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Pinellas sheriff sues maker of rifles that suddenly turn into 'machine guns’

The agency recalled 309 rifles from Odessa-based Adams Arms and demanded a refund of more than $300,000.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri sued a Tampa Bay area gun manufacturer, another step in what has become a fraught relationship between the sheriff and the company.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, spells out in painstaking detail the problems that the Sheriff’s Office has experienced with more than 300 AR-15s bought from Odessa-based Adams Arms. The agency started buying from the gun maker in July 2014. The first defect, which the lawsuit says caused the semiautomatic gun to turn fully automatic “like a machine gun” arose in August 2016.

The suit is for damages in excess of $15,000 but doesn’t specify an amount beyond that. However, the sheriff previously said he’s seeking a refund for all 309 Adams Arms rifles in the agency’s possession, which amounts to about $301,123.

“This lawsuit cannot restore confidence and trust in Adams Arms’ rifles,” the suit says, “but it can make taxpayers whole for buying guns that could not reliably protect public and officer safety.”

RELATED: Pinellas sheriff yanks 309 rifles over ‘serious manufacturing’ issues

Jason East, president of Adams Arms Holdings, said Tuesday company officials are “disappointed the sheriff took this approach” but declined to comment further because they had just learned of the legal action. Adams Arms Holdings formed this year after the original limited liability company was sold to its creditors.

The sheriff announced to deputies in September that he was recalling the rifles over “some serious manufacturing and quality control issues.”

The problems ranged from trigger defects to rifle jams to magazine issues, the lawsuit said. Adams Arms repaired the rifles and sent them back to the Sheriff’s Office. But the problems persisted, the lawsuit says, including two more rifles that fired fully automatic.

On Sept. 3, the sheriff gave the company a choice to refund his agency or inspect them and guarantee in writing they are free from defects that would cause them to go fully automatic.

The manufacturer’s CEO wrote back that the company was “developing a rigorous process to inspect/test/verify all of the firearms that Adams Arms has provided PCSO over the last few years," according to the lawsuit.

The next day, a deputy practicing at the range pulled the trigger on one of the rifles, but nothing happened. That marked the final straw for Gualtieri, who yanked the rifles and replaced them with guns from Rock River, a gun maker that the agency has bought from before.

Gualtieri said this week he gave Adams Arms a deadline to refund him the money. That came and went a couple weeks ago.

“There’s an irony in the disappointment,” he said, referring to East’s comment. "Obviously I’m disappointed in them for producing an inferior product to put on the street with our deputies. Maybe they should just do the right thing and refund the money and put this thing to rest.”

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