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Bedford Heights police officer injured by celebratory gunfire New Year's Day

'It’s frustrating we have to continually advise people against doing this,' Chief says
Posted at 5:24 PM, Jan 04, 2023

BEDFORD HEIGHTS, Ohio — A Bedford Heights police officer is considering himself lucky after he was injured by celebratory gunfire. The department is now warning about the dangers of firing a gun into the air.

“I’m used to, in the Greater Cleveland area, people shooting firearms in the air to celebrate the New Year,” said Bedford Heights Police Officer Elshawn Williams. “But it’s highly illegal and they shouldn’t be doing it at all.”

Williams has been a police officer for 8 years, including 6 months in his current position in Bedford Heights. He told News 5 he had parked his cruiser away from the city’s residential neighborhoods to fill out reports early Sunday. Around midnight on New Year’s Day, he began hearing the celebratory gunfire that’s become a hallmark of the holiday.

“The shots that were fired initially, they were so far away that I was like, ‘OK, I’m fine where I’m sitting,’” he said. “Then I started hearing gunfire get a little closer. And at that moment I heard a loud popping noise and another noise and felt a sensation on my neck.”

Unsure of where the noise was coming from, Williams quickly left his parking spot. None of the windows or windshield were broken, but the pain in his neck prompted him to announce the situation on the radio.

“I start advising dispatch: ‘Shots fired, I’ve been hit,’” he said.

Another officer checked Williams and discovered a bullet had grazed his neck and lodged into his bulletproof vest.

“Once we checked the vehicle and saw there was a hole in the roof, we knew exactly what it was,” said Williams. “It was celebratory gunfire.”

Williams suffered minor physical injuries, but the department gave him time off to heal and process what happened.

“I’m still sore. It’s a very superficial wound. It doesn’t look like much, it’s kind of like a welt from the projectile burning and moving as fast as it did,” he explained. “The natural thought is ‘what if? What if it was different?’ I think about that as well.”

The Bedford Heights Police Department is among those that issue regular warnings about celebratory gunfire, particularly ahead of holidays like New Year's and Independence Day.

“I don’t think people realize the repercussions of doing this. When you shoot a projectile into the air, it’s going to come down somewhere,” said Chief Michael Marotta. “[It’s] frustrating we have to continually advise people against doing this.”

The Chief explained shooting a gun inside the city is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, but causing injuries would compound the charge. More importantly, he said, it’s a safety hazard.

“This is not something that is harmless and obviously this is what could happen,” Marotta said. “This could have had a tragic outcome. Thank God it didn’t. It’s bad enough that he was injured.”

Williams told News 5 he feels fortunate his injuries weren’t worse.

“I’m glad I didn’t get hurt to the point that I couldn’t be sitting here talking today,” he said. “I think by the grace of God I wasn’t hit.”

He also echoed the chief’s warning about the dangers he now knows firsthand.

“I hope in Northeast Ohio we charge people and we prosecute them to the full extent of the law because it’s dangerous. You can get somebody hurt,” said Williams.

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