The 5th Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced Monday, April 28, it plans to file charges against two former Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies for allegedly embezzling firearms from the agency’s evidence room.
The announcement came after warrants were issued for deputy William Berry, now of the Teller County Sheriff’s Office, and Sgt. Jeffery Hartman. The district attorney’s office plans to file formal charges against Berry, which likely would include unlawful purchase of firearms, theft and embezzlement of public property, all felonies, as well as unauthorized transfer of a firearm and first-degree official misconduct, both misdemeanors.
Hartman, who is a suspected accomplice, turned himself into authorities last week and likely faces theft, complicity with embezzlement of public property and first-degree official misconduct charges.
An advisement hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 17, in Lake County Court.
On Monday, 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown said his office launched an investigation into the alleged misconduct on April 8 after receiving a call from Lake County undersheriff Fernando Mendoza.
Mendoza suspected criminal activity after he received an email from a federal agent, who is not connected to the investigation, inquiring why he had not received his model .38 caliber super colt semi-automatic pistol, which he claimed to have purchased from Berry in February for $2,300, Brown said. The agent told Mendoza that Berry claimed the firearm was confiscated from a defendant who was in the country illegally.
Mendoza, who had no knowledge about the alleged sale, turned the investigation over to the district attorney’s office.
That investigation revealed the .38 caliber super colt, along with two Norinco SKS semi-automatic rifles and a Marlin .22 caliber rifle, had been signed out of the evidence room on Jan. 17 by a victim of a Lake County domestic violence case. An interview with the victim further revealed that although her signature appeared on the “release of evidence” form, she did not receive the firearms from the agency, nor had she ever actually seen the form.
Prior to their alleged removal from evidence, Berry approached the victim offering to buy the firearms for $500. Because they belonged to her partner who was recently deported, she agreed.
Hartman was implicated in the investigation by another witness who alleged the former sergeant, as one of two custodians of the evidence room, assisted Berry in signing out the firearms without the presence of the owner. The witness also alleged Hartman received one of the Norinco SKS rifles as a thank you.
“It is certainly disconcerting when cases of this matter come up, as we rely on our police officers to uphold the law and protect our communities from those who would participate in dishonest or dangerous activity,” Brown said in a news release. “It is for this reason, though, that we hold law enforcement officers to an even higher standard, and when they fail to meet that standard, there needs to be consequences.”