A law enforcement shotgun stolen seven months ago from a local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officer’s department vehicle is still missing, Las Vegas police records show.
The theft happened on May 17 at a northeast Las Vegas apartment complex. About a month later, an 18-year-old man armed with an AR-15-style service rifle also stolen in the burglary was shot and killed by Las Vegas police about 6 miles away. No officers were injured, but seven opened fire.
“It’s really a shocking lack of judgment,” Allison Anderman, managing attorney for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said when she learned that the weapons in the officer’s vehicle had been stored in plain sight.
“Car break-ins are very common,” Anderman said. “People who commit them are looking for items of value, and guns are a high-value commodity — especially something like an AR-15, which is a very destructive weapon.”
Thief ‘defeated’ rack
Officer Brian Smith’s weapons were not concealed. But his car was locked, and at the time of the burglary, they were stored in a standard locking rack, Anthony Merrill, a law enforcement chief with the Fish and Wildlife Service, said.
The thief broke a window to access them, “defeated” the rack, then made off with a department-issued laptop, which also remains missing, police records show.
It’s unclear if the officer was on duty at the time of the theft, and it’s unclear if he was ever disciplined. Merrill said he cannot comment on personnel matters.
But Christy Smith, an employee with the Desert National Wildlife Range — which the officer in question patrols — confirmed he is “still with us.”
“He did nothing wrong,” she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week.
Merrill noted officer Smith followed the agency’s weapons-storage policy. But that policy is broad, the Review-Journal found.
The federal guidelines first state that Fish and Wildlife Service officers may leave firearms they “routinely use for law enforcement purposes” in marked vehicles as long as they follow a series of conditions.
It is unclear if Smith routinely used the AR-15-style rifle and shotgun. Merrill said the weapons are commonly issued, and the purpose is “for carrying out their duties as law enforcement officers.”
A 2017 Fish and Wildlife Service publication on Smith described his duties as issuing traffic, hunting and fishing violations and handling vandalism, disorderly conduct and illegal target shooting cases.
“I really enjoy my job, especially because I have the discretion to make decisions in the field,” Smith is quoted as saying in the publication. “It’s important to have that kind of discretion when dealing with issues on such a vast landscape.”
When storing weapons in marked vehicles, the policy states officers must lock the vehicles, not attract attention to the vehicles and not leave the vehicles unattended for “an extended period of time.”
On the day of the burglary, Smith’s service vehicle was left in the same parking spot for at least an hour and 20 minutes, police records show. It’s unclear if the vehicle was unattended, but the person who initially reported the theft was a neighbor, not the officer, after the neighbor noticed a broken window.
The Fish and Wildlife Service policy also states officers can store weapons in unattended, marked vehicles provided the weapons are secured. Acceptable methods of secure storage include a locking device, a compartment, a glove box, a drawer or a locked vehicle trunk, according to the policy.
Concealment is only mentioned in reference to storing service weapons in unmarked vehicles.
“If this is not possible, officers must secure them with a locking device,” the policy states.
By comparison, the Metropolitan Police Department defines gun locks as an “additional safety precaution” but advises they are not to be used a substitute for secure storage.
In a general statement to the Review-Journal, the National Rifle Association also said gun locks should not be used as a substitution for secure storage.
Anderman, the gun violence prevention attorney, said the case reminded her of the 2015 fatal shooting of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco, in which a Bureau of Land Management ranger’s duty weapon was stolen from his personal vehicle, discarded, then accidentally discharged upon discovery, a jury found.
“I think there are things you think you don’t even need to have a policy about,” Anderman said of weapons storage protocols. “But I think we’re realizing we can’t rely on people to have good judgment when it comes to guns.”
Gun still missing
Las Vegas police have no apparent leads on Smith’s missing shotgun. Records show officers did not locate any witnesses to the burglary, and the property was not covered by any video surveillance.
A single suspect is listed in the incident report: Terrance White Jr., the man Las Vegas police killed in June.