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(RI) State: No cause to charge Portsmouth officers who took guns

Discussion in 'Legal' started by Drizzt, Oct 8, 2005.

  1. Drizzt

    Drizzt Well-Known Member

    State: No cause to charge Portsmouth officers who took guns

    PORTSMOUTH — The state Attorney General's office has found insufficient evidence to charge any of the three Portsmouth police officers who admitted taking evidence room guns that had been slated for destruction.

    In a ruling released Friday, Attorney General Patrick Lynch's office cited "extraordinarily sloppy evidence handling," in the case in which five guns were removed from a shipment of guns that were headed to a Massachusetts foundry to be melted down last March.

    "To declare the misconduct in this case as not criminal is not to endorse, or even tolerate, the actions of the officers," the Attorney General's summary stated.

    The three officers, Sgt. Harry Leonard, a 24-year member of the force, Detective Steven Hoetzel, on the force for seven years, and Patrolman John Huppee, a 10-year veteran, each received a one-month suspension without pay. Police Chief Dennis Seale said that that the loss of several thousand dollars in income, along with the blemish on their permanent record and public "humiliation" amounted to stiff internal sanctions. All three have served their suspensions and are back at work at the same ranks as before.

    While he did not believe the circumstances warranted larceny charges against the three, "None of this makes me proud. It is a black mark and a sad day for this department," the chief said. But, he added, "It is time to move on."

    When the case came to light last March, the chief took heat for his decision not to charge the officers.

    "I can understand why some in the community feel as they do," Chief Seale said. "As I said at the time, this was the poorest decision of their careers ... They screwed up." But the chief added that he did not feel, nor now does the Attorney General, that criminal charges are called for.

    Larceny, the chief said, is the taking of property belonging to another with the intent to permanently deprive the person of that property.

    In this case, he said the officers took guns that they believed were slated to be destroyed. He also pointed to the fact that they voluntarily turned themselves in and possessed impeccable service records.

    The Attorney General agreed.

    "In order to support a criminal charge in this instance, each crime considered includes, as an element, the necessity to prove the officer acted with the criminal intent to deprive another of their property. Because the officers involved believed the firearms taken were scheduled for imminent destruction, there was insufficient evidence to prove that element."

    Guns were to be destroyed

    The case might never have come to light had it not been for the circumstances surrounding one of the missing five guns.

    That weapon, an Armsport 12-gauge shotgun, had been seized from a drunk driver. When it was later determined that the man was a hunter and that there was no reason to keep his gun, he was told he could retrieve it.

    Except that by then it was nowhere to be found.

    Believing the gun must inadvertently have been destroyed with the nearly 100 others that had just been "purged" from the evidence room — some dating back 20 years, the chief was about to tell the gun owner that the gun had been destroyed.

    But before he could do so, the chief said that Det. Hoetzel came in and admitted that he had seen the gun among the others about to be driven off to the foundry and had asked for permission to take it.

    During the subsequent investigation, led by Deputy Chief Lance Hebert, the three officers came forward and revealed that a total of five guns had been taken from boxes of guns that were about to be shipped off for melting. The guns were in open boxes inside the still-open trunk of a patrol car when they were taken.

    In addition to the shotgun, these included:

    * An M-1 rifle that had been owned by the late Portsmouth detective Alex Laferte. Chief Seale said that after Mr. Laferte's death, that gun was turned in by his father who thought that an officer or the department might want it. He was informed that any guns turned in must be destroyed. But Chief Seale said that Officer Huppee, a gun expert, saw the gun among the others in the boxes, recognized it as having belonged to his late friend, and asked to keep it.

    * A .22 caliber rifle of little value, taken by Sgt. Leonard who said he needed a gun to deal with coyotes around his property.

    * Two other guns taken by Officer Hoetzel.

    Chief Seale said he called in State Police and the Middletown chief to conduct an evidence room audit. That analysis revealed that two other guns were unaccounted for — both seized during a drug raid in Portsmouth. State Police eventually concluded that the two were apparently melted down with the others in that shipment to the LeBaron Foundry in Brockton.

