Agencies answer for dozens of missing police guns

TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) – Law enforcement agencies across the State of Tennessee have reported at least 63 guns stolen, lost or missing since 2010, including one police gun that ended up in the hands of a felon at an aggravated assault crime scene.

Rookie mistake

Elizabethton Police Department Chief Jason Shaw

In the early morning hours of July 22, 2010, a rookie Elizabethton Police Department officer discovered someone broke into his personal SUV outside of his Johnson City home and stole his Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol from the driver’s door panel compartment. EPD issued a written reprimand to the officer, who was still in the academy at the time, and changed its gun storage policy as a result, according to the chief.

“There was some, I guess, lacking of judgment in securing that firearm,” Chief Jason Shaw, who’s served as police chief for the last year, said. “It’s obviously not something to be proud of.”

More than four years after someone stole the weapon, Johnson City police logged the same EPD gun as evidence at an aggravated assault crime scene, according to ATF gun records.

“When did you find out that this gun was connected to a crime?” we asked Shaw.

“When you sent me the email and asked me why the gun was over in Johnson City,” he said.

A gun to the head

Christopher Horton

Johnson City police reportedly found the gun in Christopher Horton’s possession on January 4, 2015, not far from the Spring Street business where they say he used the weapon to pistol-whip a woman earlier that night.

Police said he also pointed the gun at two people that came to the woman’s defense.

“Apparently, he had struck her with a pistol as she was leaving the business,” JCPD Capt. Matt Howell said. “He pulled a weapon out after the altercation and pointed it at both of the patrons and one of them he pointed the weapon at his head.”

“Slim”

Horton, also known as “Slim,” has a lengthy criminal history that now includes new crimes. A federal judge recently sentenced him to a dozen years in prison in connection to the aggravated assault case. A jury convicted Horton of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and possessing with the intent to distribute cocaine base. The aggravated assault case, meanwhile, is still pending.

Statewide problem

Our extensive review of public records identified at least 38 handguns, eight rifles and eight shotguns, in addition to other unidentified guns, considered lost, missing or stolen by Tennessee law enforcement agencies. Many of those weapons remain missing today.

Of the more than 60 guns identified in our investigation, public records show officers left more than a third of those guns in their police cruisers and personal cars at the time of the crimes. Criminals stole seven guns from cars in Northeast Tennessee. The most recent police gun theft occurred last month in Gray.

Lieutenant suspended

The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office suspended a lieutenant without pay in 2013 after someone broke into his police cruiser in Kingsport and took his pistol, two bullet proof vests and handcuffs. The detective said he had locked his door, but police did not notice any signs of forced entry.

“I mean this weapon is kind of like your livelihood as a police officer honestly, so I mean it would be a huge deal to have that stolen from you,” SCSO Public Information Officer Kristen Quon said.

A police chief’s “unfortunate incident”

Tusculum Police Chief Danny Greene

Tusculum Police Chief Danny Greene previously took responsibility for forgetting to investigate an alleged abuse case at Greene Valley Developmental Center. We’ve since learned just weeks before his January 2016 interview with us about GVDC he filed a theft police report.

The chief said on January 13, 2016 he took his personal vehicle to get his tires rotated, but when he returned to his car, his gun was missing.

“It was an unfortunate incident,” Chief Greene, who was not disciplined, said.

Trip to the hospital

The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office opted against disciplining a deputy who reported his gun stolen in April 2013. The officer said the service weapon was in the console of his vehicle at the time. He said his wife took the car to the hospital and when she returned, the weapon was gone.

“With this being a burglary to a vehicle he was not disciplined,” HCSO Chief Deputy Tony Allen said. “Every situation is different.”

Gun theft in Greeneville

A March 2010 Greene County Sheriff’s Office police report details another gun theft. The officer reported someone took his GCSO weapon either while parked at a restaurant or at his home. Sheriff Pat Hankins, who was not sheriff at the time, said the deputy was not disciplined and the agency does not have a policy requiring guns be secured.

Myrtle Beach bound

Public records also reveal the case of a Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper, based in Fall Branch, who filed a police report in Myrtle Beach. The trooper said while on vacation with his family in March 2016, he hid his duty pistol between the mattress and headboard of his hotel room, covered it with pillows and then placed a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, according to THP records.

“Upon my return I noticed that house keeping had serviced the room and the do not disturb sign was missing,” the trooper said in THP records. “My wife and I immediately noticed that multiple items of clothes and belongings had been moved and that my pistol was not where I had left it.”

