Blue-Light Special

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

Donny Ray Mason apparently didn't get word. Five days after Chief Coffell warned him to watch his back, three shots were fired at Mason's house. Mason immediately charged that Munsch was behind the shooting. Coffell turned the case over to the county police, and within two days, the county cops had their man.

They took Mason into custody.

The three bullet holes in Mason's front door were fired from a distance of about 3 feet, a forensic examiner later testified. That's just about the spot where Mason said he was standing when the 'unknown shooter' sprayed his house with gunfire. In March 1998, Mason was convicted of filing a false police report and sentenced to a year's probation, fined $500 and ordered to perform 60 hours of community service.

"Overland was buying and selling guns.... So they were in the gun business. That's the bottom line." - Don Gault, former Overland police 

"Overland was buying and selling guns.... So they were in the gun business. That's the bottom line." - Don Gault, former Overland police


"Overland was buying and selling guns.... So they were in the gun business. That's the bottom line." -- Don Gault, former Overland police officer
Geoffrey Grahn
"Overland was buying and selling guns.... So they were in the gun business. That's the bottom line." -- Don Gault, former Overland police officer

By then, everything for Coffell and the city of Overland rested on the April 1998 election. Mark Brown and Denny Golden were candidates in a six-way race to succeed Munsch, who was retiring. So was Bob Dody, assistant public-works director and a former alderman. It was a bitter race, but with Munsch's backing, Dody won and candidates who were allied with Brown were defeated. (Brown lost his bid for reelection to the council last year.) The election gave the new mayor at least six votes on the eight-person council, and some folks in Overland took to calling the results "a clean sweep."

Three weeks after the election, Dody and the new council started sweeping up: Coffell was out, and 54-year-old Jim Herron, a longtime Overland cop who had left the department to do school security, was named the new chief.

Coffell claims he was blindsided. "Imagine your son coming home from school -- he just got named student of the year and he 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.'" Coffell, who says he was promised a job in the department if he wasn't reappointed as chief, was without a job for about five months and had to fight the city for unemployment benefits.

It's 45 minutes before the City Council meeting is set to start, and a half-dozen Overland residents already have turned out on a sweltering July evening to watch the show. Councilwoman Ann Purzner, re-elected in April after a two-year absence, chats with the audience before the meeting; a few minutes later, City Attorney Bob Herman regales her with a joke about a baby born with both male and female parts -- a penis and a brain. Bodine J. Brown, a retired police detective and Mark Brown's dad, mistakes a student doing a class project for a reporter. "If you're covering this, all you have to write is 'Yes.' That's all they say up there -- yes, yes, yes," he quips. Mayor Dody enters and makes a point of shaking everybody's hand before the meeting starts.

Overland City Council meetings are recorded and televised on public-access cable channels, but viewers don't get to see the public-comment period before the meeting. Nor do they get to hear what is arguably the best part -- the running commentary from the peanut gallery, the constant murmur about who's a crook and who's bending the truth. Of course, since Purzner -- an old Mark Brown ally -- returned to the council, the meetings seem to have livened up some. She's not afraid to mix it up. Tonight she criticizes the recently approved city budget; she upbraids Public Works Director Ron Sage for not drug-testing his drivers; she complains that the city isn't spraying some areas for mosquitos. Sage says that's just not true; Purzner replies: "I had a mosquito on my back door as big as a chicken last night."

Everything else is routine: City Clerk Linda Downs reports on new business licenses, Herman reads new ordinances, Sage offers yet another update of the Lackland Road resurfacing project.

Then it's Chief Herron's turn. After getting the council to approve the purchase of new police cruisers -- five Ford Crown Victorias, equipped with police packages ($20,055 each) -- the chief begs the council's indulgence and reads two testimonials from residents. One praises compassionate Overland officers for comforting her mother when her father died of a heart attack; a second letter is from a mother lauding diligent officers who found her missing child. The cops knocked and knocked on doors and finally found the kid at a neighbor's. Letters like this arrive all the time, the chief says: "It shows there's more to police work than enforcing the law and writing police reports."

Talking with the RFT about police work in Overland wasn't something the chief wanted to do, however. Herron didn't return several calls; after this council meeting, he turns down a request for an interview. His reason? "I don't want to talk to The Riverfront Times." As we pieced this story together, we asked the city and its police department for copies of public records, including invoices, lists of traded-in weapons and receipts for the gun sales. Unlike other police departments in the county, Overland didn't -- or couldn't -- provide that information; we had to rely on other sources. In response to our last request for gun-related records, Herron wrote: "To our knowledge there are no other reports within the Overland Police Department regarding this subject."

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