Police employees sanctioned for taking gun parts
Several Durham police employees who apparently thought they weren’t doing anything wrong when they scavenged parts from confiscated guns in evidence now know better.
Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr. on Friday told reporters that an internal investigation resulted in discipline for seven employees, including a sergeant and a captain.
In the past, it wasn’t unusual for officers to take parts from handguns and rifles that were destined for destruction based on a court order, the chief said.
“Apparently, some employees incorrectly presumed that since the weapons were to be destroyed anyway and that court orders have allowed for departmental use of weapons and weapon parts in the past,” they could keep some parts, Lopez said.
The investigation started in March 2013 as a divisional investigation. However, it soon became apparent that multiple divisions were involved, so it was turned over to the Professional Standards Division.
At the time, the final disposition of confiscated or unclaimed weapons was determined by judges through court orders. The weapons involved in this investigation were covered by such a court order, but it didn’t allow for the scavenging of parts.
The internal investigation ended in February 2014.
“While the officers had a genuine belief that their actions were appropriate, that belief was mistaken and I expect better judgment from my officers, especially those in supervisory positions,” Lopez said.
Personnel involved and their punishments included:
- Capt. Kevin Cates, 80-hour suspension
- Lt. George Zeipekkis, 16-hour suspension
- Sgt. Nicholas Schneider, 24-hour suspension
- Sgt. Joseph Piatt, 40-hour suspension
- Officer Christopher Weisemann, 24-hour suspension
- Reserve Officer William Evans, written reprimand and suspension from off-duty work for one month
- Armorer Robert Rowley, 24-hour suspension
“All involved are otherwise excellent veteran officers and staff with no history of significant disciplinary issues,” the chief said. “I expect this lack of judgment to be isolated.”
Court orders in January and February 2013 called for dismantlement of 2,101 weapons. “Only a very small number of those weapons were involved in the investigation,” said police spokeswoman Kammie Michael. The weapons included handguns, rifles and BB guns.
Internal investigators found no evidence that any guns or gun parts were sold by anyone involved in the practice. No one involved tried to retain a complete weapon, Lopez said.
The North Carolina General Assembly last year took the choice of disposition out of judges’ hands. As of Sept. 1, 2013, police can’t destroy confiscated or unclaimed guns in evidence unless they’re damaged or lack serial numbers. Instead, they must keep the guns, donate them to a museum or sell them to a federally licensed dealer.
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