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Seized guns sold to buy police cruiser, says Newton County sheriff

"I read this law. I thought I was in the right".

June 4, 2022

Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler said he thought he was following state law when he sold 103 seized guns to a Kansas gun dealer for $12,150 and had him cut a check to the Harrison Toyota dealer so the sheriff's office could buy a vehicle.

"I read this law. I thought I was in the right. And apparently I wasn't," Wheeler said Friday morning during a meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Joint Auditing Committee in Little Rock.

Sections ADVERTISEMENTSeized guns sold to buy police cruiser, says Newton County sheriffLaw required seized arms' auction, panel tells lawman by Bill Bowden | June 4, 2022 at 9:30 a.m.Follow Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler answers questions during a meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Joint Auditing Committee at the state Capitol Friday, June 3, 2022. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler said he thought he was following state law when he sold 103 seized guns to a Kansas gun dealer for $12,150 and had him cut a check to the Harrison Toyota dealer so the sheriff's office could buy a vehicle.

"I read this law. I thought I was in the right. And apparently I wasn't," Wheeler said Friday morning during a meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Joint Auditing Committee in Little Rock.

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Wheeler was subpoenaed to attend Friday's meeting after declining to attend four previous meetings when invited. Wheeler told the committee he didn't attend the previous meetings on advice of legal counsel.

Regarding the gun sale, which took place in June 2019, Wheeler cited Arkansas Code Annotated 5-73-130(p)(1), which reads, "The law enforcement agency to which a firearm is forfeited may trade the firearm to a federally licensed firearms dealer for credit toward future purchases by the law enforcement agency."

Frank Arey, staff attorney for Arkansas Legislative Audit staff, told the committee the section of law Wheeler quoted didn't become effective until about six weeks after the sheriff sold the guns.

"As we read the law, and as secondary authority we found reads the law, it applies to forfeitures involving juveniles," said Arey. "Of course, without any court orders, and without background records, we don't know if these guns involved juveniles. And there are other procedures in the law that were not followed. So we have a little bit of an issue with that law applying, quite apart from the effective date being after the date of the sale."

According to Legislative Audit's report on Newton County, unclaimed seized property is to be sold at public auction as required by Arkansas Code Annotated 5-5-101, and the proceeds are to be remitted to the county treasurer as required by Arkansas Code Annotated 14-14-1313.

"The vehicle purchase was not budgeted by the Quorum Court, approved by the County Judge, and paid by the County Treasurer, as required by Ark. Code Ann. 14-20-103, 14-14-1102, and 14-24-204," according to the report. "Documentation of the origin could not be provided for 61 firearms sold, and authorization of disposal was not available for 83 of the firearms sold."

When asked why he didn't sell the guns at a public auction, Wheeler told the committee, "I thought I was within my rights to do this. Apparently, I wasn't, and I apologize for that. However, the reasoning behind not having an auction, when I thought this was legal and applicable, was because of the man hours and stuff involved in an auction. An agency my size, it's just almost impossible to do."

Kevin Thomas, the evidence custodian at the Newton County sheriff's office, testified alongside Wheeler. Thomas said some of the guns had been at the sheriff's office since the 1980s.

Thomas told the committee that a judge had signed a disposal order for the firearms that they could identify by case numbers.

"But you didn't have a disposal order for the ones you didn't have case files on?" said Rep. Mark Berry, R-Ozark.

"You are correct, but you have to understand the circumstances," said Thomas. "We have a very small evidence room."

"Well, excuse me, I go by what the law says," said Berry, cutting Thomas off. "The law says you have to have an order signed by the judge. Let me go on to another question so we can save a little bit of time. Why were the 103 guns not sold at auction as required by law and instead sold to a private party?"

"I was operating under the impression under 5-73-130 part (p)(1) that we could sell them to a federal firearms dealer and then apply that as credit toward toward the purchase of law enforcement equipment," said Wheeler.

"But it doesn't allow you to sell undocumented guns to a federal firearms dealer, does it?" asked Berry.

"No," said Wheeler.

He said the sheriff's office has updated its computer system and evidence tracking system to ensure that this doesn't happen in the future.

"There just was no paper trail for those guns," said Wheeler.

After the meeting, Wheeler said money from the guns was used to purchase a 2012 Chevy Tahoe police cruiser that had been traded in.

In Friday's meeting, auditors also noted that the county judge's office in Newton County had paid a total of $132,752 to two vendors to blast and crush rock at a quarry owned by a private individual, whom the county paid $9,740 for the purchase of the rock. There was no contract for quarry use or for gravel storage on the individual's property.

The county was unable to monitor access to the gravel or maintain a record of inventory. And competitive bids were not solicited for the rock blasting and crushing, according to the report.

As required by state law, Legislative Audit notified Prosecuting Attorney David Ethredge in November about the audit results concerning the sheriff and county judge.

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Seized guns sold to buy police cruiser, says Newton County sheriff

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