Contra Costa sheriff’s staff let civilians take gun parts, ammunition that had been marked for destruction

For years, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s staff allowed a volunteer and staff at one of his shooting ranges to escape with unwanted guns and ammunition that had been acquired by the department, leading in some cases to these weapon parts ending up in the streets.

Ammunition, empty magazines, holsters and parts of firearms were supposed to be cataloged, reported to the state Department of Justice and destroyed or used for official law enforcement duties, by State Law. Instead, for “over a decade” staff in the Sheriff’s Property Room sent such items to a departmental shooting range in Clayton, where MPs and civilian volunteers were free to take them home. them, according to the testimony of a lieutenant who investigated the practice. and recommended that he be arrested, as well as by the range master who said the weapon parts were available to “all who entered”.

Sheriff officials said they only learned of the practice in January 2020, after a woman from Contra Costa informed them that her ex-husband, a volunteer sheriff named John King, had run away with thousands of these items, including bullets that had been packaged as evidence in cleared criminal cases and gun parts that King later sold online, according to police testimony given in King’s divorce case.

Contra Costa County sheriff officials said they were not sure how many parts and ammunition were removed from the range. And despite state law, the office’s internal affairs investigation found no sheriff policies in place that would prevent the practice.

“I would say common sense said it shouldn’t have happened, but it did,” Lt. Kenneth Westermann, who led the AI’s investigation into the practice, said in a deposition. .

Asked about the practice of letting civilians take parts and ammunition from the firing range, sheriff’s spokesman Jimmy Lee said the case was “closed for a long time.”

“This matter was investigated two years ago when it first came to light. The former volunteer of the range in question was sometimes allowed to take small parts and parts which would have been thrown. This practice was immediately stopped, ”said Lee. But Lee declined to comment on whether there are now written policies preventing the practice.

When asked if the investigation was into potential violations of state law, Lee reiterated that the case was closed two years ago and added, “We will not have a other comments on this. ” Lee did not respond to questions asking if disciplinary action had been imposed, although Westermann said no one had been punished.

San Francisco-based attorney George Lee, who specializes in firearms cases, said the practice appears to have violated part of the California criminal code that sets out specific actions law enforcement agencies must take with guns or gun parts that are to be destroyed. Although the law allows the articles to be used for training or by agents in their official capacity, it does not allow agencies to distribute them to civilians or agents for their personal use.

“They have to follow all the parts very closely and make sure that they are only used for official tasks,” he said.

Items taken from the lineup included old gun parts from disused police firearms, ammunition seized in criminal cases that had since been closed, and items handed over by citizens in non-criminal cases, as when a person inherited parts of weapons or bullets from a deceased relative.

The sheriff’s decision to handle the case internally, rather than call for an outside investigation, raises questions about liability, said Michael Cardoza, former Bay Area prosecutor and current defense lawyer.

“You would want another agency to investigate the sheriff when it comes to guns and firearms,” Cardoza said. “You don’t want them investigating themselves. “

“I think the sheriff would be interested in taking this stuff off the streets and not just giving it out willy-nilly to people,” he added. “It concerns me that we put more bullets and more weapon parts there. Why are you doing this?”

An examination of the garage at King’s former home in Clayton by Westermann and two other internal affairs investigators revealed that the inventory he had amassed was vast: cartridges and magazines filled the shelves to the brim, most of them being stored in boxes or plastic bags; in the middle of the garage was a large, locked safe, which King’s friend testified at one point contained semi-automatic rifles and other firearms.

Westermann said prior to their AI investigation, he and other investigators were unaware of civilians taking gun parts to their homes. But at least two of the staff knew this was happening – the technician from the real estate room Dep. Kevin Lee and Range Master John Mudrock, who oversaw King’s work as one of four volunteers at the range, Mudrock testified.

This work included odd jobs around the firing range, such as cleaning weapons and escorting inmates to construction sites. King also worked at Sheriff’s Office Posse, a community organization that raises funds for the department, and contributed $ 1,675 to Sheriff David Livingston’s re-election campaign in 2013.

In a deposition during his divorce, King said the gun parts belonged to the sheriff’s office before he brought them home. He said the safe at his old home in Clayton stored guns, but they were rusty and damaged guns he intended to clean on behalf of a service employee Pittsburg Police Station.

He also admitted to selling parts online “a few times a year”, but added that it would be “quite a long way” to suggest he was “some sort of arms dealer”.

“My lawyer explained to me that the income generated is considered income and therefore I guess you call it a business,” he said. He also asserted his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination on several occasions when asked about the practice of taking gun parts from the shooting range.

During his questioning by an attorney for King’s ex-wife, Mudrock was confronted with an email from King to Kevin Lee asking him to be on the lookout for “wild guns, cannons and bolts” because “Mud and I would love to build a couple,” but Mudrock said he still couldn’t remember if the two had ever built a gun from scrapped parts. He appeared at the civil deposition with a criminal attorney, whom he withheld at King’s suggestion, but only to make him “more comfortable,” he said.

Seven months after briefing on Home Affairs, in August 2020, King’s ex-wife wrote a letter to Sheriff David Livingston, who said the arms and ammunition supply appeared “ready for World War III.” It is not known if Livingston has already responded to the letter.

“I am worried for my safety, that of my children and of my neighborhood because if there was a fire in my residence, it could put a lot of people in danger,” she wrote.

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