By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Dozens of guns taken from crime scenes and accused criminals in Coles County have been sold or traded.
That much is clear.
But ask whether the sheriff had the power to make those deals, and things get murky.
A joint investigation by Illinois Watchdog and the Edgar County Watchdogs looked into the sale or trade of weapons seized by Coles County Sheriff Darrell Cox.
But Cox wouldn’t answer our questions.
Illinois Watchdog repeatedly reached out to Cox, who made it clear he would not comment on his department’s seizure policy, because he thinks the issue is political.
Cox is running for state representative in the 110th District.
Coles County Chief Deputy Kerry Whitley hung up when Illinois Watchdog tried to clarify the dates surrounding the seized and sold weapons.
“This is all political,” Whitley said in a brief phone call Monday. “We don’t discuss politics.”
But there’s more to the story.
Information uncovered through Freedom of Information requests show that, on Aug. 20, 2012, the Coles County Sheriff’s Office traded 11 pistols, shotguns and rifles to Kaskaskia Firearms for two AR-15 rifles.
Records also show the sale of 37 other guns, but there is no data to indicate when those transactions happened or for how much the guns were sold.
More troubling, there appears to be no permission for the sheriff to sell or trade guns in the Coles County sheriff’s operation’s manual which, it says, was written in April 2011.
Kirk Allen, an editor with the Edgar County Watchdogs, said he filed a FOIA in November 2013 asking for the specific policy on seized weapons. No policy on seized weapons was found in the manual provided.
Allen finally received a one page addendum last month, but that addition can’t be found in the Coles County Sheriff’s operating manual.
“They sent me one page,” Allen told Illinois Watchdog. “I have it confirmed with deputies who say that’s never been part of the policy they’ve read.”
Illinois Watchdog tried to confirm the policy, and the timeline, but the Coles County Sheriff’s Office refused to comment.
The Illinois State Police, the model for most police policies, said it would never sell or trade seized weapons.
“Once the case is adjudicated on a recovery or seizure of a firearm, a court decision will determine if the firearm will be returned to the owner, or a court order will be requested for destruction of the weapon,” spokeswoman Monique Bond said.
Bond pointed to state law that says all firearms should be returned to their owners or sent to the State Police.
“Weapons that have been confiscated as a result of having been abandoned or illegally possessed may be transferred to the Department of State Police for use by the crime laboratory system, for training purposes, or for any other application as deemed appropriate by the Department,” the state law reads.
Coles County, in that newly added one page section in the operating manual, goes far beyond the law.
“The Coles County Sheriff’s Office may retain possession of the firearm for departmental use. The Coles County Sheriff’s Office may destroy the firearms or transfer it to the Illinois State Police bureau of forensic sciences for destruction. The Coles County Sheriff’s Office may also transfer the firearm to a reputable gun dealer,” the undated policy states.
A reputable gun dealer appears to include the sheriff.
Sheriff Cox billed the county $1,243 for three work orders at Darrell Cox Gunsmithing.
Coles County chairman Paul Daily told Illinois Watchdog he knew about the gun trading and sales. He didn’t think Cox was doing anything wrong.
“He did it as a favor, Daily said.
Cox is in a three-person primary for the open statehouse seat.
On March 18, voters will choose between Cox, Kevin Garner, and Reggie Phillips.
Reach Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.