By DIANA GRAETTINGER
Bangor Daily News
BANGOR, Maine — About 25 handguns are missing from the evidence room at the Washington County Sheriff's Department and it looks as if it may be an inside job.
The Attorney General's Office has been notified and an investigator is expected to be in Machias the first week in May.
Two of the weapons that had been in the evidence room can be traced to one person, Sheriff Donnie Smith said Wednesday. He did not elaborate. The sheriff said that if the investigation revealed that someone in his department was involved, they would be fired. "You're only as good as your people," he said. "They'll be history."
Smith said he notified the Washington County Commission about the theft on Friday.
In addition, Smith said that $450 was missing from the department's administrative office.
He notified the AG's office of the missing money earlier this year, but it declined to investigate. Smith said that he believes the money taken also was an inside job, but said he did not believe it was either of the two women who work in the office. He plans to bring up the issue of the missing money along with the missing handguns when the AG investigator arrives.
The department discovered the missing guns after an attorney sent a letter to Smith saying his client wanted his gun back. When officials looked for it, it was gone. That's when their investigation turned up other missing weapons.
Asked if it could be a problem of poor record keeping on the part of the former administration, Smith said he did not believe so. "It doesn't look like the case because if it was [it would be] just one or two guns. But that many [is different]," he said.
Guns are collected at a crime scene or confiscated from individuals. Often a car stop turns up a gun hidden under the seat or a gun is removed from a home during a domestic dispute.
If the gun's owner is neither charged nor found guilty, the gun is returned upon request.
Guns that are not reclaimed are traded on behalf of the department. "We can either trade it for ammunition or ... for guns for the department," he said.
The county could be sued. "We take possession of something we are responsible to return it," Smith said.
The new sheriff said he has instituted stricter standards for handling evidence. The only people in the department with keys are the sheriff, the chief deputy and the full-time deputies.
Smith went public because he said there would be no "coverups" in his department. Good or bad, he said, "the public has a right to know."
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© Copyright 2007 Boston Herald
25 handguns missing from Maine sheriff's office