Defective Body Armor Fails to Prevent Fatal Gunshot Wound

Police Expert WitnessThis case involves a police officer who was fatally shot on duty while making a traffic stop. At the time of the incident in question, the officer had pulled over a vehicle for an expired registration sticker. As the officer approached the car, the driver shot at him and sped off, striking him in several inches from the center of the chest. The bullet, a 9mm, was small enough for the vest to stop, however it failed to do so due to an allegedly defective design of its overlapping armored plates. Nevertheless, the manufacturer guaranteed that the vest would have stopped a 9mm bullet when it struck the location that the officer was shot in. The officer later died from his wounds.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Have you ever designed a body armor vest?
  • 2. Why is it desirable to overlap body armor front over back and what are the consequences of not doing so?
  • 3. What is the desired effect of edge shots on soft body armor?
  • 4. What are the alternate designs of side panel sizing used in the body armor industry?
  • 5. Have you ever been sued or arrested? If yes, please explain.

Expert Witness Response E-125312

I have worked in the body armor industry since 1989 and have designed multiple body armor vests. My expertise is soft body armor. I did ballistic and panel design for PACA Body Armor and Valley Operational Wear. Early in my career, it was not a requirement to overlap body armor. Overlapping offers better protection from side shots, but is more uncomfortable and restricts the movement of wearers. Some manufacturers offer less coverage with front panels to increase movement as a result. The desired outcome is to stop bullets. Whether or not this is achieved depends on the design of the panels. The closer a shot is to the edge, the more likely it is to penetrate because there is less material to absorb the energy of the projectile. There are ways to design vests to better stop edge shots. Historically speaking, we have evolved greatly with side panels. In the past, there were only front and back panels. Then there were optional side panels, usually 4″ by 6″ ballistic panels held in place with elastic straps. Then companies began offering different designs: some that made side panels contiguous with the back panel, some that made the side contiguous with the front, and others that equally distributed the side panels between the front and back. I do not have conflicts with Safariland or the other defendants and in fact, have looked at the designs in the past and wondered about their efficacy.

Expert Witness Response E-118444

I have served in the US Navy for over 20 years and am assisting the military, law enforcement, and other independent parties with ballistic testing and analysis. Overlapping body armor front over back increases coverage and decreases potential gaps. The industry wants to say “x number of inches” from the vest guarantees stopping a bullet, but I believe (along with my former colleagues at the FBI) that the design simply needs to stop the bullet, period. For example, if you have a 100 pound, 4′ 10″ officer wearing an XXS vest and standards are 3″ from the edge, the officer has 1″ of protection. There are a number of alternative designs used by the industry, but their appropriate use depends on the situation. A vest is supposed to offer maximum coverage and maximum mobility. I would also be interested in learning if the vest was properly fit. On occasions, the manufacturers cut corners and do not look into the fitting process. The vest may be too short, too long, etc.


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