Seven Durham police employees disciplined for keeping gun parts

jwise@newsobserver.comApril 25, 2014 

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez press briefing Thursday, April 25, 2014 regarding a DPD internal investigation involving firearms. Harry Lynch, hlynch@newsobserver.com

THE NEWS & OBSERVER

  • Disciplined

    Seven officers were disciplined for violating department policy:

    • Capt. Kevin Cates: 80 hours suspended without pay

    • Lt. George Zeipekkis: 16 hours suspended without pay

    • Sgt. Nicholas Schneider: 24 hours suspended without pay

    • Sgt. Joseph Piatt: 40 hours suspended without pay

    • Officer Christopher Wiesemann: 24 hours suspended without pay

    • Robert Rowley, armorer: 24 hours suspended without pay

    • Reserve Officer William Evans: Written reprimand/suspension from off-duty work for one month

— Seven Durham Police Department employees, including six sworn officers, have been disciplined for keeping parts of confiscated firearms that had been ordered destroyed, Chief Jose Lopez said Friday.

None of the parts were sold, and police personnel never attempted to keep an entire firearm, Lopez said during a 10-minute press conference.

The employees kept the parts for use on their personal or department-issued guns, he said, and all those parts have been returned and destroyed.

Punishments included suspension from duty without pay for periods of 24 to 80 hours and one written reprimand, the severity depending on the employees’ “level of involvement or authority.”

It was handed down after an internal investigation that began when Lopez learned employees were taking parts from guns.

The incidents happened over two days in early 2013, according to police spokeswoman Kammie Michael, when employees were carrying out court orders issued Jan. 7 and Feb. 22. A total of 2,101 guns were destroyed as a result of the court orders, she said, with only “a very small number” involved in the investigation.

A state law that took effect last September forbids police from destroying usable firearms and requires that they be kept for law-enforcement purposes, donated to a museum or historical society or sold to holders of federal firearms licenses. Police may destroy firearms only if they are unsafe for use.

Lopez said that, before the law change, firearm destruction was standard procedure when the courts no longer needed the weapons or a legitimate owner could not be found. Court orders customarily allowed components to be retained for police department use, and police employees had presumed the order they were working under made the same provision. It did not, Lopez said.

“While the officers had a genuine belief that their actions were appropriate, that belief was mistaken and I expect better judgment from my officers,” he said.

“If they had looked at the court order they wouldn’t have been in the position they are in,” Lopez said.

Most of the weapons involved were handguns. According to Michael, Durham police confiscated 642 firearms in 2012, the latest year for which she had numbers.

Wise: 919-932-2004

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