EXCLUSIVE: 350 new guns for sheriffs stuck in storage, internal affairs probe launched

Sen. Will Espero
Sen. Will Espero

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three hundred fifty brand new pistols and holsters have been stuck in storage at the state Department of Public Safety's headquarters for an entire year, while an investigation into the gun deal with Smith & Wesson begins to intensify.

Acting public safety director Keith Kamita says the unused equipment will have to be returned. The move may end up costing taxpayers.

State sheriffs were looking to update their weapons system last year, when they received a trade offer from existing provider Smith & Wesson.

Hawaii News Now obtained a copy of the deal. The company would send 350 new M&P nine-millimeter pistols and matching holsters -- a package that normally goes for $185,500 -- and receive the sheriffs' old guns and some excess inventory in return.

It would amount to an even swap.

"If the state of Hawaii can get free guns, that's great," Sen. Will Espero, Senate public safety committee chair, said. "But my guess is it would take a little complexity."

The proposal went up the chain of command at the Department of Public Safety. An internal memo dated August 4, 2010 was sent to then-director Clayton Frank, who signed off on the offer with a handwritten message that it "would benefit the division."

Smith & Wesson delivered the new equipment in October 2010.

One year later, sources say the firearms are still sitting in storage, while the new administration investigates whether state procurement laws were violated.

Espero says proper procedures must be followed because even if a deal doesn't involve money, a company can still reap benefits such as promotional opportunities.

"Are there measures to make certain that management does have the skills and the training and the knowledge to ask basic questions, especially in something where the state gets something for free?" he said.

During this process, public safety officials reportedly discovered discrepancies in their existing weapons inventory.

"What I want to know is why it was incomplete and if it's incomplete now because it's my understanding that it is still incomplete," Espero said.

Kamita says the inventory problems have been addressed.

With the arrangement falling apart, the state may actually incur costs. The price tag for sending 350 pistols and holsters back to Smith & Wesson may be in the thousands of dollars.

The man who was the department's deputy director of administration when the gun deal was made is now in internal affairs investigating the case. Espero also questions that decision.

"This is basic management in my opinion," he said.

Kamita says there is no conflict of interest with the internal affairs investigator because he isn't the only one working on the case.

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