North Carolina officer accidentally shoots son in the head, authorities say

Authorities in North Carolina said a 15-year-old male was seriously hurt after his father, a police officer, shot him in the head.

The Onslow County Sheriff’s Office said all preliminary indications show the incident was an accidental shooting. It was reported at 4:36 p.m. local time on Monday at a home just east of the town of Beulaville.

The father and the son were not immediately identified, though investigators said the father is a part of the nearby Jacksonville Police Department. 

RELATED: North Hollywood shooting: Body cam video leading up to teen girl, suspect's deaths released

Authorities said the teen suffered life-threatening injuries and was taken to Naval Trauma Center on Camp Lejeune and later transferred to Vidant Medical Center in Pitt County, where he remained hospitalized.

It was not immediately clear if charges would be filed. District Attorney Ernie Lee said he was aware of the investigation and called the shooting a "tragic event."

Accidental shootings by law enforcement have happened in recent years at agencies small and large and at all levels — city, county, state and federal — across the U.S., an Associated Press investigation found. They’ve caused hundreds of injuries to officers, suspects and bystanders, and sometimes they’ve caused deaths.

RELATED: Las Vegas police to pay $525K settlement after cop shoots fleeing naked man

No one tracks these shootings nationwide, so the AP collected media reports and surveyed agencies across the country through public records requests. The review was not comprehensive, due to the sheer number of U.S. law enforcement agencies and a lack of reporting requirements for such shootings. But it provides a snapshot of the problem, documenting 1,422 unintentional discharges between 2012 and 2019 at 258 agencies, and uncovering detailed reports on 426.

The tally includes any incident in which a gun went off and the officer did not intend it to, whether they were cleaning or unloading a weapon or surging with adrenaline while responding to a call. Some shootings occurred because of involuntary muscle reflexes, experts said, or because the officer simply tripped.

Experts agree the way to reduce these shootings is to rethink firearms training, starting with the amount required. While all academies require cadets to undergo a certain number of hours of firearms instruction, the AP found how many varies widely.

Another issue is the type of training used. Most academies use "block and silo" methods, which bombard officers with information and don’t present it in a coordinated manner, so they don’t retain it, experts say.

What’s lacking are standards for regular, ongoing training — including scenario-based exercises that mirror high-stress situations — at the academy and over the course of an officer’s career.

Spending money up front on training reduces the possibility of having to spend it later — on lawsuits, said Jason Wuestenberg, executive director of the National Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association.

"Usually when something bad happens, it’s due to a lack of training or leadership," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.