Author Topic: Cops buy machine guns illegally, not being prosecuted  (Read 2086 times)

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Cops buy machine guns illegally, not being prosecuted
« on: October 19, 2007, 01:02:41 am »

Cop union aims to shield officers
Albany police file motion to keep secret names of those tied to gun deals

By BRENDAN J. LYONS, Senior writer
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First published: Wednesday, October 17, 2007

ALBANY -- The Albany Police Officers Union wants to keep secret the names of any officers who illicitly purchased machine guns through the department years ago.

The union served papers Tuesday seeking to intervene in a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the Times Union, which is asking a judge to order the city to release the records.

The scandal was first exposed in an Aug. 26 Times Union story which reported that dozens of officers, as well as an assistant chief and at least one Albany County prosecutor, had used the department to illegally buy the federally regulated guns at tax-exempt, discount prices. They claimed the guns were for "official duties only" and subsequently registered them to the department, records obtained by the Times Union show.

In the wake of that report, Chief James W. Tuffey said the fully automatic guns were never deployed on the street and that many of the officers who got them were simply gun enthusiasts who used the department to illicitly obtain the automatic weapons.

Still, the city has gone to court to fight the newspaper's FOIL request, which was filed in February 2006.

Meanwhile, the police officers union, which represents more than 200 officers and detectives, is arguing that the identities of officers who bought the guns should be kept private. The union is invoking a section of state civil service law that prevents disclosure of an individual police officer's personnel records, if those records are used to evaluate the performance of an officer toward continued employment and promotion.

"To the extent that the documents reflecting possession of the weapons pertain to potential misconduct or rules violations, the disclosure of the identities of the officers ... would expose the (union's) members to the use of this information to degrade, harass, embarrass, or impeach the integrity of the officers," the officers' motion states.

In Oregon, Texas and Michigan, police officers and two prosecutors have been charged with federal firearms and tax evasion crimes for buying guns through their departments in a similar manner.

City attorneys and Tuffey declined comment on the union's motion to intervene in the newspaper's case. The union's attorney, Matthew Ryan, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Lt. Timothy Close, president of the Albany Police Supervisors Association, which represents 52 sergeants and lieutenants, said he is not certain any of his members purchased the weapons. He said the supervisors union is not considering getting involved in the lawsuit.

In denying access to the records last year, the city wrote: "Disclosing the weapons that are used by the police force in fighting crime in the City of Albany could endanger the life of the officers using them against criminals."

But that assertion has since proven to be false, according to statements made two weeks ago by Tuffey.

"There was no policy to use those weapons," Tuffey told members of the city Common Council's Public Safety committee. "None of those weapons were ever used in the official (line of duty)."

Public Safety Committee members said the chief made statements that led them to believe all of the guns had been recovered and destroyed. The Times Union subsequently reported that several of the machine guns, which were purchased in the early 1990s and are still registered to the department, are missing.
The Common Council has been silent on the newspaper's report about the missing machine guns.

Most of the weapons were found to be missing from the department's gun armory when the purchases were discovered during an unrelated federal criminal investigation of a Colonie gun store in late 2002.

Federal agents found one of the guns illegally listed for sale on the shelf of a Colonie gun store, B&J Guns, which was not authorized to sell automatic weapons. Another machine gun, also still registered to the force, was later recovered at a gun store in Texas.

The guns, because they were registered to the police force, could not be transferred or sold without authorization from the Justice Department, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the case.

Mayor Jerry Jennings has not responded to requests for comment.

The U.S. attorney's office declined to take action on the Albany gun purchases. Federal prosecutors in Albany were briefed about the matter four years ago by the ATF, sources in the investigation said.