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November 7, 2003

Attorney General Investigating Sale of Questionable Bullet-Proof Vests

"Body armor" vest may not be bullet-proof. "The question is what terms the company will offer for providing reliable vests," Miller said.

DES MOINES.   Attorney General Tom Miller said today that the State Consumer Protection Division is investigating the sale of certain bullet-proof vests by a Michigan company called Second Chance Body Armor, Inc.

"The company has admitted there is a potential officer safety issue," Miller said. "News reports and a company statement indicate that an officer was wounded in Pennsylvania when a slug pierced his body armor last summer. We are concerned whether officers are safe with the vests, and we think there may be hundreds of the vests spread around Iowa law enforcement agencies."

Two of the vests in question so far are Second Chance's "Ultima" and "Ultimax" models vests, which use a fabric called Zylon, reputed to be the world's strongest manmade fiber. Second Chance has acknowledged that the Zylon-based vests apparently may "wear out faster than expected and that there is a potential officer safety issue." The company guarantees the vests for five years. The vests cost about $700-$1000 apiece, depending on various options.

"The question now is what terms the company will offer for providing reliable vests," Miller said. The company has offered to upgrade the vests with inserts at no charge or to provide a graduated discount on the purchase of other non-Zylon vests.

The Consumer Protection Division is working to contact all Iowa police and sheriff departments to determine how many Zylon-based vests they use, whether any officers have had problems with the vests degrading, and how Second Chance has responded to any requests for refund or replacement of the vests.

A letter from the Attorney General's Office to law enforcement agencies all over the state says, "The focus of our investigation is whether the company's practices violated the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act. Among other issues, we will be exploring the extent to which the company may have been aware of the problem with the vests at an earlier time and failed to warn users, and whether it has taken reasonable steps to deal with the situation. Our goal is that the company agree to a 'fix' that works for law enforcement."

Miller's office issued an investigative subpoena to Second Chance on Thursday seeking information on Iowa purchasers of the vests, copies of any materials Second Chance has on the effectiveness of Zylon fiber and its vests, results of any tests or trials made of Zylon fibers or body armor containing Zylon fiber, and other information. Second Chance makes a variety of vests, including other models containing Zylon fiber.

Miller said the matter was brought to the attention of his office by the Iowa Association of Chiefs of Police and Peace Officers, and the West Des Moines Police Department. He said it does not appear that the State Patrol uses the Zylon-based vests. There may be private purchasers of Zylon-based vests, and Miller encouraged them to contact the Consumer Protection Division by calling 515-281-5926 or by email to

News reports indicate questions arose about the "Ultima" and "Ultimax" vests when an undercover member of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force in Pennsylvania was wounded when he was shot in the arm and abdomen through his bulletproof vest when he tried to arrest a drug suspect in Forest Hills, in suburban Pittsburgh.

Second Chance Body Armor, Inc., is based in Central Lake, Michigan.

Chief William McCarthy and Sgt. Todd Dykstra of the Des Moines Police Dept., and Chief Deputy Bill Vaughn of the Polk County Sheriff's Office attended the news briefing at the Attorney General's Office.

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