By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 14, 2010; C01
More than 20 guns seized by a state-run firearms task force in Prince George's County are unaccounted for, and investigators believe that one of the weapons was used in the shooting of an off-duty police officer late last year, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation.
All the missing guns apparently had been seized by the Prince George's narcotics detective who was assigned to the task force, the sources said. The detective, Juan Carter, was suspended late last year during the investigation but has not been charged with any crimes, sources said.
Carter declined to comment, saying, "There's a lot of rumors and that sort of stuff and innuendoes and that sort of stuff, but I wouldn't bother with that." Asked whether he was the subject of an investigation into the missing guns, he said, "Sir, to be honest, I'm being a gentleman, I'm not going to speak on that at this time." Then, he hung up the phone.
The Prince George's police department is already facing a federal probe of five current and former officers suspected of taking money to protect a gambling ring.
The missing guns case is similar to one in which it was revealed that almost 300 firearms were lost by various Department of Homeland Security agencies during fiscal 2006-08, in many instances because they were not properly secured. But in the Prince George's case, police are investigating whether the guns were stolen and sold back on the street, law enforcement sources said.
"It's clearly not bad record-keeping," one source said.
That source, like three others who provided information for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing and no one has been charged.
Although the probe appears to be limited, it raises questions about supervision on the state police gun task force, which, according to state records, seized nearly 430 guns from its inception in 2007 to September 2009. The Prince George's Firearms Interdiction Task Force, led by the Maryland State Police, specialized in taking guns from criminals and keeping them off the streets. The state police task force still operates in Prince George's and has been expanded to include the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It is also active in other jurisdictions.
The Prince George's group, which cracked down on repeat gun offenders and tried to identify gun traffickers, followed normal county police procedures for gun seizures. That means a police officer who seized a gun from a suspect would check to see whether it was stolen, file an incident report and property record, and, if necessary, take it to the department's firearms examination unit to be tested, authorities said. A supervisor would review the incident report before it was filed, and the gun would ultimately be stored in the Prince George's police property room, authorities said.
In this case, there are incident reports on the 23 guns, but the actual firearms were not in the property room, the sources said.
What happened to those 23 guns -- and when they went missing -- is unclear, sources said.
At some point during the investigation, Carter approached his county police superiors to report that he was having trouble locating some of the guns he had seized, law enforcement sources said. The superiors searched his car and found two guns, the sources said.
Those weren't the only weapons investigators have tracked down. Another gun, sources said, is believed to have been used in the shooting of an off-duty county police officer, Eric Horne, in a botched robbery in September. Horne's finger was amputated as a result of the shooting, and he remains on leave.
Two men have been arrested and charged in Horne's shooting. Damont E. Poteat, 19, admitted to detectives that he was involved in the shooting and said he later gave the gun to his accomplice, Brandon O. Bright, 21, according to police charging documents. Poteat said he did not know what happened to the gun after that. Bright gave detectives a different account, saying Poteat came to him after the incident and reported having shot somebody who tried to rob him, according to police charging documents. Court records do not say what happened to the gun.
Through their spokesmen, Prince George's Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton and State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey confirmed the investigation, although they declined to be specific. A spokesman for the Maryland State Police, which is leading the investigation, said he could neither confirm nor deny it.
Capt. Misty Mints, a Prince George's police spokeswoman, declined to comment on Carter's duty status but said there is "no way he's going to be in contact with the public."
"There is an investigation that's ongoing, and [Maryland State Police] is the lead in it, and we're working to assist them in any way we can," Mints said. "Obviously, if there is any wrongdoing found, [Hylton] absolutely does not tolerate that, and the person will be dealt with accordingly."
Ivey issued a similar statement: "My office is actively supporting the on-going investigation which involves multiple facets and agencies. I cannot go into details at this time but I can say that I believe the investigations are moving in the right direction."
Mints said such cases mar the reputation of officers who have done nothing wrong.
"It makes you absolutely cringe to hear something like that," she said. "It makes you sick. It makes you sick to your stomach."
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.