Fayette deputies face gun-theft charges

Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt discussed an internal investigation during a press conference on May 10, 2012.
Fayette County Sheriff Kathy Witt discussed an internal investigation during a press conference on May 10, 2012.

Two Fayette County sheriff's deputies were arrested Thursday and a former deputy was cited following an investigation into missing guns.

Sgt. Merle McDaniel, 55, Maj. Chris Tudor, 37, and former Sgt. Bill Beers, 47, were charged after an internal investigation at the Fayette County sheriff's office. The investigation revealed that guns confiscated by McDaniel and Beers had not been booked into the office's property vault.

It was later discovered that two of the weapons had been sold at pawn shops, Sheriff Kathy Witt said at a news conference Thursday.

All but one of the guns have since been recovered and either booked into the sheriff's vault or returned to their owners. If the missing gun cannot be found, its owner will be reimbursed, Witt said.

"We are continuing to work diligently ... to locate that firearm," she said.

McDaniel was charged with two counts of theft by unlawful taking for failing to book six weapons, according to court documents. Beers was charged with three counts of theft by failure to make required disposition after allegedly failing to book eight weapons.

Tudor was cited for official misconduct, accused of creating a false report to cover up four missing guns, according to court records.

Beers and Tudor both declined to comment when reached by phone Thursday. McDaniel could not be reached.

Rumors that guns had gone missing had spread to the media in recent weeks. Following inquiries from several news organizations, Witt held a news conference at Fayette District Court on Thursday. She was flanked by officials from the sheriff's office and the Lexington police department.

Witt said she was "tremendously disappointed" at the alleged conduct of the three veteran deputies.

"The actions taken by these individuals are unacceptable and have resulted in swift action to relieve these individuals of their duties," she said.

Beers resigned last week. McDaniel and Tudor were suspended without pay while the investigation continued.

Witt said an internal investigation began several weeks ago when she was alerted to a single weapon that was unaccounted for. During that investigation, it came to light that multiple guns were missing and criminal charges might be filed.

The subsequent criminal investigation was handled by the sheriff's office and reviewed by Lexington police, Witt said.

"I'm satisfied that it's a very thorough investigation," Police Chief Ronnie Bastin said.

Witt declined to comment about some aspects of the investigation because she said it could affect the criminal case. She said the sheriff's office was reviewing policies to prevent such acts from occurring again.

During the news conference, Witt also gave a brief update on the status of a separate internal inquiry into allegations that a sheriff's deputy had tipped off registered sex offenders to an upcoming compliance check. According to documents obtained by the Herald-Leader in January, several sex offenders said they knew federal agents would be coming because they were told by a sheriff's deputy.

That inquiry has stalled because the sheriff's deputy has resigned, Witt said. He resigned before he could be interviewed by a disciplinary board.

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