on State Road told police in a 9-1-1 call.

Police Chief Jack Davis said the gun owner is a volunteer reserve police officer in Cuyahoga Falls but a paid patrolman in East Cleveland, where he has been with their department since last December.

"There was an off-duty East Cleveland officer who was unloading a gun or somehow doing something with his weapon, I believe unloading it, from what I heard, had an accidental discharge. The bullet traveled outside of his home through a wall at a day care and got lodged in the opposite wall of the day care," said Davis.

"I believe there were students in the classroom, you know; I'm sure they heard a noise and saw the hole in the wall. Again, the person who had the accidental discharge immediately went over to the school and informed them what had occurred. They had contacted us as well and we were on our way," chief Davis added.

Nobody at the KinderCare center was hurt.

The company issued a statement on Thursday that said:

"On Monday afternoon a bullet from an off-duty police officer’s gun hit the outer wall of our center in Cuyahoga Falls. Thankfully no one was hurt. There is nothing more important to us than the safety of the children, teachers, and families at our center."

The investigation was turned over to the city prosecutor who has since asked a prosecutor from outside of the city to review it.

East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton told Fox 8 News that he will await the final report from the prosecutor's office before determining what, if any, action his department will be taking.

It is illegal to discharge a weapon within the city limits of Cuyahoga Falls.

"Now there is an exception, because of a merger that happened in the 1980s with the City of Cuyahoga Falls and Northampton Township and the old township part of the city. There are circumstances under which a firearm may be discharged, but a projectile is not allowed to cross a property line, so in this case, this area where it happened is part of the old Northampton Township; there are still questions because it would have crossed the property line which is prohibited within the city without written permission of the person whose property the bullet would have crossed," explained Balthis.

The incident could also rise to a higher level since a day care center was involved.

The officer involved may also be a U.S. Army veteran, who served in the Middle East and should be very familiar with firearms.

"Any time anybody is handling a firearm there is the expectation that it is loaded and it could go off. You have to figure though with law enforcement you are probably handling firearms more than the average person, so on one hand, yes, you have more familiarity with the weapon, but on the other hand, the more you are manipulating a weapon or handling a weapon I guess you are more likely to have an accidental discharge, so, you know, it could work both ways, I guess," said Davis.

"I guess one thing that you want to make clear is that we understand how concerned and horrified the parents must be and we are taking the matter very seriously and making sure it is dealt with properly and fairly," concluded Balthis.