FOREST PARK — Between May 2015 and December 2017, Forest Park fire stations were struck by car burglars seeking firearms an average of every three months, according to Forest Park police records.
Chief Eddie Buckholts told Forest Park City Council and Mayor Angelyne Butler Jan. 21 that he had instituted a procedure to cut down on gun thefts from first responders’ personal vehicles. Longstanding department policy dictated that firefighters and paramedics leave their weapons in their cars, Buckholts said. Criminals would break into first responders' cars when the crew was out on emergency calls.
The problem was not unique to Forest Park or Clayton County. Two people convicted of breaking into cars at fire stations in 17 counties, including Clayton, are serving time on racketeering and numerous entering auto convictions. Most of the break-ins that plagued Forest Park Fire and Emergency Services were done by a local crew, including a teenager.
Looking for a solution, in March 2017, Buckholts said, FPFD leadership came up with a solution. They bought some safes for firefighters to lock up their unloaded personal pistols in the station houses while on duty.
“As usual, it was a collaborative effort of our Command Staff,” Buckholts said. “The safes were purchased at a local building supply store. They are designed to store up to nine handguns with a combination lock, roughly (the) size of a safe like you would find in a motel room.” Only the shift supervisor can open the safe. Since then, Buckholts said, thefts have dropped dramatically. The only reported break-ins since then were in November and December of 2017.
An Open Records Request to Forest Park Police revealed nine cases in which firehouses were targeted over the past five years:
May 22, 2015: Station 2, 785 Linda Way
At 6:58 a.m., a .40-caliber Glock 27 pistol valued at $400 was reported stolen from the fire station at 785 Linda Way. On July 8, 2015, that pistol was recovered by the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office along with a holster and ammunition.
Oct. 15, 2015: Station 2, 785 Linda Way
At 1:11 p.m., computers were reported stolen from a car.
Jan. 14, 2016: Station 1, 4539 Jonesboro Road
At 12:17 p.m., a firefighter reported someone had broken into his car and a locked pillbox and stolen 26 Adderal prescription pills. Everyone on Shifts A and C was fingerprinted.
April 29, 2016: Station 1, 4539 Jonesboro Road
At 8:25 a.m., a lawnmower and weedeater were stolen from a truck parked behind the station house.
July 5, 2016: Station 1 and Station 2
About 4 a.m., a Clayton County Police officer pulled over 17-year-old Jason Howard at the corner of Old Dixie Road and Holiday Boulevard and found him in possession of a 9mm Glock 43.
At 4:39 a.m., Station 1 reported a .45 EA Express, a .22 Arminius HW7 revolver, the same 9mm Glock 43 found in the traffic stop minutes earlier and a 9mm Glock 19, along with magazines for the three pistols, a holster and a 2003 Chevy Silverado had been stolen.
At 6:50 a.m., Station Two reported someone had broken into a car and stolen some tools. Next to the firehouse, police found a Fulton County Board of Education police cruiser with blood on it. FPPD lifted palm prints and sent blood samples to the GBI.
Around 3:15 p.m., police say, Melchisedec McCloskey got a call from the Clayton County Jail from his girlfriend, Kyndle Hughes. They discussed the Station One heist in detail.
When McCloskey and Howard were later tried, Hughes filed a "statement of truth" with the court, denying that it had been McCloskey on the other end of the line.
FPPD Investigator R. Daniel met with Buckholts and "discussed methods of crime deterrence, including surveillance cameras and fences."
On July 8, Forest Park Police listening to the radio heard Rescue 1 spot the missing car turning off Favor Drive onto Linda Way. After a high-speed chase through the neighborhood, police lost the Silverado. It turned up July 12, abandoned at an empty house on Granade Drive. Inside the Silverado they found an Atlanta Fire Department backpack embroidered with "T. Smith 855," the firefighter's name and badge number. A fingerprint on a shaving cream can inside the car led to McCloskey.
Forest Park Police detectives interviewed Howard at the Clayton County Jail on July 14. He said he knew McCloskey as BJ from the basketball court at Rosetown and that he hadn't seen him since July 2. Howard told police he'd been at South Side Inn, then a candlelight service on Second Street on July 5. The detectives didn't buy his story and sat silently for 15 minutes. Finally, Howard said, "BJ gave me the Honda and BJ and the other Lil J stole the guns from the fire department. I didn't get out. I stayed in the car." He told police that he drove the other two to Station Two, then Station One, where they stole guns and McCloskey drove off in the Silverado.
On July 24, Douglasville Police recovered the .22 revolver "after it was abandoned in an aggravated assault incident."
Clayton County Police recovered the Glock 19 in another case.
Nov. 16, 2016: Station 1, 4539 Jonesboro Road
About 6:39 a.m., three firefighters reported their cars had been broken into. A Taurus .38 Special and a .45-caliber Springfield XDS pistol were stolen. Although police couldn't lift any usable prints, they did get poor-quality video of a suspect wearing a hoodie, mask and gloves "walking through the parking area with what appeared to be a rifle."
Nov. 26, 2017: Station 3, 2336 Anvil Block Road
About 3:20 p.m., Station 3 reported that two men had broken into firefighters' vehicles and stolen a .223-caliber Anderson AR-15 rifle, along with 60 rounds of ammunition, a Simmons scope, two knives, computers, a DVD player, ear protection and personal bags. The station is 1.2 miles from the U.S. Army's Gillem Enclave, which is attached to Fort Gordon. Firefighters said they saw two men flee in a black SUV. Nearby video returned a partial tag but no leads.
Dec. 21, 2017: Station 1, 4539 Jonesboro Road
At 6:28 a.m., Station 1 reported the last known break-in since the firearms policy was enacted. Two cars were broken into and one pearl-handled .25-caliber Lorcin 25 pistol was stolen from the glovebox. Security video showed a white pickup truck with two suspects cruising through the parking lot about 1:12 a.m. that morning, then getting out and breaking into the vehicles. A dark SUV then made a u-turn in a nearby parking lot and followed the white truck.
McCloskey was convicted and sentenced to 55 years for the Station Two break-ins and two other armed robberies. Howard was convicted and sentenced to 15 years with one to serve, plus a fine and fees, as a first felony offender. After failing to show up for court-ordered alcohol and drug evaluation and treatment and a Henry County DUI arrest, Clayton County issued a warrant for Howard on Oct. 8, 2019.
Many of the stolen weapons remain missing.