Misplaced Colt .45 heightens scrutiny of NPS’s gun history

By Kevin Bogardus | 04/06/2016 01:13 PM EDT

Investigators uncovered a misplaced firearm at a U.S. Park Police station on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia.

Investigators uncovered a misplaced firearm at a U.S. Park Police station on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia.

The weapon — a Colt Model IV .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun — was not properly secured by a Park Police officer in an evidence locker at the District 2 substation in McLean, Va., for several days in April 2014, violating agency policy and procedure, according to an investigative report by the Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General.

The report, obtained by Greenwire under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals a relatively minor infraction and also disproved allegations made against the officer that he had stolen the gun, which was confiscated during an arrest he made, for himself. Nevertheless, the officer did not log the weapon into an evidence locker but rather kept it in storage with the Park Police’s own weapons.


"We found that [redacted] violated USPP General Order 3211 when he did not properly secure [redacted] handgun between April 10 and 14," said the report, which has several redactions under FOIA’s exemptions for privacy and law enforcement purposes.

The report is another addition to the National Park Service’s troubled history with guns, as the Interior internal watchdog has uncovered several problems in the past with the agency’s firearms.

A January 2016 report by the inspector general found a park ranger at the Mojave National Preserve had bought Colt M4 fully automatic rifles as well as "flash-bang" distraction devices. The military-style arms were not in line with Park Service policy, leading the agency watchdog to recommend toughening oversight of its tactical law enforcement equipment (Greenwire, Jan. 15).

Mismanagement of guns appears to be an agencywide problem at NPS. In 2013, the IG released a report that blasted the agency for losing track of hundreds of handguns, rifles and shotguns (Greenwire, June 28, 2013).

In a memorandum to NPS Director Jon Jarvis, Deputy Interior IG Mary Kendall said the agency needed "immediate action" in improving management of its guns, with investigators exposing "fundamental errors in recordkeeping to glaring nonfeasance by senior command officers."

"We found credible evidence of conditions that would allow for theft and misuse of firearms, and the ability to conceal the fact if weapons were missing," Kendall said.

In response to that scathing report, Jeremy Barnum, an NPS spokesman, referred Greenwire to written testimony given by Interior to a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee in August 2013 in which the department said it had "taken immediate action to address the IG’s recommendations."

‘Lack of firearms accountability’

That IG report detailing vast mismanagement of NPS guns was cited in this case of the misplaced Colt .45, specifically by the lawyer whose client found his handgun seized by the Park Police.

The attorney, whose name is redacted in the investigative report obtained by Greenwire, said the Park Police refused to return his client’s handgun. The lawyer cited the agency’s "lack of firearms accountability," referencing the IG’s 2013 investigation, and concluded that the arresting officer might have taken the gun once it was no longer needed as evidence.

The officer took the Colt .45 during a March 23, 2014, arrest of the lawyer’s client and charged him with carrying a concealed weapon and possession of marijuana.

That individual later pleaded guilty to the marijuana charge but would see the weapons charge dismissed. In addition, under a judge’s order, the Park Police would release the client’s gun, which was retrieved in July of that year.

In an interview with investigators, the officer said he had removed the gun from an evidence locker on April 10, 2014, to have it test-fired. But instead of returning it to its rightful place, the officer left the gun in a weapons locker used to store Park Police guns. That is where it remained for days until the officer logged it back into the evidence locker after several reminders to do so from his supervisor.

"I know I should have logged it in Saturday night [April 12], but I just went out on the street. I was trying to make cases," the officer said.

The IG provided the investigative report to Jarvis "for any action deemed appropriate."

Barnum said "corrective action" had been taken against the officer.

"The United States Park Police has investigated the allegation against the identified employee and has taken corrective action. Based upon privacy rights afforded federal employees, the identity of the employee and the action taken are not being provided," said the NPS spokesman.

House watchdog questions Park Service guns

NPS’s mishandling of its firearms has now come under congressional scrutiny.

Last month, the Park Service was one of more than two dozen agencies to receive a letter from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) asking about lost and missing firearms.

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said in his letter to Jarvis that "over the past year, there have been a number of media reports detailing instances of lost or stolen firearms at various federal agencies."

Chaffetz noted that several agency inspectors general had uncovered problems in the federal government’s handling of its guns. He cited a 2012 Bureau of Justice Statistics report that found the Park Service had 1,951 officers authorized to carry firearms.

As he has done with other agencies, the Utah Republican asked for several documents from the Park Service to detail its firearm inventory, including any guns that have been lost or missing. Chaffetz gave the agency a deadline of 5 p.m. today to comply with his information request.

Barnum, the NPS spokesman, said "the National Park Service is working on responding to Representative Chaffetz’s request."