Blue-Light Special

When it came to guns, the Overland cops weren't just playing around

This is what they uncovered:

· Records showing that 16 of the 339 evidence guns that a county judge ordered destroyed in November 1994 were instead donated by Chief Williams to the Missouri Department of Conservation's hunter-education program. Two shotguns, also from the once-bulging evidence locker, showed up the next year in Overland police vehicles. Records appeared to show that the department misled the judge about those guns.

· Evidence that computer records -- records that fell under Kessler's charge -- may have been falsified to reflect compensatory time earned by the chief.

"I think somebody was trying to push it too hard, just because of hatred. These people -- there are a few of them -- with this hatred, they'll do anything to anybody at any time." -- Frank Munsch, former Overland mayor
Geoffrey Grahn
"I think somebody was trying to push it too hard, just because of hatred. These people -- there are a few of them -- with this hatred, they'll do anything to anybody at any time." -- Frank Munsch, former Overland mayor
Former Overland Police Chief Russell Coffell:  "Imagine your son or daughter coming home from school -- they just got named student of the year and they got a straight-A report card (and) the next day, you get called to the principal's office and they say, ¨We don't want him here; he's gone.'"
Jennifer Silverberg
Former Overland Police Chief Russell Coffell: "Imagine your son or daughter coming home from school -- they just got named student of the year and they got a straight-A report card (and) the next day, you get called to the principal's office and they say, ¨We don't want him here; he's gone.'"

· Records of gun purchases, including information that the department was buying guns, at a discount, for friends and officials, including the mayor. A key file of department gun sales, however, was missing.

Gault also located records showing that Wilhoit inspected and serviced one of Chief Williams' personal revolvers in 1992; the serial number on the gun matched a city-owned gun supposedly destroyed in 1985. Another record showed that the department actually owned a World War II-vintage M-1 carbine that Williams had claimed as his own. Williams surrendered the two weapons after he was shown the documents. The records, Gault wrote, "typify the handling of firearms by the Overland Police Department."

In short, Brown and Gault found that the city was either buying guns that were ending up in private hands or was working with a gang that couldn't keep records straight.

On Feb. 26, 1996, the pair turned their findings over to the St. Louis County Police; a copy of the files was also provided to the FBI.

Mayor Munsch suggests that the internal investigation was getting out of control and that he directed that the county take charge. "As mayor, I finally turned this over to St. Louis County.... I think somebody was trying to push it too hard, just because of hatred." According to Munsch, "a couple bad apples" in the department were trying to "set up" Chief Williams.

But Gault says Munsch never wanted the investigation to go outside Overland. "He didn't want it to go to the FBI. He didn't want it to go to St. Louis County," Gault says. "We told 'em it had to go outside of Overland. The scope of it got to the point where somebody else needed to do something else with it."

By the time his officers turned the investigation over to county police and the FBI, Eddy Williams decided he'd had enough. In January 1996, with two years left in his term, the 50-year-old chief told the mayor he was retiring; he formally advised the city's Board of Aldermen on Feb. 12 that he was done. Asked at the time for an explanation, Williams told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "I have some other business opportunities coming my way, and I need to get everything in order."

Eddy Williams, by some accounts, started as a strong and popular chief, pushing for and getting better pay and benefits for officers. And he was determined to equip his cops with the very best -- the best handguns, plenty of ammunition and even heavy-duty firepower.

In 1985, three years after taking office, Williams approved the purchase of about 50 new Smith & Wesson .357 Magnums. The revolvers were standard police guns -- in the 1980s, more than 100,000 police officers across the country were equipped with Smith & Wesson sidearms. The Massachusetts-based company had long dominated law-enforcement sales, but by the late 1980s, it was losing ground to other manufacturers, including Austria's Glock GmbH, which produced popular semiautomatic pistols.

Glock and Overland began their courtship in late 1989, when Chief Williams approved the purchase of 66 Glock Model 19s. The 9mm semiautomatic came equipped with 17-round magazines. The five-year-old Smith & Wesson service revolvers were put up for sale in early 1990; about 30 police officers bought the guns for personal use. The rest were sold to city officials and others; several, according to records, ended up being purchased by Wilhoit. Former Chief Poeschel recalled paying about $300 to buy two.

When the department bought its first Glocks in late 1989, police officers weren't the only ones who benefited from the deal. At least a dozen of the brand-new Glocks ended up in private hands. Among the buyers were Chief Williams, Mayor Munsch, Public Works Director Charles Karam, Ald. Denny Golden and Mark Brown, and the co-owner of a local sporting-goods store. A record obtained by the RFT shows that those individuals each paid the department $326 per gun -- the same amount the city had paid. Because the guns were sold to a law-enforcement agency, the sale was exempt from the 10 percent federal excise tax. That savings -- and the volume discount the police department may have received -- was passed along to the individual buyers.

This was not Overland's last transaction with Glock, however.

Within a year-and-a-half, Eddy Williams approved the purchase of 23 new Glock Model 22s -- a .40-caliber semiautomatic equipped with a 15-round magazine. The department -- in another tax-exempt transaction -- paid $6,926 for the guns. Again the guns were resold, for $298 each. It was a good deal for the buyers: Even today, the Glock Model 22 is a popular handgun, priced at more than $500 retail. Mayor Munsch and Karam, the public-works director, again were buyers. So was Williams. Mark Brown, the alderman and owner of Mark's Quick Printing on Page Avenue, was also a buyer. At the time, Brown was a reserve deputy with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department, and he was instrumental in lining up the resale of Overland guns to several others on the rural department's payroll, including his friend Sheriff John Whyte.

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