Former Lake County deputy, sergeant face charges in gun-selling probe

LEADVILLE, Colo. - Former Lake County Sheriff's Office Deputy William Berry and Sheriff's Sgt. Jeffrey Hartman will be charged following an investigation into firearms that were mishandled after their confiscation from a defendant.

The 5th Judicial District Attorney's Office said Berry will likely be charged with unlawful purchase of firearms, theft, and embezzlement of public property, all felonies, as well as unauthorized transfer of a firearm and first-degree official misconduct, both misdemeanors.

Hartman, who is a suspected accomplice, will likely be charged with theft, complicity with embezzlement of public property, and first degree official misconduct, according to the DA's Office.

The investigation began when Lake County Undersheriff Fernando Mendoza received an email from a federal agent asking why he had not received a firearm he purchased from Berry for $2,300. 

The agent, who was not involved in the investigation, said that Berry used his Lake County Sheriff's Office email address for the transaction last February.

Berry had claimed the .38-caliber Super Colt semi-automatic handgun was confiscated from a defendant who was in the country illegally, according to the federal agent.

Mendoza didn't know that a firearm sale had taken place and asked the District Attorney to investigate.

The investigation began on April 8 and revealed the handgun in question, along with three other firearms, were signed out to the victim of a domestic violence case in January.  When the woman was interviewed, she said had never seen the form and did not obtain the firearms.

The woman stated that she was approached by Berry about selling the weapons to him for $500 a few days prior to their removal from evidence. She didn't want the weapons, previously owned by her partner who has since been deported, and said she agreed to the transaction, although she had some doubts about the legality of the transaction. She said she did sign a receipt produced by Berry that was not on Sheriff's Office letterhead and only listed one weapon.  

The receipt could not be located by investigators.

The weapons in question, along with the handgun have been recovered by the Lake County Sheriff's Office with the help of Berry's last employer, the Teller County Sheriff's Office.

Statements by another witness implicated Hartman along with Berry, according to the district attorney's office. Hartman was one of two evidence custodians with the sheriff's office, assisted Berry in signing the firearms out of evidence without the presence of the owner.  Investigators learned that Hartman received one of the guns, an SKS rifle, as a "thank you" for his assistance to Berry.

"It is certainly disconcerting when cases of this matter come up, as we rely on our police officers to uphold the law and protect our communities from those who would participate in dishonest or dangerous activity," said District Attorney Bruce Brown.  "It is for this reason, though, that we hold law enforcement officers to an even higher standard, and when they fail to meet that standard, there needs to be consequences."

The two will be advised of the charges against them on June 17.

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