    Steps taken

    Assistant Attorney General Cindy Soccio conducted the probe for the Attorney General's Office.

    The report calls on Portsmouth Police to review and modify evidence handling procedures, particularly with regard to the destruction of firearms. It is understood, the report sates, "that these tasks have been accomplished."

    Chief Seale said he took several steps early on, among them:

    * Only two detectives, with one emergency backup, now have access to the evidence room. Previously, five people had access.

    * Procedures for logging in and disposing of guns (and all evidence) have been tightened.

    * The evidence room is monitored by an always-on surveillance camera.


    Gun disposal

    Policies in place (and since beefed up) at the Portsmouth Police Department are supposed to prevent the sort of disappearances that were revealed last March.

    * The vast majority of guns in evidence room storage are turned in by residents who don't want them in the house for various reasons. Only a handful are actual crime evidence. When people turn them in, they are supposed to be told that the guns will (without exception) be destroyed. Guns may not be used by the department or individuals.

    * All guns (and other evidence) are logged into the computer upon receipt and upon destruction.

    * Guns are taken to a Massachusetts foundry to be melted down. Two officers must be present on such trips.

    * Only two detectives (and one other for emergencies) have access to evidence room (new rule).

    * 24-hour surveillance camera coverage of evidence room.


    Off the deep end

    This is not the first, nor the most unusual episode of gun disposal gone wrong by the Portsmouth Police Department. About 25 years ago, a motorist driving across the Mt. Hope Bridge was startled to see an unmarked vehicle stop at center span. The driver got out, went to the rail and began tossing guns over the side. Thinking this looked mighty fishy, the motorist called Bristol Police. After some checking, Bristol Police reported that the gun dumping was done by Portsmouth Police. Portsmouth Police later admitted that they were disposing of guns from their evidence room. This happened long before he was chief, Chief Seale said, and was apparently fairly standard procedure back then. "Obviously it's not a great idea."

  2. Standing Wolf

    Standing Wolf Member in memoriam

    Well, yeah, but we're not a police state. After all, the cops didn't get to keep their stolen guns, did they?
  3. CentralTexas

    CentralTexas Well-Known Member

    Cool deal

    -so what happens on the day the send all the confiscated marijuana to the incinerator??? :what:
  4. Don Gwinn

    Don Gwinn Moderator Emeritus

    I'm really hoping this was the result of a reporter who didn't understand what he was told, and does not represent reality. But who knows?

    And Standing Wolf, let's not scold the authorities too strongly on this one. I think they're right; this wasn't larceny. It was simply a case of these men taking things that didn't belong to them for their own private ends.

    Wait, what does larceny mean again?
  5. garyk/nm

    garyk/nm Well-Known Member

    So it is OK to take guns slated for destruction? Cool! I'm in!
    Oh, wait...I'm not a cop.

  6. Sleeping Dog

    Sleeping Dog Well-Known Member

    Coincidentally, on that same day, area doughnut shops report record numbers of officers scarfing down extra doughnuts.
  7. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Well-Known Member

    Obviously, the evidence handling procedures were designed for honest men, not thieving police officers.

  8. another okie

    another okie Well-Known Member

    It was still larceny - they're just saying we don't want to charge the officers. The officers deprived the owner of the guns, the state, of possession of the guns between the time the guns were taken and the time they would have been destroyed. That's enough. If someone (not a police officer) had broken into the police department and stolen guns that were to be destroyed the next day, they would been charged.
  9. Desertdog

    Desertdog Well-Known Member

    What I have never understood is; why do police departments complain about the crooks being better armed than them, and then destructing ALL firearms that they get? Why not keep the above average, or higher powered, for departmental use?

    Admitted I don't know how a M-1 would stack up against an AK-47 but I think it would be better than a .38 Police Special, and maybe even better than a .44 Magnum.
  10. Ky Larry

    Ky Larry Well-Known Member

    Here in my town, the cops steal weapons out of vehicles after traffic accidents and DUI arrests. :rolleyes:
  11. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Well-Known Member

    It depends on the state and the manner the police came into possession of the weapon as to how it is disposed and if it can be taken for police use.

