Stanley Williams was barely alive when police found him on a St. Louis street, propped against a brick wall, half conscious and leaking blood into a dark pool on the asphalt. "Puncture wound to the right leg," the detective noted later in his homicide report. "Puncture wound to the left side of the neck . . . wound to the abdomen . . . wound to the left chest . . . wound to the left rear shoulder." Five tunnels carved in flesh by a .38-caliber revolver.
What the detective did not record--did not know--was that the bullets were fired from a gun that once served as a District of Columbia police weapon. The Smith & Wesson Model 10, serial number D286307, had taken five years to wend its way from a police holster in Washington to the hands of a killer in St. Louis, a man who ended the life of Williams, 41, on an overcast afternoon in 1994.
Williams is one of eight people whose deaths are linked to former D.C. police guns, weapons that were meant to give police an edge on the streets but are now turning up in the hands of criminals, a Washington Post analysis found.
Over the past decade, the District's Metropolitan Police Department has traded in nearly 9,000 used guns in exchange for a lower price on new firearms. Across the Washington area, police have recycled more than 20,000 guns in that time.
Nationally, the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands. No one knows precisely how many have surfaced in crimes--thousands at least.
The story of the District's gun swaps offers a window into the complex and hidden flow of firearms in late 20th-century America: Guns change hands in millions of private transactions every year, spreading out across the country without regulation or scrutiny.
For the District, a powerful irony is at work. The city banned handguns 23 years ago and this year began a model buy-back program, paying $100 per gun to take 3,100 guns out of circulation. But the District has put nearly three times that many back into the market in two major trade-ins, in 1989 and 1994, with Glock Inc., a Georgia-based gunmaker.
A Washington Post investigation using newly released data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found 107 crimes linked to guns formerly used by D.C. police. Those numbers are incomplete, because ATF successfully traces only a small portion of crime guns back to the original purchasers. ATF also has resisted outside attempts to analyze its data and only recently agreed to release a significant part of its trace information.
In addition to the homicides, The Post found that former D.C. police guns turned up in three robberies, 11 drug cases, 12 assaults, two thefts, one arson and 65 weapons cases listed in the database. The guns were then tracked to distant and unlikely places: the pavement outside a pizza parlor in St. Louis, a crack house in Norfolk, a gun show in Roanoke.
Told of The Post's findings, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said this week that he was unaware of any old department guns ending up in criminal hands. But he said he strongly opposes such trades and pledged to end them.
"We're not going to put these guns back into circulation," he said. "If we decide to move to a different type of weapon in the future, we would simply destroy those currently in our possession."
To track the guns, The Post used the Freedom of Information Act to acquire serial numbers of used D.C. police weapons, then compared them to electronic databases of weapons traced in crimes. The databases, maintained by ATF and the Virginia State Police, make it possible to link crimes to former police guns.
Until now, nobody had known about the police past of the matched weapons.
"To think it was a policeman's gun," said Stanley Williams's sister Jennifer Williams. "I would like for the police to know that."
Used police guns are a small percentage of the more than 3 million handguns sold in the United States each year, but they carry a unique street allure, weapons experts say.
"Criminals like to have the same kind of guns the cops have," said Jay Wachtel, a former ATF agent who is now a professor of criminal justice at California State University at Fullerton. Police, he said, "are not only adding to the pool of guns available for misuse, but adding particularly lethal guns and making them more affordable."
ATF has never studied the phenomenon, and the agency's data are fragmentary and flawed, The Post found.
"We never envisaged that someone would ask us how many guns went through police departments," said ATF spokesman Jeffery R. Roehm.
Yet the issue has become increasingly controversial in America's ongoing debate on guns.
The volume is huge. Glock alone has swapped and resold roughly 150,000 used police guns in the last five years, according to a company official.
This summer, a former police gun turned up in the arsenal of Buford O. Furrow Jr., a white supremacist who killed a letter carrier and fired on children in a Southern California day-care center. Furrow's 9mm Glock Model 26 pistol had once belonged to police in Cosmopolis, Wash.
Police have long known about such risks: In 1993, a New York City cabdriver and gang members in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Kalamazoo, Mich., were killed with former police guns. Last year, the International Association of Chiefs of Police called on police to destroy weapons that can be "used again to kill or injure." Although many cities' police departments have swapped their guns in recent years--Boston, New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit--others, such as St. Louis and San Francisco, are now reconsidering or have ended the practice.
In the Washington area, Fairfax County officials recently decided to destroy their used police weapons. But there has been little debate in the District, which has the area's largest number of police guns.
