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Chief cleared in gun deals

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated allegations of misconduct by Brooksville police Chief Ed Tincher, but the state attorney's office has cleared him of any intentional wrongdoing.

Most of the allegations stemmed from Tincher's dealings with a local gun shop, where he would trade confiscated weapons for department credit and, in some cases, return later to buy some of those weapons for himself.

The chief's purchases and trades from 1984 to 1989 were poorly documented, authorities say.

FDLE investigators found that Tincher, who became police chief in 1983, was "involved in a progressive pattern of questionable incidents, both personal and professional, involving the trade, sale and purchase of firearms."

However, a subsequent inquiry by State Attorney Brad King's office found no evidence of criminal intent on Tincher's part.

In response to a Times public records request Friday, Assistant State Attorney Rita Battista released the FDLE investigative report. Also made public was a May 26 letter from Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway that essentially clears Tincher.

"While the lack of proper procedure in dealing with evidence is disturbing, it does not appear that any active criminal prosecutions were affected, and no further action on that issue is within our authority," Ridgway wrote. "Clearly the city of Brooksville needs to review and improve its procedures and documentation of the handling and disposal of evidence."

The FDLE report, summarizing a three-month investigation, detailed the allegations lodged by sources who said they had been concerned about Tincher's activities. Among the allegations:

Tincher broke state law regarding procedures for disposal of weapons in evidence that had been seized by the Brooksville Police Department.

Tincher improperly used his official position to obtain certain weapons from evidence after their improper disposal.

He bought and sold multiple firearms without a federal firearms license.

He handled evidence improperly.

He misused forfeiture funds.

The FDLE report indicated that, while serving in capacity as police chief, Tincher "placed himself and the department in a position of liability."

Friday, Tincher declined to discuss the investigation at length on the advice of attorneys Jimmy Brown and Chip Harp. However, he denied any wrongdoing and said the investigation amounted to a violation of his civil rights.

"I've got 15 years invested in this department, and I care dearly for this city and the department, and I have not nor would I do anything to discredit this department," Tincher said. "I feel very comfortable that in the future, (weapons) disposal will be done strictly through the city attorney's office. I will not rely upon other people telling me it's all right to do certain things."

Interim City Manager Jim Malcolm, who has only been in the post since Tuesday, already faces his first crisis. He said he had not been fully briefed on the investigation Friday.

However, based on the state attorney's decision not to prosecute, Malcolm said it was unlikely Tincher would be punished. Instead, city policies dealing with handling confiscated weapons probably will be revised and toughened.

"Obviously, he hasn't been convicted. A court can't say he's guilty and (the city) can't say he's guilty," Malcolm said. "At first blush, what we are looking at is beefing up our policies."

The FDLE report gives this account of some of Tincher's actions between 1984 and 1989 that came under scrutiny:

In August 1984, the chief turned over eight service shotguns in exchange for six new Remington 870 shotguns. The Bullseye Gun Shop issued a $785 credit for the eight service weapons, but city financial records indicate the city paid the full $1,288.62 for the Remingtons. No credit for the city is listed.

The chief personally bought two Ithaca shotguns at $195 each and a Winchester shotgun at $78.75, all of which he had turned into the shop. Two were bought the day after they were taken to the shop and two shortly thereafter.

Receipts showed Tincher bought at least three shotguns in his own name. One was for himself and the other two were for Detective Bill Luehl, who Tincher said has still not reimbursed him.

Luehl remembered it differently. He told investigators he recalled spending between $300 and $350 on two shotguns from the gun shop, but he gave Tincher the money to pick up the guns for him.

The report documents deals in subsequent years wherein Tincher traded dozens of guns, sometimes without required court orders showing the weapons could legally be traded.

Regarding a 1988 trade of a .32-caliber pistol from evidence traded as partial payment for a new gun, Tincher said he assumed any city property held longer than 90 days could be disposed of by the department.

The report indicates Tincher always worked through the Bullseye Gun Shop without "price-shopping" other vendors.

He allegedly circumvented the evidence inventory process in 1989 when he took 49 weapons from the evidence room before the custodian could account for them all. Officer John Eakins was forced to rely on a receipt from the gun shop to determine what firearms had been traded.

Records show Tincher bought two of the traded weapons for himself that same day.

In a deal worked through the gun shop with a company called S. E. R. Distributors, Tincher arranged to buy 19 new 9mm automatic pistols for the department. The gun shop made the down payment of $3,325 to S. E. R., presumably based on weapons traded from police evidence.

But the city allegedly wound up paying the balance of more than $4,000 from the Criminal Justice Trust Fund, which by state law is supposed to be used to train police officers, not to buy new guns.

Tincher said his officers got one day of training and qualifying in the use of automatic weapons, "which he felt met the criteria for use of the training funds."

Tincher chronology

From 1984 to 1989, Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators allege, Brooksville police Chief Ed Tincher was involved in several incidents dealing with the improper disposal of confiscated weapons from the Police Department's evidence room.

August 1985: Chief Tincher took 25 handguns and shotguns from evidence to the Bullseye Gun Shop in trade for a Steyr Marksman rifle and miscellaneous attachments for the Police Department. The trade was cleared by then-City Manager Jim Cummings. However, records indicate the evidence custodian could only account for 10 of the traded weapons.

April 1986: Two pistols were traded to the gun shop for a Smith & Wesson .38. The same day, 25 more firearms were traded for three service revolvers. The attached court order did not include documentation that would prove state laws regarding disposal of weapons had been followed.

January 1988: Tincher traded a .32-caliber pistol from evidence as a partial payment toward a new .38-caliber weapon.

He thought any property held for longer than 90 days could be disposed of by the department. He said he could not remember if he price-shopped before buying the gun from the Bullseye Gun Shop.

October 1988: Tincher took a compound bow from evidence, traded it at the gun shop and eventually obtained the bow for himself. Later, he traded the bow to one of his detectives for a Ford engine.

May-June 1989: Tincher told evidence custodian Officer John Eakins to gather all firearms in evidence and check their dispositions for possible disposal. The guns would be traded to Bullseye. Tincher took 46 firearms from evidence before Eakins could complete the inventory. Later, Eakins had to rely on inventory provided by Bullseye to determine which weapons had been traded.

Records showed Tincher bought two of the confiscated weapons himself the same day he took them to the shop. In June, Tincher took 12 service revolvers to the shop. Six months later, he bought one of the revolvers for himself.

The gun shop issued a check to S. E. R. Distributors for $3,325 as partial payment toward the department's 19 new 9mm automatic pistols. The shop's only reference to any trades is hand-written on a statement received from S. E. R., indicating it was a "purchase-trade." No indication of what type or how many weapons were traded or whether the trade value included 46 firearms from evidence, 12 service revolvers or both. No indication the city of Brooksville would pay the balance.

FDLE investigators reported that the city paid the rest of the bill _ $3,890 _ from a criminal justice trust fund, meant for training police officers.

Tincher did not seek bids or appraisals for the S. E. R. deal because S. E. R. was on state contract with Smith & Wesson. He turned the weapons over to Bullseye, he said, because S. E. R. would not accept traded weapons. Tincher said he had a verbal agreement with Bullseye and S. E. R. so that Bullseye could take the trade-ins and tell S. E. R. the approximate value. Bullseye kept the weapons and paid S. E. R. directly.