TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES (KRQE) - In the summer of 2010, the Truth or Consequences Police Department was hurting for funds.
So Chief Patrick Gallagher had one of his lieutenants round up all the guns in the department's evidence room that had been used in suicides, dropped off over the years for safekeeping or were no longer needed for criminal prosecutions, and sold them to the public at an auction in Las Cruces.
And that would have been perfectly legal had Gallagher followed state law. But he didn't.
In fact, the chief and his department completely ignored all three things they were supposed to do under New Mexico law before selling the weapons.
Gallagher said that if he made mistakes with the auction, he will make sure to toe the legal line if the department decides to sell off guns again.
"This auction was not conducted with any malicious or nefarious intent in mind," Gallagher said in a news release. "If we become aware of any errors or mistakes made in the process they will be rectified."
Sources told News 13 that Attorney General Gary King's office has launched an investigation into T or C's gun auction, though a spokesperson refused to confirm or deny the inquiry.
State law says that in order to dispose of or destroy weapons, law enforcement agencies must first advertise to try and find the original owners. Then the agency has to contact a representative of the state museums, who must be allowed to inspect the guns for any historical value. Finally, the department must obtain an order from a District Court judge authorizing the disposal.
Gallagher admitted he didn't do any of those things before sending 87 handguns, rifles, assault rifles and shotguns to an auctioneer in Las Cruces. A group of registered gun dealers and gun aficionados cleared by law enforcement bought the weapons June 26, 2010 at an auction in Las Cruces, according to documents obtained by News 13.
Less than a month later, T or C police received a check for $10, 451 from auctioneer Charles Dickerson for the guns, according to the documents.
In addition to admitting he didn't follow the law, Gallagher told News 13 he wasn't concerned about putting more guns back on the streets of New Mexico.
And he's not alone.
The Dona Ana County Sheriff's Office regularly sells evidence room guns at auction, according to a spokesperson. However, the agency follows the parameters set out in state law before selling the guns, she said.
But police chiefs in the state's three largest cities told News 13 they are concerned about selling evidence room guns to the public. In fact, departments in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces follow policies calling for the destruction of weapons that are no longer needed.
APD went so far as to buy a specially-designed gun-muncher a few years ago that slices the weapons in half, rendering them forever inoperable.
"I think it's the last thing anybody would want is to have a firearm that was in our possession that somehow got sold and then somehow ended up in the wrong person's hands and then was used in a crime," said Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz.
Schultz said APD stopped selling weapons from the evidence room to the public more than 30 years ago.
"If they can be destroyed, let's destroy it because, unfortunately, there's many, many more out there in the wrong hands," he said. "It's not worth taking the chance and we don't need the money that bad."
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