THP did not initiate an internal investigation as a result.

“The gun is still listed as stolen and the case remains active,” according to Myrtle Beach Capt. Joey Crosby.

THP’s 15 guns

That gun is one of 15 THP firearms reported lost or stolen by 13 troopers between 2012 and 2017. Six of those weapons were stolen from vehicles (one stolen from the trunk), seven during home burglaries and two discovered lost through inventory, according to state records. The agency opened six administrative review cases as a result.

The three most recent THP cases, including one in Gray in October, one in Madison County and the other in Nashville, involved troopers who left their weapons in their cars. One trooper left a gun in the console and the other left the gun “under the steering console,” according to THP records

“The Department does have a set of policies and procedures in place for the handling, storage, and use of weapons while both on and off duty,” THP Staff Attorney Kyle Turner said. “In the event that a weapon is reported lost or stolen, there is a procedure in place to notify your immediate supervisor who will then do the same up the chain of command…In that event, if it is preliminarily determined that the officer did not act in accordance with Departmental policy, an internal investigation will take place. Depending on the outcome, the officer will be disciplined if he was found to have violated Departmental policy. Some of the officers listed in the documents I provided you did face disciplinary action for their lost or stolen weapons.”

Other agencies

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported four stolen guns since 2012, but would only release limited information about the circumstances. A TBI spokesperson said the officers responsible each received a three day suspension without pay and said the guns in question were three handguns and one rifle.

“Since we have opened investigations in each of these incidents, we are unable to provide you with the specific information you have requested on the cases,” TBI Public Information Officer Susan Niland said. “The basis for this denial is T.C.A. §10-7-504(2) (A), which states in part ‘All investigative records of the Tennessee bureau of investigation….shall be treated as confidential and shall not be open to inspection by members of the public. The information contained in such records shall be disclosed to the public only in compliance with a subpoena or an order of a court of record.'” 
The Chattanooga Police Department reported 11 guns stolen and three missing.

“All officers are required to secure duty issue weapons in a safe area when not in service,” CPD Police Information Officer Rob Simmons said. “The area selected to store and secure weapons should be considered safe to avoid accidental discharges or tampering by unauthorized personnel. If an officer is victimized by a criminal entering their home (where a secured city owned firearm is taken) the Chattanooga Police Department does not punish the victim further based on the actions of these criminals. Any expectation that our officers are somehow immune to the criminal acts of others is absurd. If a internal affairs Investigation determines that an officer did not properly secure a weapon, they can be subject to disciplinary actions.”

Tennessee State Parks suspended a ranger for failing to secure his gun in 2012 in Nashville. A report shows the ranger did not initially report the theft of his gun and handcuffs.

“He believes that the pistol was taken out of his car…while he was moving things from the car to his house,” a police report said. “He stated that he had all 4 doors open and that he had his duty belt with his pistol, in the holster, lying on the front passenger floorboard in plain view.”

“The employee was suspended for two days then decommissioned as a law enforcement officer,” a spokesperson said.

Criminals steal guns for “only one purpose

Michael Knight spent years as an agent in Chicago for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Now a supervisor in the agency’s Nashville Field Division, he said when a criminal steals a gun in one city, that gun routinely ends up far away at another crime scene.

“Individuals, especially the criminal element, steal firearms for only one purpose and that’s to commit additional criminal acts,” Knight said. “Initially, within a very short window of time, additional crimes may occur in the city or area where the firearm was stolen, but after that short window of time, the firearms often times will end up in other cities throughout the state or other states within the country.”

ATF records show, in recent years, agents linked guns from law enforcement agencies in Ferguson, MO, Tallahassee, FL and Cincinnati, OH to three crime scenes in Johnson City. None of the agencies could tell us if they’re still considered the owners of any of those guns or if they’ve reported any of them stolen, but also couldn’t rule out that possibility. Cincinnati PD, through a spokesperson, said it couldn’t find a record of an officer ever using the gun traced back to its agency.

New policy

Back in Elizabethton, the police department has since created a new policy to make sure guns are more secure. The agency hasn’t reported another stolen gun in the years since.

“In this case there was no malintent,” Chief Shaw said. “There was a policy change after that. It got around the department, ‘Hey, make sure you keep your weapons secured.'”