Several District officers defended the deals, likening them to the trade-in of used police cars.
"We had no money. . . . It was almost like a Third World department," Lt. Nicholas Mudrezow, police training commander, said of the 1994 trade. "We had to pay for our own brake pads for our police cars. . . . If it weren't for the trade-in, we couldn't have done it."
The District was battling a crime wave and a new drug known as crack in the mid-1980s when police began to fear that they were being outgunned. Then, in 1986, in Miami, two bank robbers armed with semiautomatic weapons killed two FBI agents and wounded five. The shootout helped usher in the largest police weapons turnover in U.S. history. Departments across the country traded in six-shot revolvers for semiautomatic 9mm pistols known as "wondernines."
In the District, a police firearms evaluation committee recommended replacing the Smith & Wesson .38, the standard U.S. police weapon for more than four decades.
Soon, the gun industry was buzzing that the Metropolitan Police Department--a showcase agency in the nation's capital--was in the market for semiautomatics. Sales representatives from Glock, Beretta USA, Smith & Wesson and other gunmakers moved in to lobby.
In that fevered atmosphere, the department suspended normal bidding procedures and rushed to purchase new 9mm pistols made by Glock, an Austrian company with a plant in Smyrna, Ga. The deal was announced Dec. 6, 1988.
The Glocks were expensive--$1.3 million for 4,300 pistols, or just over $300 each. But the city got a $284,000 discount from Glock for trading in its 4,300 revolvers, mostly Smith & Wessons and some Colts. Each revolver brought a $66 credit on a new Glock.
For Glock, the used guns were worth even more on the retail market--about $100 each.
Gary W. Hankins, a former police union chief, and several other officers involved in the swap remembered no discussion about destroying the revolvers.
"The political arena on gun control was not nearly as hot as it is now," said Steven Cass, a former department training director.
The Smith & Wessons were boxed up and shipped to Glock in Georgia. Paul F. Jannuzzo, a Glock vice president, said his company sent the guns through its network of roughly a dozen distributors across the country. The weapons then moved quickly to scores of retail gun stores.
What happened next is something of a mystery. Individual buyers can resell guns to virtually anyone with few restrictions.
One of the D.C. weapons surfaced seven years later, on Nov. 29, 1996, when Norfolk police raided a crack house. Nate Ruale Figuero, 20, was leaning over a toilet, one hand flushing drugs and the other grasping a Smith & Wesson, serial number D49478.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Everhart said the gun belonged to one of Norfolk's most notorious crack rings and "was there for whomever happened to be working for them."
At least three of the District's used guns ended up in St. Louis.
A bus driver bought one at the Bull's Eye, an inner-city shooting range that sells thousands of guns each year. But the weapon was stolen in August 1991. It turned up again July 4, 1994, outside a pizza parlor.
Police discovered another weapon Aug. 12, 1994, under a mattress in the apartment of a St. Louis man suspected of selling guns to gangs.
A third weapon was used to kill Stanley Williams five days before Christmas 1994. He died in the St. Louis neighborhood where he had grown up, a tall Vietnam veteran who teased his sisters and brought Army buddies home to meet his parents. Williams resettled there after the war, holding jobs as a hospital orderly and a factory worker.
"Everybody liked him," said Jennifer Williams. At his funeral, every seat was taken, and friends lined the aisles.
The same neighborhood was home to Darrin Casey, 26. In fact, the two families were well acquainted. Casey's mother and Stanley Williams's older sister, Patricia, had been best friends in high school.
Patricia suspects it was crack cocaine that led Stanley to get involved with Casey. She believes her brother owed Casey money.
"His downfall was drugs," she said.
On the day of the shooting, Casey confronted Stanley Williams on a street corner, according to a witness.
The two argued about money, then Casey fired a shot, missed, walked away briefly and then ran back and shot Williams five times at point-blank range.
Casey later told police that he fired in self-defense. He said that Williams had robbed him of $250 several weeks earlier and that he pulled his gun "to let Stan know that he wasn't playing and to leave him alone."
Charged with murder, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Casey declined to be interviewed. His mother, Linda Washington, said her son is now out of prison and holds a full-time warehousing job.
"I respect the fact he's trying to get his life back on track," she said. "My heart goes out" to the Williams family. "I lost my son for three years, but they're never going to get their son back."
The gun that killed Williams was a standard-issue Smith & Wesson six-shooter, Model 10, dark finish, four-inch barrel.
