WA - Submachine gun suit pins down sheriff


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JeanC
February 11, 2004, 01:56 PM
In April of 2002 there was an incident in Stevens County Washington involving a drunk off duty sheriffs deputy, friends and a Steyr 9mm submachine gun and shots fired into nearby homes. One of the questions has always been, where the heck did he get the gun. Well as Paul Harvey would say: Now for the rest of the story:

http://www.spokesmanreview.com/news-story.asp?date=021004&ID=s1485733&cat=section.spokane

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Spokane

Submachine gun suit pins down sheriff

John Craig - Staff writer

Submachine gunfire that peppered two Suncrest homes and nearly hit a sleeping man in April 2002 is still reverberating in Stevens County.

A sheriff's deputy and friends of his who fired an illegal Steyr 9mm submachine gun from a back-yard deck after consuming alcohol have been convicted and punished. But the Stevens County Sheriff's Office is still trying to extricate itself from a lawsuit by some of the victims.

An attorney for the Sheriff's Office will try Thursday to convince a federal judge to throw out part of David and Shannon Granlund's lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Spokane.

So far, attorney Michael McFarland is trying only to quash arguments that the Granlunds' constitutional rights were violated. Those arguments are based on a disputed claim that the Sheriff's Office ignored previous complaints about disturbances at Deputy Will Clark's home.

No one disputes that a bullet from a submachine gun in Clark's possession came close to killing the Granlunds' sleeping son on April 16, 2002. The slug passed through two walls and a decorative indoor birdhouse before lodging in a stack of books 5 feet from a sleeping Kristopher Granlund, then 22.

Sheriff's officials say they're not responsible because they didn't issue the weapon and Clark was off duty. Clark, now 31, and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

Clark conceded a $3 million liability to the Granlunds as part of a bankruptcy case that wiped out the lawsuit liability and other debts last April.

The fully automatic weapon Clark fired at two neighbors' homes came indirectly from the Kettle Falls Police Department.

The Steyr MPi69 became illegal when it passed into private possession. Washington law bans private possession of automatic weapons, and federal law requires a license that Clark and others connected to the incident didn't have.

The source of the weapon was a public mystery until recently. Various government officials rejected Spokesman-Review requests for documents.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives refused to release its investigative report and Stevens County Sheriff Craig Thayer refused to release documents from an internal affairs investigation his office conducted.

Thayer released information from a criminal investigation, in which Clark refused to say where he got the submachine gun. But the sheriff cited a section of Washington's Public Disclosure Act that says documents don't have to be released if secrecy is "essential to effective law enforcement or for the protection of any person's right to privacy."

However, the internal affairs investigation was closed when Clark was fired, and another section of the disclosure law says the privacy exemption applies only to information that is "highly offensive to a reasonable person" and is "not of legitimate concern to the public."

ATF officials said their investigation, requested by Thayer, was conducted under federal tax laws that forbid the release of any information. At the time, the bureau was part of the Treasury Department, which treated machine gun licensing as a tax issue.

The same information, if obtained by the FBI, a Justice Department agency, would have been public under the Freedom of Information Act after the case was closed.

U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt in Spokane broke the silence, saying he wanted people to know he had nothing to hide about his decision not to prosecute anyone for supplying the weapon Clark possessed.

"It's always a matter of resources," McDevitt said. "Where do you use your resources best? This was a case where we just determined that it wasn't a good use of our resources."

McDevitt said federal agents determined that the weapon belonged to the Kettle Falls Police Department and was given to Clark by former Kettle Falls Police Chief Duane Gagnon. The transfer occurred in November 2001, about five months before the Suncrest gunfire.

Gagnon, now 73, was retired from law enforcement when he gave the submachine gun to Clark. Gagnon left the Kettle Falls Police Department in 1995 to become a captain in the Stevens County Sheriff's Office, and retired from the Sheriff's Office in 1998.

"It was a bunch of mistakes, was what it was," Gagnon said.

Although the submachine gun was never placed on a formal inventory and current Kettle Falls officials have no record of it, Gagnon said he bought it with city money in 1984 or 1985.

He said the relatively unsophisticated, Austrian-made weapon was offered at a bargain price by a company that arms police departments, but he can't remember the cost. The gun remained with the police department when Gagnon left and his now-deceased brother, Al Gagnon, took over as chief.

Under Al Gagnon, the weapon was assigned to Clark, who was a Kettle Falls officer at the time, Duane Gagnon said. Then, when Al Gagnon resigned as chief, he dropped the gun off at Duane Gagnon's house.

Duane Gagnon said his brother apparently thought, incorrectly, that the Steyr belonged to him.

"This was right when I lost my wife," Duane Gagnon said, noting also that he had suffered a heart attack a couple of months earlier.

