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7 disciplined in Durham police firearms investigation

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DURHAM, N.C. -

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez on Friday discussed an internal investigation involving department employees, including some officers, retaining parts of surrendered firearms for personal and professional use.

Lopez said he had learned that some of his department staff had been dismantling firearms based on a court order to destroy them and retaining some of the parts for personal and professional use.

Lopez said once he was made aware of the situation, the practice was stopped and all the retained parts were returned and destroyed based on the court order.

A police spokeswoman said the incidents happened in early 2013.

The Durham Police Department and the Durham Sheriff’s Office typically transport surrendered firearms to a facility to be disassembled and destroyed. A spokesman for the Sheriff's Office said their deputies accompany police about once a year to destroy firearms.

Lopez said that some employees incorrectly presumed that since the weapons were going to be destroyed anyway, department employees were allowed to retain some of the parts as replacement parts to make repairs on their personal or department-issued weapon.

Lopez made it clear that only parts of the weapons were taken and not full firearms.

Eleven department employees were investigated following in the incident, seven of whom were disciplined because they violated department policies and procedures. Details about how they were disciplined has not been released as of Friday morning.

Lopez said all of the employees involved are excellent veteran officers and staff with no significant disciplinary issues.

The employees involved were:

  • Capt. Kevin Cates – 80 hours Suspended
  • Lt. George Zeipekkis – 16 hours Suspended
  • Sgt. Nicholas Schneider – 24 hours Suspended
  • Sgt. Joseph Piatt – 40 hours Suspended
  • Officer Christopher Wiesemann – 24 hours Suspended
  • Reserve Officer William Evans – written reprimand/suspension from off duty work for one month
  • Robert Rowley, Armorer – 24 hours Suspended

The Durham Police have no evidence that any of the parts of the guns weresold. The officers who still had the parts returned them to the department.

A spokeswoman for Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield said he was confident the investigation was thorough and complete, and the officers were appropriately disciplined.

A spokesman for the Durham County Sheriff's Office said they are not investigating any of their deputies and have no plans to.

Deputy Paul Sherwin said evidence must be disposed of in accordance with state law, "So, yes, retaining firearms or firearms parts for personal use would be a violation of that policy."

Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

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