GCSO wants to reunite weapons with lawful owners

Burglary and other victims would come in seeking their property and would have to be told it couldn't be found

November 5, 2020

The Greenlee County Sheriff's Office needs your help.

The GCSO has more than 300 firearms in evidence lockers that need to be returned to their rightful owners, but the agency doesn't have a list of gun owners to tie the guns too.

When he took office in January 2017, the GCSO had five evidence lockers that were a mess, said Sheriff Tim Sumner.

Evidence seized as a result of criminal investigations was stockpiled everywhere and was often mislabeled, improperly logged in or moved without being documented, Sumner said. Some logs simply couldn't be found.

Guns, drugs and money were improperly co-mingled in the same lockers, too, he said.

Burglary and other victims would come in seeking their property and would have to be told it couldn't be found, he said.

And while no court cases had to be dismissed, there were times when it "came down to the wire" before evidence was found, Sumner said.

He became determined to get the situation rectified.

"I strongly believe we should not be re-victimizing victims," Sumner said. "The evidence lockers should be more like a revolving door than a blackhole."

Because he wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety, Sumner said he asked the Arizona Department of Public Safety to conduct an audit on the evidence lockers.

He then obtained the Board of Supervisors' approval to hire the office's first-ever evidence custodian

Over the last couple of years, the evidence custodian, Loni Penry, and others have been working to condense the evidence lockers from five to two, Sumner said. They've organized the lockers and destroyed what evidence they could under the law.

A deep freeze that hadn't been opened in 15 years was even cleaned out, he said.

When all was said and done, Sumner said they discovered they had well over 300 weapons, but no way to return them because of the missing logs.

As a result, Sumner said he is asking everyone who thinks they might have a weapon at the sheriff's office to contact Penry.

The hope is they'll be able to reunite weapons with owners who can verify they are the rightful owners through pictures, serial numbers and some sort of documentation, Sumner said.

Those guns that aren't tied to an owner will eventually be traded for other firearms or ammunition with a license dealer, Sumner said. The office isn't allowed to sell or auction them.

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