He said his wife told him before her death, "For God's sake, take that thing back to the PD and make sure your brother knows it belongs to the PD."

"I just didn't," he said. "I don't know why."

About six months later, Gagnon said, his grandson died "and I just never thought about the gun again."

Not until Clark, then a sheriff's deputy, came to his house asking to borrow the weapon.

"When Will came by, by that time, he had a hell of a good reputation," Gagnon said, noting Clark had been decorated for his performance in an April 2001 incident in which a criminal suspect shot him in the arm and thigh.

"I really thought the kid was going to be one hell of a fine officer," Gagnon said. "I didn't know he was having troubles with alcohol or anything like that."

Also, Gagnon said, he felt sorry for Clark, whose wife also had recently died. He said he thought Clark was authorized by the Sheriff's Office to have a submachine gun, so he handed over the Steyr.

"I had no business doing it, but I just felt sorry for the kid, and that's what happened," Gagnon said. "I made a mistake, and that's all there is to it."

McDevitt said Gagnon's contrition as well as his age and health contributed to the decision not to prosecute the veteran lawman.

Gagnon was in law enforcement for 44 years, starting as a military policeman at age 17.

McDevitt said the likely maximum sentence Gagnon could have gotten was 18 months to two years in prison, but the ATF recommended an alternate approach that would have spared Gagnon a criminal record. The bureau called for a pretrial diversion with a one-year probation and a $1,000 fine, the U.S. attorney said.

While choosing not to pursue the ATF recommendation on Gagnon, McDevitt threatened federal prosecution of Clark to force him to accept a plea bargain in state court that resulted in a much longer sentence than he ordinarily would have received. Clark was sentenced to nine months in jail for illegal possession of a machine gun, reckless endangerment and obstruction of law enforcement officers.

Clark and his roommate, Christopher L. Spurlock, now 29, attempted to cover up the incident by misleading investigating officers. Spurlock got 30 days for obstructing and for illegally discharging a machine gun.

Two friends -- brothers Brian D. Cravens, now 26, and Jeffrey L. Cravens, 24 -- pleaded guilty to illegal discharge of a firearm. Jeffrey Cravens was sentenced to 30 days in jail; Brian Cravens, to 120 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine.

Brian Cravens was dismissed as an unpaid Stevens County reserve sheriff's deputy, and Spurlock was fired as a state corrections officer and as an unpaid Newport reserve officer.

Spurlock was accused of firing the machine gun only in the woods away from Suncrest. The Cravens' attorney, Bevan Maxey, said "the evidence is clear" that the shots they fired in Suncrest didn't hit any houses.

Spurlock's attorney, Terry Ryan, declined to comment. Efforts to reach Spurlock directly were unsuccessful.

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Henry Bowman
February 11, 2004, 02:09 PM
Thanks for the update.

Hkmp5sd
February 11, 2004, 02:22 PM
Thayer released information from a criminal investigation, in which Clark refused to say where he got the submachine gun. But the sheriff cited a section of Washington's Public Disclosure Act that says documents don't have to be released if secrecy is "essential to effective law enforcement or for the protection of any person's right to privacy."
Doesn't this imply that anyone on Washington can own a machinegun and they have no requirement to show proof of registration because the secrecy is needed for "the protection of any person's right to privacy"?

"It's always a matter of resources," McDevitt said. "Where do you use your resources best? This was a case where we just determined that it wasn't a good use of our resources."
The investigation into an unregistered machinegun and the illegal discharge of a firearm into an occupied dwelling, by a law enforcement officer no less, is not a good use of law enforcement resources?

"It was a bunch of mistakes, was what it was," Gagnon said.
Actually, it was a bunch of illegal acts that would have landed anyone else in prison.

HunterGatherer
February 11, 2004, 04:51 PM
The investigation into an unregistered machinegun and the illegal discharge of a firearm into an occupied dwelling, by a law enforcement officer no less, is not a good use of law enforcement resources?Because only cops and military should have guns silly. :p

mrapathy2000
February 11, 2004, 05:13 PM
that poor Steyr even though the MPi69 is ugly duckling of the bunch. :(

whole ordeal sounds nothing but shady.

whoami
February 12, 2004, 11:57 AM
McDevitt said the likely maximum sentence Gagnon could have gotten was 18 months to two years in prison, but the ATF recommended an alternate approach that would have spared Gagnon a criminal record. The bureau called for a pretrial diversion with a one-year probation and a $1,000 fine, the U.S. attorney said.

And if there wasn't a badge involved, would the BATFE have done the same?

TheOtherOne
February 12, 2004, 12:18 PM
And if there wasn't a badge involved, would the BATFE have done the same?Exactly what I was going to say. Anyone else would have been thrown in federal prison and the headlines would have screamed about the old guy that may have been an al-qaida terrorist.

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