Daily Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana)
BYLINE: Abbey Brown
The former Boyce Police chief was sentenced Wednesday to 33 months in a federal penitentiary for weapons charges.
Claude Williams, 52, received the sentencing from U.S. District Judge Dee Drell in Alexandria's federal court Wednesday afternoon. Drell also imposed three years of supervised release to be served after Williams completes his sentence, a $2,000 fine and 120 hours of community service, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Williams is to surrender for his sentence on May 18. He faced as many as 30 years in prison.
A federal jury unanimously convicted Williams in December of three counts of possessing unregistered firearms after a three-day trial. The charges were in connection with Williams illegally taking personal possession of illegal weapons seized by his police department. He was acquitted of two counts of making false statements to federal law enforcement agents, but Williams still faces state charges of malfeasance in office. The charges are scheduled to be heard in August.
The charges still to be heard are in connection with him reportedly failing to submit at least 117 felony arrest files to the Rapides Parish District Attorney's Office. The indictment also alleged that Williams altered, moved or removed substances believed to be drugs with the intent of distorting the results of investigations.
Williams retained his post as police chief even after his arrest and during the investigation until he was convicted in December. His abilities to carry a gun were limited after his arrest and suspended completely after his conviction.
A joint investigation by the FBI, ATF, Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office and District Attorney's Office led to a search warrant in September 2007 at the Boyce Police Department, at Williams' home and in his vehicle. Seized were an M-16 rifle from his home and a sawed-off rifle and sawed-off shotgun from his vehicle. The M-16 is considered a machine gun under federal law, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
All three of the guns originally were seized during criminal investigations by the Police Department, and all three are prohibited for personal use unless they are registered under federal law.
Williams' attorney, Larry English, said on Thursday he would be filing an appeal to the decision and sentence within the next few days, and that he and Williams are disappointed with the outcome of the trial and sentence. Williams, English said, is the first law enforcement officer to be convicted under this law and called it a case based on "technicalities."
"We believe the appellate court will overturn the conviction," English said. "... Claude Williams is one of the most spiritually rounded men full of character that I've ever met in my life. He's handling this as well as can be expected, and he is the kind of man who will take this experience and become a better person out of it."
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Cowles Jr. argued in his closing statements during the December trial that the case was about principles and that no man -- even a police chief -- is above the law. He stressed that the law is clear that if illegal weapons are taken from a police department's evidence room they "must be" properly registered. He referred to the weapons in Williams' case as "inherently dangerous."
Williams testified during the trial that he was unaware of the law requiring the guns be registered, and that his home and vehicle were extensions of the police department as he did official police work out of both. He also testified that the weapons were all being used for community outreach and educational programs and weren't in operational use.
English stressed both during his closing arguments and to the media after the trial's conclusion that hundreds of thousands of illegal weapons rest in the hands of law enforcement officers and that those weapons aren't registered.
English described the federal charges as a "witch hunt" against Williams, a man he said was a "hero" and model law enforcement officer. He said the charges will have a "chilling effect" on law enforcement officers.
But Donald Washington, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, said people in Williams' position are commissioned to enforce the laws and must be obedient themselves to those laws.
"Most law enforcement officers discharge their duties faithfully," Washington said. "This defendant officer ignored his oath and abused the trust that we place in commissioned officers. For that, he has become a convicted felon who must now endure a period of time in federal prison."
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