Durham police officers disciplined for using parts of seized weapons
Posted April 25, 2014
Durham, N.C. — Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said Friday that the department has disciplined several officers who took parts of weapons seized in criminal investigations and used them on their personal or department-issued weapons.
Seven employees of the Durham Police Department, including six sworn officers, were disciplined based on their degree of involvement and level of authority, Lopez said.
Capt. Kevin Cates was suspended for 80 hours, Lt. George Zeipekkis for 16 hours, Sgt. Nicholas Schneider for 24 hours, Sgt. Joseph Piatt for 40 hours, Officer Christopher Wiesemann for 24 hours and armorer Robert Rowley for 24 hours. Reserve Officer William Evans received a written reprimand and was suspended from off-duty work for one month.
In a written statement, Lopez said those involved mistakenly believed that, because seized weapons were being destroyed, they could use parts for personal or department-issued firearms.
"While the officers had a genuine belief that their actions were appropriate, that belief was mistaken," he wrote. "I expect better judgment from my officers, especially those in supervisory positions. All involved are otherwise excellent veteran officers and staff with no history of significant disciplinary issues. I expect this lack of judgment to be isolated."
The weapons came from several cases, and the court orders were issued early last year, according to Kammie Michael, a spokeswoman for the police department. About 2,100 guns were involved in the orders, and the officers took "only a very small number of the guns" for their own use, she said.
Lopez said the officers involved in the investigation, which started in March 2013 and wrapped up in February, brought back parts that they had removed.
Many law enforcement agencies used to dismantle and destroy seized firearms after they were no longer needed as evidence in a case, but a law enacted last year now prohibits them from destroying weapons unless they lack a serial number or are in poor working order. Other weapons must be kept for training, donated to a museum or sold to a federally licensed firearms dealer.
Deputy Paul Sherwin, a spokesman for the Durham County Sheriff's Office, said his agency has often sought court orders to maintain seized firearms or parts of them, such as laser sights, for training purposes.