“Slim” appeal

As for “Slim,” his attorney said there’s no proof he’s the one who originally stole the gun or had any involvement in its theft. He’s now appealing his federal conviction, which is just the latest charge in a criminal history that includes a charge of assaulting police a dozen years ago, according to his TBI background check.

“We obviously disagree with the jury’s verdict,” attorney Eric Reach said. “In relation to your questions about the firearm being stolen from law enforcement, the proof presented at the Federal trial was that the firearm was allegedly stolen from law enforcement several years before Mr. Horton was accused of being in possession of it. No proof was brought forth at trial that Mr. Horton was the individual that stole the firearm or had any involvement in its’ taking.”

Agency
Type
Year
 
Discipline
Other Details
Chattanooga
Handgun
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Handgun
 
Missing
?
 
Chattanooga
Rifle
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Handgun
 
Missing
?
 
Chattanooga
Handgun
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Handgun
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Rifle
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Rifle
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Handgun
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Rifle
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Handgun
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Handgun
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Handgun
 
Stolen
?
 
Chattanooga
Rifle
 
Stolen
?
 
Davidson County Sheriff’s Office
Handgun
2012
Stolen
?
In vehicle
Davidson County Sheriff’s Office
Handgun
2014
Stolen
?
In vehicle
Davidson County Sheriff’s Office
Handgun
2015
Stolen
?
Home burglary
Elizabethton Police Department
Handgun
2010
Stolen
Yes
In vehicle, Found
FBI-Memphis
Handgun
2014
Stolen
?
 
FBI-Memphis
Rifle
2014
Stolen
?
 
Greene County Sheriff’s Office
Handgun
2010
Stolen
No
In vehicle
Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office
Handgun
2013
Stolen
No
In vehicle
Knoxville Police Department
Handgun
2017
Stolen
?
In vehicle (trunk)
Knoxville Police Department
Handgun
2016
Stolen
?
In vehicle
Knoxville Police Department
Shotgun
2012
Stolen
?
In vehicle (trunk), Found
Memphis PD
?
2015
Stolen
?
 
Memphis PD
?
2015
Stolen
?
 
Memphis PD
?
2016
Stolen
?
 
Memphis PD
?
2016
Stolen
?
 
Memphis PD
?
2016
Stolen
?
 
Memphis PD
?
2016
Stolen
?
 
Metro Nashville
Shotgun
2015
Stolen
?
In vehicle
Metro Nashville
Shotgun
2015
Missing
?
 
Metro Nashville
Shotgun
2016
Stolen
?
In vehicle, Found
Metro Nashville
Handgun
2015
Stolen
?
In vehicle
Metro Nashville
Shotgun
2013
Unknown
?
Found
Metro Nashville
Handgun
2013
Stolen
?
In vehicle, Found
Metro Nashville
Shotgun
2013
Stolen
?
In vehicle, Found
Metro Nashville
Shotgun
2012
Lost
?
Found
Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office
Handgun
2013
Stolen
Yes
In vehicle
Sumner County Sheriff’s Office
Shotgun
2010
Stolen
?
In vehicle, Found
TBI
Handgun
?
Stolen
Yes
?
TBI
Handgun
?
Stolen
Yes
?
TBI
Handgun
?
Stolen
Yes
?
TBI
Rifle
?
Stolen
Yes
?
TDOC
Handgun
2014
Stolen
 
In vehicle
Tennessee Parks Department
Handgun
2012
Stolen
Yes
In vehicle
THP
Handgun
2017
Stolen
No
In vehicle
THP
Handgun
2014
Stolen
Internal Investigation Opened
In vehicle
THP
Rifle
2013
Lost
Internal Investigation Opened
 
THP
Handgun
2016
Stolen
No
Home burglary
THP
Handgun
2012
Stolen
Internal Investigation Opened
Home burglary
THP
Handgun
2012
Stolen
Internal Investigation Opened
Home burglary
THP
Handgun
2012
Stolen
No
Home burglary
THP
Handgun
2017
Stolen
Internal Investigation Opened
In vehicle
THP
Handgun
2016
Stolen
No
Hotel burglary
THP
Handgun
2010
Stolen
Internal Investigation Opened
Home burglary
THP
Handgun
2014
Stolen
No
Home burglary
THP
Handgun
2013
Stolen
No
In vehicle
THP
Rifle
2013
Lost
Internal Investigation Opened
 
THP
?
2017
Stolen
?
In vehicle
THP
?
2017
Stolen
?
In vehicle
Tusculum Police Department
Handgun
2016
Stolen
No
In vehicle

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