Overheard: Police chief tells “one” side of gun snafu
September 28, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
A local police chief, who was overheard boasting rather loudly at a recent public school event, apparently was explaining how he and another police chief are “working together” with the San Luis Obispo County district attorney to make sure their stories are in sync about a stolen unregistered gun that belonged to Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon.
The ever evolving and morphing story of how Solomon’s unregistered loaded handgun was stolen from her unlocked police vehicle has raised an onslaught of questions about where the gun came from and why it was not registered.
At a youth football game in Atascadero last week, onlookers, who normally cheer on the teams, reported hearing a loud conversation in which Atascadero Police Chief Jim Mulhall was heard laughing and talking on a cellular phone about his role in the missing-gun snafu.
Mulhall, who has been chief for almost two years, was overheard by some onlookers at the game saying that he, Solomon, and Dist. Atty. Gerald Shea have talked repeatedly to get their stories straight about where Solomon’s gun came from and how she regained possession of her gun after it was stolen out of her car.
“(Dist. Atty.) Gerry (Shea), Lisa and I are working together to keep the same story going,” Mulhall was overheard saying. “We are all in close contact. They will get a few more blogs out of it then it will go away.”
Mulhall, Shea, and Solomon did not return calls seeking comment about the overheard cell phone conversations.
On Sept. 12, Mulhall, sporting a bright orange T-shirt and grey camouflage shorts, showed up at an Atascadero youth football game, talking so loud that others at the game could hear him, occasionally laughing as he chortled about his role in the missing-gun caper.
Normally quiet in such gatherings, others at the game could not help but hearing the police chief speaking in a loud voice.
The scene left one onlooker to quip, “Does he think no one reads CalCoastNews?”
The conversation was a lengthy one, but no one could say for sure how long it lasted or who the chief was talking to.
There have been conflicting claims about whether Solomon was required to register the gun and report its disappearance.
According to a California law passed in 1991, both the seller and purchaser of a handgun are required to make sure the transfer is recorded with the Department of Justice. Failure to comply with the law can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Solomon initially claimed she purchased the gun from an “agency” a long time ago and as such was not required to register the weapon. She did not elaborate about what agency she was referring to.
A few days later, Solomon claimed she couldn’t remember where she got the gun. Subsequently, she said she received the gun as part of a legal divorce settlement.
Officials from the district attorney’s office said that a former employee purchased the gun in 1995 and then transferred the weapon to Solomon during a divorce in 2000. District attorney officials contend that the Atascadero Police Department is responsible for taking any legal action warranted against Solomon, according to a published article.
“The handgun in question didn’t come from the district attorney’s office,” said San Luis Obispo Public District Attorney spokesman Jerret Gran. “It was, however, privately purchased from a licensed firearms dealer in 1995 by an individual who was employed as an investigator with our office between 1995 and 1999.”
Mulhall said in a KSBY interview that it was Solomon’s business about registering her weapon and he verified who the owner of the gun was before he gave the gun back to her. Mulhall admitted that not registering a gun could be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor, but contended that Solomon had done nothing wrong.
Nevertheless, several onlookers at the football game overheard the chief say that the gun had come from the district attorney’s office and that Solomon had a receipt.
The origin and the significance of the receipt is unclear.
“I knew where that gun came from before I turned it over to Lisa,” Mulhall was overheard saying. “It came from the district attorneys office. Gerry’s on top of it.”
Mulhall went on to explain how he called Solomon almost every day to help her get through the embarrassing publicity of the missing gun.
Mulhall did not return requests for comment regarding his football-field conversation. However, his administrative assistant Maryann Clark questioned how spectators at the game knew the chief was the person they overheard.
“All the parents wear orange and grey, those are the team colors,” Clark said when informed the red-headed chief was wearing a bright orange T-shirt and grey camouflage shorts at his son’s game.”
Clark also questioned the legality of repeating parts of a conversation unknowingly overheard.
San Luis Obispo attorney Michael R. Pick said because Mulhall’s conversation took place at a public locale with video and audio equipment recording the event, the chief did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Christine Gasparac, press secretary for state Atty. Gen. Edmund G. Brown Jr., said the District Attorney’s office is responsible for taking any criminal actions warranted against Solomon or Mulhall.
Witnesses at the youth football game report hearing Mulhall say that the three officials are working together to make sure their stories match. However, some interviews with the three include numerous discrepancies that conflict with the three’s stories and court documents.
The principles appear to agree that in 2008 Solomon’s loaded semi-automatic gun was stolen from her unlocked police car. A few days later, an Atascadero police officer confiscated the gun from a pair of burglary suspects.
According to the police report, when the officer ran the handgun’s serial number, it revealed “no record of ownership.”
Kathy Zalusky, the owner of Uncle Ed’s Outfitters, a licensed gun dealer in Atascadero, said that if the gun had been sold through a licensed dealer after 1991 as the law enforcement trio claims, running the gun’s serial number through the firearms data base would have shown the name of the gun’s last reported owner.
In addition, Solomon said that she was not required to register her gun because different rules apply to law enforcement personnel and quoted two penal codes in a Tribune article. Those codes relate to law enforcement having the ability to waive the ten day waiting period and own more than one concealed weapon, though nothing about not being required to report gun transfers to the Department of Justice.
That is not true, Zalusky argued.
“It does not matter if you are a Superior Court judge, you have to file paperwork with the DOJ,” Zalusky said.
According to California penal code 12021, government officials are prohibited from returning an unregistered gun to the rightful owner until “the firearm has been recorded in the Automated Firearms System in the name of the individual who seeks its return.”
Mulhall asserts the law does not apply to Solomon, a position that Zalusky also disagrees with.
“I was aghast” Zalusky said, referring to Mulhall returning the unregistered gun to Solomon. “Law enforcement is not above the law.”
Another bone of contention is about the trio’s claims that Solomon received the weapon as part of a legal divorce settlement in 2000.
In early 2000, after 18 months of cohabitation, Solomon filed for dissolution from then-husband Allen Rowe. While the couple battled over a portion of Solomon’s retirement benefits, the gun was not mentioned in the marital settlement agreement. It does, however, state that they have divided community property among themselves.
According to California family codes, spouses can request that any of their pre-marriage belongings become community property, though regarding items of substantial value, aside from jewelry and clothing, the declaration must be in writing.
Nevertheless, gun law experts report that guns are not transferable as community property during a divorce though the monetary value may factor in to a final settlement
“Guns are not community property. They are owned by an individual,” Zalusky said. “The way they did this was inappropriate.”