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Guns missing from Berkeley evidence sparks criminal probe

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Investigators in Berkeley County are following the trail of guns that should be locked up in the sheriff's evidence room but aren't.

The missing firearms were related to cases that date back to 2010 and earlier, so no current or pending cases are impacted.

But Sgt. B.F. Hall says the department needs to know how the weapons turned up at a gun store when there is no order of their disposal on file.

By law, the Secretary of State must issue an order authorizing police to dispose of weapons from evidence. Once the order is issued, Hall said the guns either can be destroyed or sold.

The discrepancy in Berkeley County was uncovered when a deputy realized a weapon associated with a case he'd worked "wasn't showing up on the evidence log and he was kind of wondering where it was."

Hall said a criminal investigation is in progress.

"Firearms were taken from the evidence room and may have been improperly disposed of," he said. "It's an ongoing investigation. I won't know until we see exactly what was disposed of, what was not, but there could be a felony charge — it all depends."

Hall said the investigation could take a month or more to wrap up, pointing out he's been in "constant communication" with the county prosecutor, Pamela Games-Neely.

He said improperly disposing of evidence is a serious offense, but he did not say who in particular, if anyone, is being looked at as part of an investigation. He did say the evidence custodian who had been in charge at that time "has resigned and has not been in the evidence room since 2010," Hall said. 

"There is a new evidence custodian," he said. "Actually, there are several new evidence custodians."

Hall also said the department had taken steps to tighten security even before the guns came up missing:

 

  • During the past four years he said the sheriff's department had implemented a computerized evidence tracking system, and will be switching to yet another software program when the department occupies its new location on South Raleigh Street. The move is in progress, he said.
  • Sheriff Kenny Lemaster also instituted a change in department policy: Going forward, Hall said when weapons are no longer needed in evidence they'll be destroyed, not sold.

 

"This incident is not a failure of any security system or anything to do with policies," Hall added. "Evidence custodians are appointed by the sheriff. It's a matter of trust — it's more a violation of trust than a failure of policies or a failure of the security system in place."