When Barbara Bossenmeyer walked into work at John Wayne Airport she was unaware there was an AR-15 assault rifle pointed right at her – a weapon that would soon blow a gaping hole in her arm. 

Attacked at Work

A Voice of OC investigation found when county employees are injured by the sheriff’s department, they can’t get information on what happened to the officers involved and they can’t sue the department under state law.

On the other side of the office wall on Aug. 26 2020, an Orange County Sheriff sergeant was fiddling with his rifle, eventually pointing it at the wall and clicking the trigger to verify his fix. 

That click fired off a bullet that ripped through the wall and left a massive hole in Bossenmeyer’s right arm, one that required multiple surgeries to fix. 

“I did not know that I got shot,” Bossenmeyer said in an interview with Voice of OC. “I didn’t understand what had just happened.” 

 “I just knew a big puff of smoke blew out the side of my arm, then when I touched my arm I felt something awful.” 

Bossenmyer has spent years handling the aftermath of the wound, with extensive physical therapy and a therapist to help her handle her PTSD from the incident.  

But one of the toughest aspects of her recovery has been going up against the County of Orange and the Sheriff’s Department, trying to find out what happened to the deputy who mistakenly shot her.  

Bossenmeyer said she tried to find out what happened to the officer, but no one from the sheriff’s department or the district attorney will give her any answers. 

“I believe it’s important for the public to know whether or not there were any repercussions for the officer’s actions,” Bossenmeyer said. 

“Basic gun safety training instructs not to point a gun at anything you are not aiming to shoot, even when you think the gun isn’t loaded,” she adds. 

“He broke the first and most important gun safety rule. That’s outrageous!” 

Bossenmeyer was just six months away from retirement after a 32 year career at the county when she was shot, 24 of which was spent at John Wayne. A lifelong Orange County resident, she grew up in Buena Park and retired in Anaheim. 

At the end of her career, she was a staff assistant in the General Aviation office, also known as the Tiedown Administration, which manages around 68% of the airport’s traffic according to their website. 

Shot By A Sheriff Sergeant

A passenger plane takes off from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana in 2017. Credit: JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC

When Bossenmeyer came into work and sat down at the reception desk that Wednesday morning, she was unaware of the sheriff sergeant in the next room working to fix a faulty assault rifle. 

According to an investigative report prepared by the District Attorney’s office, officer Jeffrey Anderson brought in the lower receiver of his personally owned AR-15 that was having a problem meshing with a new upper receiver gifted to him by Sgt. Steven Breaton, who offered to look at it while the two were at work. 

To read a copy of the report, click here

Breaton took the upper receiver from his department issued AR-15 and placed it on Anderson’s lower receiver, diagnosed the problem, and reassembled his weapon in his office according to the DA’s report.

But when Breaton opened his locker to put away his department rifle, he accidentally knocked the gun over, according to DA investigators. 

Worried that his sights may have been knocked askew, Breaton took the magazine out of the gun, checking the sight to make sure it was fixed according to the report. 

He pointed the gun at the wall, took the safety off, and pulled the trigger, expecting to hear nothing but a click, according to the report. 

Instead, Breaton fired the bullet left in the chamber through the wall, shooting Bossenmeyer in the arm, investigators wrote. 

Bossenmeyer ran into the hallway screaming for help, clutching her arm in an attempt to stop the bleeding. 

“Two of my coworkers came out of their office and just by their expression and what they said I knew something bad happened,” Bossenmeyer said in an interview with Voice of OC. “I laid on the floor while they went and got me help.”

Several sheriff deputies ran in to help Bossenmeyer, who was rushed to OC Global Medical Center in Santa Ana by an ambulance ten minutes later according to a report from the sheriffs’ department.

Bossenmeyer said it took four surgeries to put her arm back together, and left her with permanent scars all over her body after doctors grafted skin from her back to patch the hole in her arm. 

“I have this big boob on the side of my arm that hangs there like dead meat,” Bossenmeyer said. “It’s just a numb piece of flesh.”

The skin graft left a large scar across her back, but no other damage according to Bossenmeyer. 

Barabara Bossenmeyer shows the skin graft scars on her back on Jan. 27 2023. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Bossenmeyer also said she’s been seeing a therapist to address her PTSD since the incident, and was told to take Tylenol for help with the pain. 

Sheriffs Decline To Release Records On What Happened 

When Bossenmeyer tried to figure out what happened to Breaton after the shooting, she didn’t have much luck going through the sheriffs’ department. 

Under a state law, law enforcement agencies are required to disclose records during any “incident involving the discharge of a firearm at a person by a peace officer or custodial officer,” to the public.    

But in response to Voice of OC’s records request, the sheriffs’ department argued that when Breaton shot Bossenmeyer, he wasn’t shooting at a person – and therefore the investigation records didn’t have to be released. 

“Penal Code section 832.7 only requires disclosure of a discharge of a firearm ‘at a person,’” staff wrote in an email to Voice of OC reporters. “While there was an accidental discharge of a firearm in this incident, it was not directed ‘at a person’ regardless of the fact that a bullet struck a person.”

The only information the department released to Bossenmeyer was a set of brief statements from officers at the scene, which all state that Breaton rushed to help Bossenmeyer after he shot her, applying a tourniquet to her arm and staying with her while they waited for the ambulance.

“Sergeant S. Breaton…was also present and began rendering aid to Bossenmeyer,” reported one of the officers quoted in the report. 

“I saw that Sgt. Breaton had already applied a tourniquet to Bossenmeyer’s arm,” wrote another officer quoted in the report. 

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

But Bossenmeyer, who was conscious after the shooting and the entire way to the hospital according to that same report, says that’s not what she remembers. 

“If I had shot through a wall, I would’ve been the first one to show up,” Bossenmeyer said. “But he was the last one to show up…I think I heard (Breaton) say put a tourniquet on it, but he was just standing there.” 

The department refused to disclose whether or not Breaton was disciplined, but records from Transparent California show he began to receive a pension in 2021. 

The District Attorney’s office released additional information to Bossenmeyer, including an investigative summary looking at Breaton’s conduct that found no criminal liability. 

To read the DA’s letter, click here

“It is our legal opinion that the evidence does not support a finding of criminal culpability on the part of Sgt. Breaton,” wrote senior Deputy District Attorney Dawn Vargas-Kaliban. “He believed that he had cleared the weapon and it was empty.” 

But their report also made it clear that while Breaton was not criminally liable, there could be room for additional review. 

“Please note that the scope and findings of our legal review are expressly limited to determining whether any criminal conduct occurred on the part of Orange County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Breaton,” investigators wrote. “Our office will not be addressing any possible policy, training, tactics, or civil liability issues.” 

Bossenmeyer has since retired from her position at the county, and received a $200,000 settlement from worker’s comp to help pay for her medical bills.

But what she really wants is more answers about what happened to her. 

“He didn’t mean to do it, but it was a very catastrophic accident,” Bossenmeyer said. 

Yet for Bossenmeyer, what’s also troubling is the fact that the Sheriff’s Department isn’t more open about what happened, not informing her whether any disciplinary action was ever taken or if new training measures were adopted as a result of the accident. 

“They will never admit they’re negligent,” Bossemeyer laments. 

“They just cover up.”

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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