    In the PDRK, judges have the option of declaring a weapon a public nuisance and ordering it destroyed. This is most often the case when the weapon's owner is convicted of a weapons offense and it can't be returned to the owner. For the police to keep the weapon for police use, the chief or Sheriff has to petition the court to not destroy the weapon and let the police keep it.

    My Sheriff in the PDRK made the politically correct decision to destroy weapons in the evidence locker rather than sell them to FFL holders for much needed funds and ammunition. One of the department's armorers came across the evidence technician happily listing for destruction three Smith & Wesson 5906s which had been confiscated from crooks, the exact same weapons the department's deputies carried on patrol. Said armorer saved those three 5906s from destruction and placed them in the weapons room for issue to deputy sheriffs.

    Lest THR members think the Sheriff destroyed any weapon that came into his possession, every possible effort was made to return stolen weapons to their lawful owners provided said owners were not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms.

  12. bamawrx

    bamawrx Well-Known Member

    I have attended gun confiscation sales here in my state. They are from large cities that sell the group by bid to ffl's. I find some old s&w's and other odds and ends like 870's. I admit that most of the guns are total crap, but more than a few jewels were found there. I'd rather they end back up in circulation with us gun guys instead of melted down. I don't blame the officers from pulling the guns out, and don't think for a second I wouldn't do the same thing if given permission.

    If you saw an M1 going off to be destroyed you wouldn't ask for it?
  13. Crosshair

    Crosshair Well-Known Member


    so what happens on the day the send all the confiscated marijuana to the incinerator???

    You're new to this planet, arn't you. :neener:
  14. justashooter

    justashooter member

    sounds like theft to me.

    the blue line is getting tighter.

    if i stole a gun from an evidence room, would they charge me?
  15. Baba Louie

    Baba Louie Well-Known Member

    I gather that if said gun was slated for destruction... precedence has sorta been set... now hasn't it? :rolleyes: I think the key here is asking permission to take said firearm slated for destruction, take a months pay cut (better pick out the really nice guns) once the fact is leaked out, be publicly humiliated... then go back to work as a professional crime stopper.

    Move along, there's nothing to see here. That's not the droid we're looking for.
  16. TheEgg

    TheEgg Well-Known Member

    So did you, you little :cuss: .

    Rampant corruption (and I include the chief and the DA), unfettered abuse of office. Etc. Etc. Etc.
  17. 44Special

    44Special Member

    Parallel for civilians

    There was a parallel case some years ago about some civilians stealing obsolete munitions that had been placed in obsolete tanks, trucks, etc. on the Nellis AFB Bombing & Gunnery Range to make them blow up when straffed. My recollection is the feds initially threw the book at these guys but in the end let them off more lightly because the stealing of stuff the feds were really just blowing up as a way to get rid of it was not the same as stealing real munitions that the U.S. military was really going to use.
    So maybe it wasn't so bad giving a similar break to the officers. They didn't get a full pass.
  18. Joejojoba111

    Joejojoba111 Well-Known Member

    That's an interesting premise, but I'm pretty sure that my mom told me two wrongs don't make a right.

    And there's also a precedent that the gov't can steal your house if a business will pay more taxes than your. But I think that's wrong too.

    Honestly, just because they get away with it doesn't make it right!

    I got to say, though, that I hope this stuff starts to get through, and people start to realize that the HAVE to re-constrain our police forces, we need to clean house, send them to jails and unemployment lines, and re-clarify the role of police, and describe clearly what they ARE allowed to do, not specify the few things that they can't do.

    But what's the point, think about it, they ARE criminals. And they have power over you of life and death. Pleasant dreams.
  19. DRZinn

    DRZinn Well-Known Member

    I gotta say I'm with the cops on this one.

    The guns shortly would not exist. It's like taking something out of a dumpster. (Yes, I know that that's also been held to be a crime, but that doesn't mean there's anything morally wrong with it.)
  20. Highland Ranger

    Highland Ranger Well-Known Member

    I want to be one of the super citizens . . . . . free doughnuts AND guns.

    Way cool.

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