Deputies allegedly stole guns from evidence, sold them

LAKE COUNTY - A former Lake County Sheriff's deputy is accused of illegally taking four guns out of evidence, unlawfully buying them from a crime witness and trying to sell at least one gun online.

William Berry and his Lake County Sheriff's office co-worker Sgt. Jeffrey Hartman are facing a number of charges in connection to the illegal-gun transaction, including theft, unlawful purchase of firearms and embezzlement of public property, among other charges.

Among the four guns allegedly taken out of evidence were two semi-automatic rifles, another rifle and a handgun.

Hartman had surrendered to law enforcement earlier in April and is out on bond.

The District Attorney for the 5th Judicial District Bruce Brown told 9NEWS investigators are negotiating Berry's surrender with his attorney.

"It's very upsetting when law enforcement is accused of committing crimes," Brown said. "Of course we look to police officers to protect us and almost always they do so successfully, but when that trust is violated it can be very harmful to our public psyche."

"I'm embarrassed that this happened with in my office," said Lake County Sheriff Rod Fenske.

According to Berry's arrest affidavit, Deputy Berry was on a domestic-violence assault call in August 2013. During that call, Berry seized four guns from the home. The defendant in the domestic violence case later pleaded guilty to three class one misdemeanors and was deported.

According to the arrest affidavit, Sgt. Hartman released the four guns connected to the investigation to Berry from the Lake County Sheriff's Office evidence room. Court documents indicate Berry forged the name on the evidence release form, naming the domestic violence victim as the recipient of the guns.

Court documents indicate Berry contacted the domestic violence victim and asked her if she would sell the weapons to him. The woman told investigators Deputy Berry gave her $500 for the four weapons.

"Individual owners can't just decide what to do with evidence," Brown said. "There are policies that must be followed, they were violated in this case. This is a situation where evidence was seized in connection with a criminal case and there has to be an orderly disposition of the evidence and when police officers don't follow established property to deal with firearms that just happened to be a part of the criminal case, they treat it as their own, they're going to be prosecuted for taking the public property."

Investigator found out about the missing guns from another person, who said he purchased a handgun on line from William Berry. The purchaser told investigators he'd bought the gun for $2,275, but never received it. The person had said he communicated with Berry via Berry's work email at the Lake County Sheriff's office.

During the course of their investigation, the District Attorney's office seized two weapons from Berry's home, one weapon from a gun shop in Woodland Park.

According to the arrest affidavit, investigators interviewed a sheriff's deputy whose name has been redacted from the court documents. The deputy told investigators he or she witnessed Berry and Hartman having dinner, when Berry "thanked Sgt. Hartman for helping him with the paperwork in the getting the weapons." Sgt. Hartman allegedly responded by thanking Berry for Berry giving him a rifle.

Investigators say all four weapons have been recovered. An audit of the evidence room has been performed and this kind of handling of evidence was an isolated incident, Brown told 9NEWS.

"There were established safe-keeping policies for evidence and those policies are only as good as the safe keepers are honest," Brown said. "In this case the safe keepers violated the public trust and that's why they're going to be prosecuted for the crimes."

According to Sheriff Rod Fenske, Berry worked for Lake County for about a year. He went to work for Teller County at the end of February.

Teller County told 9NEWS Berry was a deputy in training at the agency. He was fired April 9 after they learned about the felony charges from Lake County.

Hartman has worked for Lake County for three years. He is no longer employed by the sheriff's office.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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