Community organizations call for ban on scattershot munitions in Alameda County

October 23, 2023

Dear Alameda County Supervisors:

The more than 900 scattershot grenades and munitions that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office proposes to continue to use are indiscriminate and dangerous. These munitions fire outward in a radius, can’t be targeted, and so can strike uninvolved persons or a targeted individual’s head, neck or groin - areas of the body that state use-of-force law prohibits targeting for crowd control. We strongly urge the Board to amend the Sheriff’s Office military equipment policy to remove these munitions from the Sheriff’s Office inventory when the military equipment policy comes before you.

Scattershot munitions do not meet the requirements of State law AB481. Section 7071(d) and (e) of that law requires the Board of Supervisors to find that there are no reasonable alternatives for the equipment and that the use policy adequately protects civil liberties, before it approves each type of military equipment. AB481 gives the Board the authority to reject or amend policies for military equipment, if it finds the equipment doesn’t meet those standards.

The sheriff’s multi-projectile ‘scattershot’ munitions and grenades include the following models: Defense Technology 1087; Defense Technology 1090Defense Technology 6064; Defense Technology 6098; Defense Technology 6099, with a total of 909 scattershot munitions. Three of these munitions contain three projectiles fired from a 40mm launcher, while two are grenade-type munitions that disperse 25 or 180 rubber pellets when they explode. 

The Sheriff’s Office stated publicly last month that these weapons produce “no pain.” However, the product description for all five models (see above links) state clearly that they are used for “pain compliance.” For a reliable understanding of these weapons’ impacts, we rely on physicians, external experts, and the  testimony of persons who have lived inside Santa Rita Jail.

Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International call for the prohibition of these weapons in law enforcement. In a global study of impact projectiles used by law enforcement, Physicians for Human Rights found that multi-projectile “scattershot” munitions were responsible for 82% of all injuries from impact projectiles. "Munitions containing, or devices firing, multiple [kinetic impact projectiles] are inherently inaccurate, they cannot be targeted only to an individual engaged in violence and will cause unwarranted injury, and therefore have no legitimate law enforcement use and must be prohibited," PHR states. The United Nation's Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, Alice Jill Edwards, identified scattershots in a list of items recommended to be considered for prohibition.

Testimony from Santa Rita Jail indicates scattershot munitions are used against mentally ill prisoners who may not understand what is happening or be able to effectively communicate their needs. One prisoner who has spent considerable time in Santa Rita told the American Friends Service Committee that the sheriff’s office in 2020 began using Stingball scattershot munitions with dozens of rubber pellets that burst out. The prisoner described seeing a man with serious mental illness, who was in an isolation cell for several months and had been subject to a ‘less lethal’ munitions attack. The man showed bruises 4 to 6 inches wide on his neck, chest, and legs. “They set it off in a 7 x 7 foot cell,” he said. “All those balls bounce off the walls at basically explosive speeds.” The Sheriff’s Office reports that deputies used scattershot munitions four times in Santa Rita Jail  in the last two years to force “compliance”. 

State law narrowly restricts the use of impact projectiles for crowd control. State law AB48, enacted in 2021, prohibits use of chemical agents and impact projectiles for crowd control except in extreme situations, defined in the law, and only after law enforcement has taken several steps. This law prohibits targeting the head, neck or groin with these weapons. The Sheriff’s policy incorporates the restrictions in AB48 on use during crowd control. 

But the sheriff’s ‘less lethal’ weapons and use of force policies have almost no limits on their use in Santa Rita Jail or other operations. Outside of crowd control, the ‘less lethal’ weapons policy says these weapons, including scattershot munitions, are authorized for situations that “include, but are not limited to: 1. Restoration or maintenance of order during jail disturbances/riots. 2. Safely controlling non-compliant/violent persons.”

A Sheriff spokesperson told KTVU News that chemical agents were used 48 times in Santa Rita Jail last year, and 16 times in the first half of this year. The Sheriff’s Office would retain 203 DefTech 1087”munitions that, in addition to being scattershot, also produce a loud “bang” at 175 decibels – loud enough to cause long-term damage, according to OSHA.

Many sheriff’s departments of comparable size do NOT have or use these weapons, including sheriffs in San Francisco, Santa Clara, San Joaquin, San Mateo, and Solano Counties, and police departments in San Francisco and San Diego. Moreover, psychiatric hospitals and other locked facilities that routinely seek the compliance of uncooperative patients with serious mental illness do not use these weapons. 

The Sheriff has many other weapons at its disposal. AB481 requires the governing body to find that there are “no reasonable alternatives” to each type of military equipment, in order to approve policies for its use. There clearly are “reasonable alternatives” to scattershot grenades and munitions. “This ammunition fulfills no legitimate law enforcement purpose that cannot be achieved through the use of ammunition containing single non-metallic kinetic impact projectiles,” the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture wrote. Separate from scattershot munitions, the Sheriff’s proposed inventory includes: nine different types of chemical agents (tear gas, pepper spray), two types of flashbang devices, four different types of ‘less lethal’ projectile launchers, and seven types of single-projectile munitions that can be fired from them. Actions that don’t escalate conflict are also an alternative. The Board of Supervisors has no basis to determine that the sheriff has no alternatives to scattershot munitions.

There is no justification for the use of scattershot munitions, either inside or outside the jail, because of their dangerous and indiscriminate nature.  Please amend the Sheriff’s Office military equipment policy to remove these dangerous and indiscriminate weapons from its inventory. We look forward to your response.


67 Sueños
American Friends Service Committee
Ashby Village Elder Action Interest Group
Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus
BAY Peace
Berkeley Friends Meeting
Coalition for Police Accountability
Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ)
East Bay Supportive Housing Collaborative
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Families Advocating for the Seriously Mentally Ill
Hayward Community Coalition
Interfaith Committee for Justice in our Jails
Livermore indivisible
National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area
Oakland Privacy
Omega Research Foundation (United Kingdom)
Physicians for Human Rights
Public Health Justice Collective
Restore Oakland
Secure Justice
Transform Alameda
Urban Peace Movement