Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Questions need to be asked about why a member of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners had a gun issued to him by the county's police department, and whether he was legally allowed to carry a firearm, according to the chairman of the commission.
A Clayton County Police Department report, and news release from the agency show that a "Glock," model 27, .40 caliber, semi-automatic handgun was stolen from Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph's 2002 Ford Mustang, in the early morning hours on April 26.
The department has also said it had issued the weapon to Ralph.
The vice chairman's car was found on Harbin Village Court, in a Morrow neighborhood, with the gun case found on the ground nearby, according to the police report from the incident.
Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said he plans to raise questions with county officials about why Ralph had a police department-issued handgun. "I want to know when it was issued to him, and are we in compliance [with state laws regarding handgun ownership] with him being given a gun," Bell said.
There are several other questions raised by the police report and news release on the incident, including: why the victim's identity was listed as "CONFIDENTIAL" in the police report (it was only revealed to be Ralph in the news release), and why his car was in Morrow between 5:45 a.m., and 7:56 a.m.. Also, the police report does not clarify whether the vehicle had been stolen.
Ralph could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
When asked about the theft, Clayton County Police Chief Greg Porter deferred all questions about the issue to the department's news release. The release states that the department has "initiated a policy in which it offered a handgun and handgun training" to members of the commission, because "over the years, a number of threats have been made against the lives of members of the Board of Commissioners."
The news release does not explain, however, how many threats have been made. "Commissioner Ralph, like many others before him, accepted the offer" of a handgun, according to the police department's written statement.
But, Bell and Commissioner Michael Edmondson said they were not aware of a police department policy to offer handguns to commissioners, and had not been offered guns themselves.
Edmondson also said he had not received threats against his life, and Bell said no one had reported to him that threats were being made against other commissioners. The commission chairman said the only threat he was aware of, was one made against him last year. He said the man who made the threat is currently in jail.
Commissioner Sonna Singleton, however, said there have been several threats made against commissioners in recent years, because of a wide variety of issues. She added that she had been offered a handgun, and was planning to accept the offer after she received training on how to use it. "The chief has been bugging me to go out to the shooting range, and get my training, but I just haven't had a chance to do it," she said.
Commissioner Gail Hambrick could not be reached for comment.
The police report states that an unidentified person called police at approximately 8 a.m., on April 26, and reported finding a black-and-yellow bag sitting in front of his residence. The person said they found a wallet containing a Clayton County Commissioners identification badge, shorts, T-shirts and "other personal items" in the bag, according to the report.
The report shows the driver's door on the Mustang was "pushed in," the trunk door lock was "off-center, and possibly had been tampered with," and the glove compartment was open.
A black, leather bag, which contained "misc. clothes and personal items," a black, leather briefcase, and a 1.5-liter bottle of "Barefoot" wine were found near the vehicle, the report states.
According to the police report, the "victim" of the theft said the bottle of wine did not belong to him, and that the only missing item was the handgun.
Bell said he did not find out about the theft until he saw news reports about it this week. The commission chairman questioned whether the police department is legally allowed to issue a gun to Ralph, in the first place. "You are not allowed to give a handgun to someone who does not have a gun-toters permit, or is not a POST [Peace Officers Standards and Training]-certified police officer," Bell said.
Bell, a retired City of Atlanta police chief, said he carries a gun, because he is recognized by Atlanta as a retired police officer. He said he intends to question Porter about whether Ralph was certified to carry one of the police department's guns.
Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough said certain people, such as prosecutors and judges, are exempt from needing a permit, or POST certification to carry a law enforcement-issued handgun, under Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 16-11-130.
"I don't recall county commissioners being included in that group," however, Kimbrough said.
A review of the code section showed commissioners were indeed not listed. And, now that the handgun issued to Ralph is missing, Bell said it raises additional concerns related to public safety.
"You have a gun that has been stolen, and is out there," the chairman said. "Is somebody going to get killed with it?"