In an apparent violation of internal procedures, the Hesperia Unified school police department sold handguns to officers and school board members at a discount price.
In January 2010, 11 Smith & Wesson 9 mm pistols were sold to police chief Mike Graham, members of the school police department, a vice-principal, several relatives and board members Hardy Black and (now former board member) Robert Kirk.
The pistols were sold for $236 or $256 each, depending on model, as part of a trade-in deal with gun manufacturer Sig Sauer, which was selling the department a set of nine new handguns for $449 each to replace them.
"I believe it was April 2009 when I and Corporal Owen began researching purchasing different duty weapons for the department," an April 14, 2010, memo written by Graham to McKinney, reads in part. "Our current duty weapons (Smith & Wesson, Model 5906 9mm) were an older style which is no longer carried by any known police departments. Because of this, we could not find any companies who manufacture police-type holsters. Essentially, this type of holster prevents anyone, other than the officer, the remove the weapon from the holster during a struggle. This is a paramount feature especially in a school setting."
(Graham was not interviewed for this article; the chief cited instructions from his superiors.)
The gun transaction wasn't handled in the way that the HUSD normally disposes of district property.
"If it's district property, it has to be declared surplus," Carmen Becker, the district's Director of Purchasing, Printshop and Warehouse, said Thursday.
"What it breaks, you can't just throw it away," Superintendent Mark McKinney said Thursday, "It was bought with taxpayer dollars."
"They were buying seven, eight, nine, I don't know how many new guns were bought, simply because they didn't want to buy new holsters for the guns they bought," board president Chris Bentley, formerly a machine gunner for the Marine Corps, said Friday. "I did some research and was able to find the holsters they did want to buy" online. "In this particular case, I don't even know if there was a particular need for these guns, other than Graham saying 'I need two new holsters [for newly hired officers], so I need new guns.'"
Periodically, the HUSD holds sales of surplus property -- in May, they will sell three used cars and a horse trailer once used to haul band equipment. The sales are advertised in the newspaper and are open to the public.
"Firearms are a unique category. You can't just sell those," Black said on Friday. "Robert Kirk and I were invited to go to one of the police briefings that they used to have and they mentioned that they were going to upgrade their guns."
Sig Sauer would extend the district credit for the old Smith & Wesson guns, and then resell the used guns to district personnel and family members instead.
"Typically, when that happens in a law enforcement agency, the officers themselves choose to pay for their service weapons personally," Black said. "Robert Kirk made the comment of 'say, can I buy one of those?'"
According to Black, Graham, through Apple Valley gun shop Victor Valley Shooters, resold the weapons on Sig Sauer's behalf (and handled the background checks and other legal requirements), cutting out the shipping time and fees.
"It saved the district the cost of shipping the individual firearms," said Black.
The guns didn't fall under the district's surplus property rules, he said.
"The firearms were traded in for credit through Sig Sauer," Black said. "It wasn't surplus property. ... By the time I dealt with it, it was Sig Sauer's property."
"I do not understand why the purchase of guns is treated any differently than anything else in this district," said Bentley. "It ain't your money, it's the people's money. And the people's money is protected by the purchasing procedures. And he obviously blew that off."
McKinney disagrees that the guns didn't fall under the district's surplus property rules.
"It was not handled correctly. We recognize that and we have fixed that," he said. "There was a clarification that 'this is the process.'"
It was also inappropriate to offer the guns to school board members:
"Can an elected official submit a bid like anyone else? Sure. But there's no pre-sales," McKinney said.
The "clarification" has cleared things up, he said: "Since then, we have had not had any surplus issues."
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.