Casey bought it through a friend of a friend. "He didn't really know them," his mother said. "Somebody had it. . . . That's basically the way it goes. . . . It's sad to say it was a policeman's gun. They need to be destroyed. They don't need to be back out on the street."
Back in Washington in 1994, police attention had shifted from the old Smith & Wessons to the new Glocks. Some officers complained that the new gun's smooth grip made it slip in a sweaty hand. Others said the gun didn't eject cartridges smoothly. Finally, a wave of accidental discharges raised concerns in the District and elsewhere.
D.C. firearms experts concluded that the problems were a result of improper use rather than a defect. But perceptions were important, and just over a year after the first swap, the department was looking at new guns.
Glock vowed to maintain its prized relationship with the city. Karl F. Walter, a Glock vice president, told a reporter in 1990 that the District was the company's biggest customer and had burnished the gun's image across the country.
In the fall of 1994, the department and Glock struck a mutually beneficial deal. The city would exchange 4,646 used Glock pistols for 4,000 new weapons. District police would get a full complement of new guns for free.
Glock got to keep its contract and an added bonus: Along with the guns, Glock would get more than 16,000 high-capacity magazines, each holding 15 to 17 bullets.
The value of the old magazines had suddenly skyrocketed from $17 to $100 because Congress was getting ready to ban their manufacture. The magazines had become more prized than the guns.
That changed the economics of the swaps for companies like Glock and helped fuel the practice across the country.
"This is going to be a bonanza," Glock's Jannuzzo remembers telling a colleague.
At the last minute, then-D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke tried to block the deal.
"We can have our police officers armed with efficient and capable equipment without sending old equipment out there to wreak its havoc upon the nation and ultimately upon our own city," Clarke, now deceased, told the council.
But then-Police Chief Fred Thomas told the council that the new guns would cost $3 million without a swap, and the council decided on a compromise: It approved the sale of the guns but not the magazines.
The department had already sent out 2,400 magazines, but the rest were halted. They now sit in a police warehouse.
Today, five years after the ban was approved, such high-capacity magazines still sell for as much as $100 on the Internet and in gun stores.
Some of the D.C. police department's old Glocks are coming back as new crime guns.
In the spring of 1997, one of them beckoned from a table at a gun show in Roanoke. It was a Model 17, serial number EE516US, sitting in a sea of guns, a vista of models, calibers and sizes, tagged and ready for sale.
The weapon had been traded in 1994, but wasn't shipped by D.C. police to Glock in Georgia until Oct. 18, 1996. It followed an unknown path to a gun show, where guns can be purchased from unlicensed sellers without the normal background checks.
Susan Ellis, 40, a convenience store manager in Danville, Va., had driven 75 miles to check out the show with a male friend. Strolling among the guns, her friend, a construction worker whom she would not name, spotted the Glock and wanted it but had no money. Ellis gave $400 to the vendor and filled out the required paperwork.
A week later, she sold her friend the gun for $400. Wanting everything to be proper, she asked him to sign a sales receipt. In Virginia, as in most states, private gun sales need not be reported to any authority, and no criminal background checks are required.
"I'm not a hunter, and I never knew the laws," she said. "But at least he didn't do anything wrong with it."
Her friend loved his new gun and kept it for some time. But Ellis believes that when he needed extra cash, he agreed to sell the Glock. The new owner was Craig Jackson, a Danville construction worker.
On Aug. 9, 1998, Danville police responded to a call about gunfire. Police said Jackson was firing his Glock from the passenger-side window of a moving car. Jackson could not be reached for comment, but a prosecutor said firearms charges are pending.
Police in Danville, a town of 50,000 on the North Carolina border, knew Jackson's history. He had been in court more than a dozen times in 10 years for drunkenness, disorderly conduct, assault and battery, and resisting arrest. He had been sentenced to prison for six years for car theft. In 1994, he was found guilty of assaulting a police officer.
Four years later, Jackson was accused of firing a gun that once belonged to a police officer.
That gun now sits in a Danville police property room, once more in the hands of police, this time held as evidence in a crime.
Staff researcher Alice Crites and research editor Margot Williams contributed to this report.
Guns for Guns
How Ex-Police Guns End Up on the Street
Police agencies have thousands of handguns in service. To obtain discounts on the purchase of new weapons, many departments trade in their old weapons to gun manufacturers.
Manufacturer sends new guns to police department.
Police department obtains new weapons at little or no cost.
The process can repeat, with departments obtaining still newer weapons.
Companies have a strong marketing incentive to obtain old police weapons. They offer significant discounts on new guns if the police department returns the old weapons.
