1 TPD officer suspended 3 weeks; no action taken in some cases
Told by informants that one of their own was targeted for execution, police searched seven months for Ryan “Rhino” Heidrich, the man said to be plotting the slaying.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested him Sept. 24, 2007, in the Pima County Jail parking lot.
Heidrich had with him a puppy, a mask, gloves, a sawed-off shotgun and an assault rifle from the Tucson Police Department’s SWAT team, according to police records.
He was turned over to federal authorities and later released. In May, Heidrich was arrested again and charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, a charge that later was dropped with the caveat that it could be refiled later. His goal, police informants said, was killing an officer with a police-owned gun.
It’s not known how Heidrich got a fully automatic M-16. Tucson police were reluctant to talk about the department’s weapons management or about weapons that may have fallen into the hands of criminals.
According to department records, nine other police guns were stolen from vehicles or homes between 2002 and August 2008.
The department released those records after a three-month delay and it refused to provide an accounting of all police weapons, citing concerns for officer safety.
From the available information, it was impossible, in most cases, to determine which gun ended up in whose hands or whether specialized weapons such as flashbang grenades and assault weapons had been lost or stolen.
No federal or state agency keeps records of stolen or lost police guns or regulates police weapons security, so it is unclear how TPD’s track record compares to other law enforcement agencies’.
The Mesa Police Department, about the size of TPD, has lost four handguns to theft since 2002, spokesman Detective Steve Berry said. Mesa police also declined to discuss specialized weapons.
Despite the lack of available statistics, anecdotal evidence suggests lost and stolen police guns are not rare. A Google search for “police gun stolen” turns up more than 300,000 Web pages, with some references to news releases sent by police departments to inform the public that a police gun had been taken.
Surprise Police Chief Daniel Hughes spoke publicly about the theft of his service weapon after it was taken in July from his gym locker. This year, another Surprise officer’s gun was taken from his car in front of his home, said Sgt. Mark Ortega, an SPD spokesman.
Tucson police Assistant Chief Roberto Villaseñor said Tucson’s situation is not exceptional.
“We haven’t felt we’ve had a huge rash of these things,” he said. “When you have over 1,000 guns out there in homes and vehicles, there’s a risk that some will get stolen.”
There are about 1,100 Tucson Police officers.
Even the department’s strict security policies – requiring locked trunks and secure home storage – will not stop the thefts, Villaseñor said.
“You have some very dedicated thieves out there,” he said, citing a recent example of a gun theft in which the gun safe was stolen.
While Villaseñor acknowledged that police are occasionally targeted for crimes, he said thefts of police guns follow the trends of other thefts. Generally speaking, that means drugs.
“In our neck of the woods, almost every case wraps around to a nexus of drugs,” Villaseñor said. “A gun is a gun.”
The Tucson Citizen assembled the following accounts of the stolen weapons from police records. Some officers were disciplined for the losses, others were not, including some cases in which TPD apparently did not conduct an internal affairs investigation.
• The rifle found in Heidrich’s pickup was assigned to Officer Pete Buchanan, whose pickup was broken into in his driveway, with no signs of forced entry, on Sept. 21, 2007.
Buchanan realized that his loaded M-16 assault rifle, ammunition, two tactical knives, a sight and a TPD cell phone were stolen when he was loading SWAT equipment into his patrol car the next day.
Authorities seized the rifle three days later while arresting Heidrich, who was accused of plotting with Ignacio Rimer to kill former TPD Officer Doug Marcotte with a police-owned gun in retaliation for the arrest of a woman associated with Rimer.
Rimer and Howard McMonigal were recently convicted for a slew of crimes including running a “criminal organization” to distribute methamphetamine. Heidrich also had a history of meth use.
The fingerprints on the gun were not Heidrich’s, but fingerprints on the truck matched those of Jonathon Marshall Hughes, 28, another known meth user who escaped from jail in August 2007. Hughes is now in prison on separate weapons and assault charges. Heidrich is in federal prison for weapons violations.
