Police chief loses loaded gun
September 8, 2009
By KAREN VELIE
The emerging and evolving story of how Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon had her loaded semi-automatic gun stolen from her car that she left unlocked in front of her home has left her red-faced about how it was stolen.
In recent interviews, she has given differing stories, which conflict with court documents, about how the gun was stolen.
The incident, which occurred last year, was kept from the public until CalCoastNews uncovered the incident through San Luis Obispo Superior Court documents.
Her first version about losing the gun went like this: Solomon claimed the handgun was stolen from her unlocked vehicle during a weekend in February 2008. She said she discovered the unregistered handgun missing on a Monday morning and reported it stolen. She later discovered an Atascadero police officer had confiscated the firearm from a pair of burglary suspects.
“I immediately reported it stolen when I noticed it was stolen,” Solomon said.
However, Atascadero Police Officer Matt Chesson confiscated the gun at around 4 a.m. on Sunday Feb. 24, 2008. At 7:46 a.m., on the same Sunday morning, Solomon reported the gun had been stolen, according to court records.
Atascadero Police Chief Jim Mulhall returned Solomon’s unregistered gun to her.
According to California law, all firearms purchases and transfers must go through the Dealer Record of Sale process. Solomon said she had purchased the gun before the current 1991 registration requirements became law.
“Because I purchased it from an agency a long time ago, I did not have to register it,” Solomon said.
Then, in a subsequent interview, the police chief had a different version, explaining that she became aware her missing gun was found before she had a chance to report it missing.
“It was recovered faster than a gun could be entered in the system,” Solomon said. “The (Atascadero Police) officer put out a BOL (be on the lookout) or some kind of informational teletype so that other officers in the area became aware of this recovered gun and put two and two together, at my shop, and we were able to notify Atascadero PD.”
In yet another version, court documents, which provide an incorrect date on an arrest warrant, falsely say that Solomon reported her gun missing the day before it was recovered. In further support of the inaccurate statement by the Atascadero Police Department, the report notes that there was no match in the automatic firearms system for the weapon during the initial records search due to a clerical error.
“It was later determined that during the process of entering the information on the handgun into the Automatic Firearms System, a clerical error occurred,” according to the arrest warrant. “The victim’s handgun was incorrectly entered into the system by the Paso Robles Police Department.”
Law enforcement officials in Atascadero suspect that this is what really happened: Officers confiscated the gun fully aware that it was the Paso Robles chief’s personal unregistered weapon and that its theft had not been reported. Officers called Solomon at her home early on a Sunday morning to inform her they had rescued her gun.
In addition, sources report that the men allegedly involved in the theft of Solomon’s gun, as well as a string of other crimes, were given a break by being arrested for lesser offenses or not being accused of crimes in order to keep the chief’s missing gun from becoming public.
On Feb. 24, 2008, while performing a pre-dawn search for suspects in an attempted burglary attempt, Atascadero Police Officer Matt Chesson spotted two men sitting in a car parked next to a pump at a closed Shell station in Atascadero. The driver, dressed in all black and wearing gloves, gave the officer permission to search his white Honda hatchback.
Chesson’s search uncovered a Sig Saur handgun, seven to eight rounds of ammunition, a black replica handgun (determined to be a BB gun), a pair of walkie talkies, a chrome “butterfly” knife, and a drug pipe.
The driver, Jay Short, said the gun belonged to a friend, but refused to provide the alleged owner’s name, according to the police report.
A search of the handgun’s serial number revealed “no record of ownership” by Solomon. Chesson confiscated the gun and sent information on the discovered gun to county law enforcement agencies.
However, both Mulhall and Solomon admit that the gun in question belonged to her.
Gregory Cisneros, Short’s passenger, claimed the illegal knife belonged to him. Chesson arrested Cisneros for possession of drug paraphernalia and a switchblade knife and sent Short, “on his way,” according to the police report.
According to Penal Code 12025, carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle, without the proper permit, is a crime.
Another burglary suspect, Gary Holloway, said during a police “interview” on Feb. 26, 2008, that Jordan McNamara had said that he was with Short when he took a firearm from a car. In addition, Holloway claimed Short was involved in other “recent burglaries and thefts,” according to a subsequent warrant for the arrest of Short.
Officers did not cite McNamara with theft of the chief’s gun, though a few months later he was charged with theft of a sheriff’s squad car, one of four felonies the 20-year-old was charged with in 2008. Holloway was arrested seven times in 2008 for offences including burglary, forgery, and hit and run.
On Feb. 28, 2008, Short was arrested and charged with two felony counts, receiving stolen property and carrying a concealed weapon.
According to court records, both Superior Court Judge John Trice and the appointed public defender stepped away from the case because of conflicts. The District Attorney’s Office asked Judge Michael Duffy to dismiss the concealed weapon charge and reduce the felony of receiving stolen property charge to a misdemeanor if Short would agree to plead no contest.
Short plead no contest to the single misdemeanor charge and Duffy sentenced him to 45 days in county jail and ordered him to pay a $400 fine.
Information that Solomon had left a loaded gun unsecured in a residential neighborhood was the latest in a string of embarrassing episodes plaguing the North County top cop.
Last year, Solomon and her husband Christopher Chitty filed bankruptcy on their custom T-shirt business claiming more than $1 million in debt. However, they continued to run a renamed T-shirt business from their garage.
The pair listed 50 to 60 creditors that included Kohl’s, Mervyns, Gottschalk’s, and Levitz Furniture.
Chapter 7 is designed for debtors in financial trouble who do not have the ability to pay their existing debts, according to the bankruptcy code. Debtors whose financial difficulties are primarily due to consumer debt are subject to a “means test” — if income is greater than the median income for the state in which they reside, the court may deny the petition.
In California, the median income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was $74,801 in 2006 for a family of four. Chitty and his wife’s combined income is approximately $220,000 per year, according to their sworn statements on the bankruptcy petitions. Chitty and Solomon have stated in court documents that their “debts are primarily business debts” and that no inventory from the business remains.