Served: 10 days
March 1, 1888, to March 11, 1888
On February 7, 1888, Republican Mayor Armor Smith, Jr. nominated William Sanders, “a highly intelligent” African American United States Army veteran, to the Police Board of Commissioners to be appointed as Patrolman. Three days later, on the 10th, his appointment was approved. His bond was approved by the Commissioners on February 29, and by March 1, 1888, he was working as a Patrolman.
During the 19th Century, concealed carry holster development was not considered a priority and for city policemen, who were just beginning to carry firearms as standard issued items, it was non-existent. Only gravity held the firearm in the officer’s breast pocket and it often fell out. When it fell, physics dictated that it fell with the heaviest end first and that often caused the hammer to contact the ground first. Until the 20th century, there was no hammer safety and the firearm sometimes discharged.
Five days after his appointment, at 1 a.m. on March 6, 1888, while patrolling his beat at Grandview Avenue and McMillan Street, Patrolman Sanders hopped off a curb or a step and his revolver came out of his breast pocket, fell to the ground, and discharged. The bullet entered his foot through the ball of the heel.
Patrolman Sanders was removed by Patrol 6 to No. 14 Walnut Street and attended there by Dr. Jones.
Within a day or two, Patrolman Sanders was transported to City Hospital. Medical personnel probed for the bullet, but they failed to find it. On March 9, 1888, doctors cut into the opposite side of his heel hoping to find it there; but did not. Later in the day, he had violent bouts of hiccoughing which surgeons attributed to “great shock and irritation to the nervous system.” His temperature and pulse were very high as well. Amputation was the only solution, but his condition would not permit the operation. Shortly after midnight on March 11, 1888, Patrolman Sanders succumbed to septicemia and carditis, becoming the second officer in one year to die from an accidental discharge of a revolver fallen from a breast pocket.
Patrolman Sanders was survived by a wife. The Police Relief Directors arranged for his funeral and burial, with full military honors, at Wesleyan Cemetery on March 13, 1888, from his late residence at 114 Elmore Street. In attendance were the Sixth Company of the Police Battalion, the First Regimental Band, family, and friends.
For nearly one hundred years, the officer’s name has been incorrectly listed as “Saunders”. Research conducted by retired Cincinnati Homicide Detective Edward Zieverink during 2012 proved this to be inaccurate.
During the 19th Century, dropped firearms caused the death of four Cincinnati officers. In the first decade of the 20th Century, the hammer block safety was invented and no more officers died from accidentally dropped revolvers.
If you have information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum at Director@Police-Museum.org.
This narrative was researched and revised on February 8, 2017 by Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Director, with research assistance from Cincinnati Homicide Detective Edward W. Zieverink III, Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Historian, and Joyce Meyers of the Price Hill Historical Society. All rights are reserved to them and the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society.