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September 21, 2010

Police officer dismissed after failing to properly surrender a weapon

Police officer dismissed after failing to properly surrender a weapon
Doolittle v McMahon, Appellate Division, 245 AD2d 736

A State Trooper's failure to properly dispose of a weapon ultimately led to a fellow Trooper’s dismissal for "official misconduct." The misconduct, in the words of the Appellate Division, involved Doolittle's "purchasing [a] pistol from [a fellow Trooper] knowing that it was not lawfully possessed by him."

Dorothy Snyder had turned over a .32 caliber semiautomatic pistol that had belonged to her deceased husband to Trooper Warren Meizner. Meizner sold the weapon to Trooper James E. Doolittle for $50.

According to the court, the weapon was required to be surrendered to the Division of State Police. Rather than surrendering the pistol as required, Meizner sold the pistol to Doolittle who was then under an obligation to surrender it to the Division. Doolittle, rather than surrendering the firearm, attempted to convert it as his own property by filling out a State Police Acquisition or Disposition of Firearm Report [“D Form”] which was false.

In the course of filing the D Form, it was learned that the pistol had never been registered to Snyder. After an investigation, Doolittle was served disciplinary charges and found guilty of violating State Police regulations by "knowing violating Penal Law Sections 155.30 (larceny); 175.30 (offering a false instrument for filing); and 195.00 (official misconduct). The penalty imposed: dismissal.

The Appellate Division rejected Doolittle's appeal, holding that the disciplinary determination was supported by substantial evidence and the penalty imposed "was not so disproportionate as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness," citing Pell v Board of Education, 34 NY2d 222.

The Court said that the disciplinary panel had substantial evidence that Doolittle had "acquired the weapon in an unauthorized manner for his own benefit while acting in his official capacity ... and was under a duty to surrender the gun as a nuisance weapon to [the Division]. Not having done so, Doolittle was guilty of official misconduct.
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