SJ Sheriff’s Office: Allegations that guns improperly sold, purchased

Recordnet – by Jennie Rodriguez-Moore

STOCKTON — A former San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office range master is alleging that agency administrators in 2011 inappropriately purchased evidence guns for their personal use, an assertion Sheriff Steve Moore denies.

Carlos Prieto, who has been reassigned to patrol, spoke on the record about the guns in a recent interview.

Prieto told The Record he witnessed his superiors lay out weapons “yard sale-style” in a room for administrators to choose guns of their liking.  

And, he said, in another incident in 2011, a batch of old department guns that had been acquired when the park ranger division was absorbed by the Sheriff’s Office were sold under fraudulent circumstances.

According to Prieto, the batch was stripped to the frame at the order of his sergeant who has since retired, and the frames were sent to Adamson Police Products, a police supply and gun store in Hayward. San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office employees returned to the store to buy the frames and reassembled the guns with the parts that had been removed. The guns were purchased by employees for personal use.

The whole guns are “worth about five times what they paid,” Prieto said, adding that the county was deprived of the full value of the guns because they had been gutted and the parts kept to reinsert later.

Frank Gayaldo, a former employee of the agency and outspoken critic of Moore’s, provided The Record a report dated July 18, 2011, that listed more than a dozen firearms the Sheriff’s Office deemed unusable and had to be “converted.”

The report by itself does not appear to be indicative of any wrongdoing.

Prieto, however, connects the gun dismantling incident to that report. It lists a dozen Smith & Wesson revolvers Prieto identified as those sold to Sheriff’s Office employees as frames.

Prieto also said that at least four of the guns on that list — two Colt pistol revolvers and two other semiautomatic pistols — were evidence guns that should have been destroyed or shipped out of state. Instead, he said, the Colts were sold to employees.

The July 2011 report also noted that one additional firearm — a Swiss Industrial Gesellschaft Sauer semiautomatic — was unserviceable and needed to be destroyed. The report says a deputy stripped the firearm and destroyed the frame by smashing it on June 20, 2011.

An attempt to speak to the manager of Adamson’s was unsuccessful. An employee, after consulting with her superior, said that the store does not comment to the media.

Moore vehemently insisted there have been no murky gun transactions on his watch.

“First of all, we have sold no evidence guns whatsoever to my knowledge,” Moore said. “We destroy evidence guns.”

Moore said agencies may sell evidence guns, but the industry stays away from the practice to prevent guns from ending up back on the street.

“It’s far better that they get destroyed and not make them available,” Moore said. “To me, that is just good sense.”

The guns listed on the report, Moore said, were taken to Adamson for disposal, and the Sheriff’s Office received store credit, which is allowable under law.

The credit was used to buy new firearms for the department.

Moore said he has no knowledge that the guns were ever dismantled and sold specifically to his employees and said he would not condone such a practice.

Adamson is a major and reputable gun dealer and would not be involved in that type of activity, Moore said.

Adamson would have sold them to qualified individuals, who could have been deputies, but the purchases would have been no different than if any other qualified person or law enforcement officer walked into the store, Moore said. The Smith & Wessons are not approved for retail sale to the general public in California and could only be purchased by an officer or another qualified dealer.

Prieto said he has stayed quiet to this point because he had tried raising concerns to his superiors, but he was shut down. Prieto was reassigned from range master duties before the incidents, he said, after he was diagnosed with lead poisoning.

“I think it’s legal for departments to trade in their evidence guns, but from my understanding … in California they’re shipped across the Mississippi and they’re sold on the East Coast,” Prieto said. “That way nobody can say ‘Oh, wait, I like that gun in evidence, so I’m going to go purchase this weapon.’ ”

Making evidence guns unavailable to the officers keeps a department honest, Prieto said. “What’s to stop officers from going to a house, when there’s a domestic dispute (and saying) ‘Oh you got weapons? We’re going to confiscate those.’

“So you confiscate those and then you have them deemed to be destroyed, (but) before they get destroyed, ‘Hey let’s send them off here and we purchase them.’ ”

Prieto said the department guns that were sold through Adamson would have yielded more store credit value had it been done honestly.

He provided an email correspondence with Capt. John Williams, who also is the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit, who ordered Prieto to stop asking questions about the department guns that were deemed unusable.

“ ’Cause I told him it’s unethical,” Prieto said.

Federal authorities referred questions regarding state laws governing the destruction or conversion of evidence guns and department guns to the state Attorney General’s Office. But Kristin Ford, press secretary for the attorney general, said “unfortunately, we aren’t able to provide legal advice or commentary.”

Ford did not clarify what the law is.

According to the Peace Officer Standards and Training management guide, evidence firearms may be destroyed if they are a “nuisance,” or, if stolen, they should be returned to the owner after adjudication and appeal.

Evidence weapons may also be retained for departmental use under certain conditions laid out by the guide. When the department no longer wants the firearm, it must be returned to the evidence room for destruction.

Firearms may also be auctioned, but the guide makes agencies aware that there are possible political ramifications.

Gayaldo forwarded a copy of a complaint he submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives requesting an investigation.

“Based on deputy Prieto’s brave testimony and another sheriff employee, who is reluctant to come forward, I believe that the Sheriff personally knew evidence guns were illegally converted to personal property and that in regards to departmental guns, there was a chop shop operation designed to defraud the county of their full trade-in value,“ Gayaldo said in his complaint. “Without a question, an outside audit and investigation is warranted.”

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