Buchanan was forced to take 120 hours unpaid leave and was taken off the SWAT detail.
• Detective Lisa Lopez-Haley’s unmarked police car was stolen from her driveway and set on fire Sept. 1.
Investigators found that her gun, two magazines of ammunition, a department radio and nylon equipment holders were taken from the car’s trunk before it was torched.
Lopez-Haley was issued a written reprimand because internal affairs investigators found the theft preventable. She was not to have left the gun in the trunk.
No one has been arrested.
• On April 28, 2008, off-duty TPD Sgt. Ronald Thompson went to Park Place mall for a noontime movie, leaving his bag of work tools, including his gun, on the floor of his pickup.
After the movie, he realized his bag was gone. He drove home, hoping he had left it there.
Thompson called police, reporting that he had lost his work cell phone, handgun, call-out rosters, phone numbers, radio, ID and keys, including to his TPD-issued car.
Investigating officers found the driver’s door lock bent and the door’s handle loose. They also found fingerprints, but no matches turned up.
Thompson’s maps, glasses and some TPD documents were found with a stolen wallet near Seventh Street and Leonora Avenue a month later.
Internal affairs investigators found the theft preventable and suspended Thompson for 20 hours.
No one has been arrested.
• Officer John Murphy’s pickup wouldn’t start when he got in to go to work Nov. 28, 2007.
To work under the hood, he took off his gun belt, putting it in the back seat.
Murphy took the battery out and brought it to an auto shop, locking the car with a remote key.
But with the battery removed, the truck didn’t lock. When he returned home, his gun was gone.
Murphy was given a 30-hour suspension because the theft was deemed preventable.
On July 30, 2008, the gun was seized during an arrest stemming from a traffic stop at East 32nd Street and South Van Buren Avenue.
Police refused to disclose the name of the person in possession of the weapon.
Officers who weren’t disciplined:
• On May 15, 2005, the home of an officer vacationing in New Zealand for a month was burglarized. His 20-year-old daughter was housesitting.
Before the officer left, he locked his gun and work gear in a bag in his pickup and locked the keys inside.
When he got back, the daughter said she had invited her boyfriend and his cousin, Kurt Venos, 22, to visit.
She said Venos stole the police gear, was coaxed to put it back, then broke in and stole it again the same night.
On June 3, Venos was arrested after being pulled over for speeding and found to have a throwing star, which he was prohibited from possessing because of a past felony conviction.
He admitted to the daughter’s story, as well as to a slew of burglaries and car thefts in Marana and in the area around Mountain View High School.
He said he traded the gun for $100 worth of meth.
Venos pleaded guilty to a burglary charge and spent 90 days in jail followed by three years of probation, court records show.
Internal affairs investigators found the officer had done all he could to prevent the theft. He was not disciplined, and police refused to name him for that reason.
• On Aug. 12, 2005, three officers went to lunch at Gus & Andy’s Steak House, 2000 N. Oracle Road, and while they were eating, were told a car had been stolen outside.
The car was the work vehicle of one of the officers, who had left his TPD and Counter-Narcotics Alliance IDs in the door pocket, TPD radio under the driver’s seat and bullet-resistant vest, gun and ammunition in the trunk.
The car was found the next day in a parking lot near North 14th Avenue and Rillito Street, with a cracked steering column and the radio ripped out. The IDs and police radio were inside, but the gun and vest were gone.
The theft was deemed non-preventable, and the officer was not disciplined. For that reason, he also was not named.
• On June 27, 2005, a TPD detective with the Crimes Against Children Unit told Pima County Sheriff’s Department deputies that her unmarked take-home car had been broken into.
Taken from it were a handgun, more than 100 rounds of ammunition, a bullet-resistant vest, an expandable baton, pepper spray, handcuffs, a riot helmet, a gas mask and other police gear.
Neighbors found some of the stolen goods scattered around the neighborhood. Some was found in the desert.
On Aug. 1, 2005, Jesse James Cilano, 26, was taken to the Pima County Jail after his probation officer found a bag containing the vest and other stolen goods.
