Too real: Some fake guns look so authentic that they're costing lives

Fake guns are forcing officers to play a dangerous guessing game that could cost them - or someone else - their lives.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, on Friday, released a photo of the gun a Gwinnett County man held as he was shot and killed by police the previous morning. We now know it was an airsoft pistol - a fake gun.

Investigators said they also found a suicide note inside 27-year-old Steven Hutchins' home. Now, we're looking at the latest example of officers finding out too late that the gun pointed at them wasn't real.

It's, sadly, not a new trend. Investigators found a fake gun next to a man shot in December by school officers near a southwest Atlanta school. And, in another case in 2012, Gwinnett officers recovered a fake gun from a man they fatally shot when he didn't follow commands to drop the suspected weapon.

All three are airsoft or BB guns, in the split second an officer has to decide his actions, it's nearly impossible to know that.

We put pictures in front of former Nashville police officer Vincent Hill and, to him, every one of the toy guns looked real.

As he looked at the pictures, he rattled off the names of popular guns - the ones that were almost indistinguishable from these fake or extremely low-power weapons.

One was made to look like a Colt 1945 and another a Walther PPK .380 pistol. He moved on to the next.

"Looks identical to a Beretta 92F which was made very popular in the Lethal Weapon series," Hill said. "Mel Gibson carried one of these."

Hill said an officer fearing his life is on the line would have to assume these guns are real.  He even put his own real gun on the table.

"If you were to look at these two side-by-side, especially from a distance of about 7 to 10 feet, there is nothing in your eyes that would tell you one is fake and one is real," he said. "Also, there is nothing in your training to tell you one is fake and is real."

A GBI spokesman said Gwinnett County police attempted to de-escalate a situation on Thursday with a man now identified as Hutchins. After 5 minutes, Hutchins pulled a gun and raised it at officers.

An officer fired, killing him. Now, the GBI is continuing its investigation and has released a picture of Hutchins' gun. It was an airsoft replica pistol.

Hill said that more than ever before, though, toy guns are resembling the real deal.

"Toy guns, they get altered," Hill said. "They have slides just like real guns; they slide back so you really can't tell that it is a toy gun."

Hill even found himself in a similar situation in Nashville while responding to an emergency.

"Gave commands to drop the gun, drop the gun," Hill said. "He kept saying it is a toy gun, it is a toy gun. But you can't really take that at face value, right? You have to assume that it is a gun."

The person dropped the gun which is Hill now knows for a fact was a toy gun - and thankfully he avoided firing a single shot.

"Because officers don't want to go out and do this," he said. "But when they are met with that, they have no choice but to do it."

Outside Forest Hill Academy in southwest Atlanta, the BB gun is what led to officers shooting and injuring D'Tavious Patterson in December.

The GBI, on Friday, handed its investigation report on this shooting to the Fulton County district attorney. He will now decide if Atlanta Public School officers were in the right or wrong when they shot.

© 2018 WXIA-TV


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