Police department sends old guns to manufacturer
Manufacturer resells guns to wholesalers; guns enter civilian market
Manufacturer also may obtain old, high-capacity magazines for certain guns, which can be resold for high profit.
Tale of Two Guns
The District's Metropolitan Police Department traded in nearly 9,000 used weapons in two major transactions. In 1989, it purchased 4,300 new Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistols and traded in its more than 3,600 Smith & Wesson and 600 Colt revolvers. In 1994, the department traded in 4,646 used Glocks and obtained 4,000 new guns at no cost.
The Washington Post found that 107 of those weapons -- 45 Smith & Wessons and 62 Glocks -- were linked to crimes in the database maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Here are the paths of two of the guns.
SMITH & WESSON
Serial No. D286307
1. Owned by the District's Metropolitan Police Department.
2. Traded in to Glock in 1989.
Sent to Glock in a shipment labeled "Lot 18 Box 6."
3. Glock sends the gun to a distributor, which sells to a gun dealer. Unknown person purchases.
4. Darrin Casey, 26, obtains the gun in St. Louis from an acquaintance, then uses it to fatally shoot Stanley Williams on Dec. 20, 1994.
Serial No. EE516US
1. One of 4,646 Glock handguns owned by the District's Metropolitan Police Department and traded in to Glock.
2. Gun leaves Metropolitan Police Department Oct. 18, 1996, in a box shipped to Glock plant in Smyrna, Ga.
3. Glock sends the gun to a distributor, which sells to a gun dealer. The next step is unknown.
4. Susan Ellis, of Danville, Va., purchases the Glock for $400 at a gun show in Roanoke in spring 1997.
5. One week later, Ellis sells it to a friend for $400.
6. Ellis's friend sells or gives it to Craig Jackson, of Danville.
7. On Aug. 9, 1998, Danville police confiscate the gun from Jackson, who is charged with shooting out the passenger window of a car.
Gun Swaps by Other Jurisdictions
Roughly 200,000 guns are sold annually to police departments across the coutry. Here are some of the gun swaps by law enforcement agencies in the Washington area.
State Police: Traded in 2,000 used 10mm Smith & Wesson guns in 1993 for new 9mm Sig-Sauer semiautomatics. In 1998, police traded in 2,400 old handguns for a new model of the same gun, earning a credit of $950,000.
Fairfax County: In the mid- 1980s, when the county had more than 800 sworn officers on its force, the department traded in Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolvers for .357-caliber Smith & Wessons. In the early 1990s, when it had about 1,000 sworn officers, it traded again for Sig-Sauer 9mm semiautomatics, obtaining one new pistol for five old guns. The county Board of Supervisors voted in September to destroy former police weapons and seized weapons. The Post found that one of the seized weapons had turned up in a drug crime in Richmond.
Arlington County: Sold its Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolvers to a distributor in 1989 and bought 9mm Glock semiautomatic pistols after its 313 officers were given the choice of buying their guns. In 1996, the department traded in 400 old guns for new .40-caliber Glocks at no additional cost.
Alexandria: The city's 240- person police force traded in its Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolvers for 9mm Glock semiautomatic pistols in 1990, receiving a $109 credit for each old revolver toward the purchase of the new $350 pistol. In 1995, Glock took back the 9mm pistols and gave the department about 260 new .40-caliber guns in a one-for-one trade.
State Police: Traded in its .357 Smith & Wessons for 1,700 Beretta 9mm semiautomatic pistols in 1988 and in January 1997 traded in the Berettas for .40-caliber Berettas at no cost. State police say they had an "understanding" that the guns first would be offered to other police forces. That took place for 1,000 of the guns, while the remaining 600 to 700 pistols were sold to federally licensed dealers.
Montgomery County: Switched from .38-caliber Smith & Wessons to .38-caliber Rugers in 1985 when it had 794 officers. In 1992, it sold the Rugers to a local dealer, provoking a public outcry and promises to end the practice. But in 1996, the department traded in its Beretta Centurion models for new 9mm Beretta Brigadier models at no cost.
Prince George's County: Traded in 915 Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolvers and purchased 1,200 9mm Beretta 92F semiautomatics starting in 1988. In 1998, Beretta offered a free one-for-one trade for roughly 1,200 newer model 92FS semiautomatics.
Between 1982 and 1994, federal agencies sold nearly 62,000 used law enforcement weapons or guns seized in investigations. That policy was ended in 1994, and a regulation put into effect this year instructs agencies to make their used weapons available to state and local police.