In an interview with deputies, Cilano described a chain of purchases and gifts of the stolen goods, mostly among teenagers.
Some of the officer’s equipment was found under the mattress of Torey Reinhardt, 21.
Two juveniles, who were not named, were arrested and charged with larceny from a motor vehicle after it was revealed that the friends had walked around the foothills neighborhood checking for unlocked car doors.
After unrelated convictions on weapons misconduct, aggravated assault and disorderly conduct charges, Cilano was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2006.
Reinhardt, who also admitted to using meth, pleaded guilty to controlling stolen property and was sentenced to three years of probation.
Police did not conduct an internal affairs investigation.
• On Sept. 16, 2005, a car with city government plates was found on fire in the 900 block of South Verdugo Avenue.
A police badge, uniform and paperwork were found in the trunk.
The officer, whose name was redacted from the police report, said the car had been locked in front of her house.
DNA from a cigarette butt was matched to a man in 2008, but he claimed to have no knowledge of the burned car, and prosecutors decided against trying the case.
Police did not conduct an internal affairs investigation.
• On Sept. 20, 2005, an officer’s locked garage side door was pried open, and his police gear was stolen from the pickup inside.
Gone were a police handgun, a shotgun, two pairs of handcuffs, specialized ammunition, pepper spray, a bullet-resistant vest, a collapsible baton and a police pager, among other items.
The officer had decided to keep the gear in the truck because his house was for sale, so investigators found he had taken proper precautions.
The officer was not disciplined, and his name was not released.
• On Aug. 19, 2007, a TPD officer reported to Pima County Sheriff’s Department deputies that his pickup was broken into and that his gun, ammunition, bullet-resistant vest and baton were stolen.
Several other cars in the foothills neighborhood had been broken into the night before.
Police did not conduct an internal affairs investigation.
INSIDE THE ARMORY*
9 have been stolen
41 are in evidence
96 are in reserve
* As of Aug. 8
SWAT, whose weapons are not tracked by the armory, has:*
81 .40 caliber handguns
47 .56 mm rifles
An unspecified number of other weapons
TPD would not reveal the status of these weapons because of concerns for officers’ safety.
* As of Dec. 6
Source: Tucson Police Department
TPD REGULATIONS FOR POLICE EQUIPMENT
General Order 1330.24 Prohibited Uses of Property
Members shall not damage, abuse or lose any department property entrusted to them. Some items are so sensitive that their loss or theft poses serious risk to the community. Items such as firearms require a greater degree of care. Officers shall evaluate what arrangements best ensures the safety of the community under the given circumstances.
General Order 1415.2 Off Duty Officers
Except when engaged in sports or activities that would make it impractical or socially unacceptable, or when outside the City of Tucson, officers shall carry the following:
• Authorized firearm and ammunition
• Department identification card
• Arizona driver’s license
General Order 1432 Security of Department Uniform Items and Equipment
Members are responsible for the security of uniform equipment including items of clothing, helmet, 8-point hat with badge, leather, and firearm. These items fit into lockers and, if left at a police facility, are considered secured only in a locked locker. All other Department issued equipment (i.e., manuals, batons, etc.) assigned to a member shall be considered secure in those areas of the Department that have restricted access, that is, access by key only. Items lost from these areas will be replaced by the Department provided there was not a violation of General Orders reference the care and handling of Department property. These policies relate only to Department equipment kept at a police facility and shall not be viewed as limiting the member’s prerogative to secure equipment at his or her residence. The standard of due care and caution in the handling of such equipment shall remain in effect.
1432.2 Loss of Uniform or Equipment
If a member fails to exercise reasonable care and caution to safeguard Department firearms or equipment specifically identifiable as the property of the Tucson Police Department (e.g., badge, identification card, etc.), the member may be subject to discipline. If the lost item, other than a firearm, is not identifiable as a police item, the member responsible for the loss will not generally be subject to discipline, although reimbursement may be required (See General Orders 1432.3.)