Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee acknowledged he didn’t follow the state law or his own department’s policy when he left his service handgun in his personal truck just before the vehicle was stolen in Modesto April 27.
Shortly after the theft, the city’s top law enforcement officer approached Gilroy City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez and encouraged him to initiate an administrative investigation, which is ongoing.
“I talked to the city manager because we’ve got a legal issue from the gun not being locked in a box,” in accordance with state law, Smithee told the Dispatch this week.
The city’s administrative investigation will be conducted by an outside investigator “who I don’t know,” who will produce a report for Gonzalez’ review, Smithee said. “After that, we’ll have to determine what is the appropriate level of consequence for my action, at least from an administrative perspective,” the chief added.
Smithee reported his white Ford F250 stolen from the Modesto Junior College parking lot just after 8pm, according to Modesto Police Sgt. Jamie Demmings. Inside the vehicle were not only Smithee’s service weapon, but also his Gilroy police badge, city-issued laptop computer, his personal iPad and other personal items.
Police arrested Louis Grubeck, Jr., 36, of Modesto, on suspicion of stealing Smithee’s vehicle two days later, but the handgun, badge, laptop and other items have not been recovered, Demmings said. The arrest was made when officers from the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Taskforce located Smithee’s truck parked in a commercial lot.
“While they were observing it, they saw a suspect get into the truck, and made an arrest and recovered the stolen truck,” Demmings said. Grubeck was booked into Stanislaus County Jail on suspicion of auto theft.
Demmings noted that it is “impossible to determine how many people were in and out of that truck” between the time it was stolen to when it was recovered. Thus investigators do not yet know if Grubeck stole the vehicle from the MJC parking lot and then acquired it from someone else, or if he ever had possession of the gun and other items that were inside Smithee’s vehicle.
Smithee described his thoughts and actions in the hours before his vehicle was stolen. He left work at the Gilroy Police Department April 27 in his personal vehicle—which he said he rarely drives to work—to attend the graduation of a family member at MJC.
As he approached the college in his vehicle, Smithee strategically parked in a spot in the parking lot that was “right next to the street, near a crosswalk—what I thought was the perfect place.” He exited the vehicle, still wearing his badge and service weapon, and looked across to the entrance to the graduation. He saw a long line with security staff checking attendees, and wondered to himself if they would let him, a sworn police officer, into the venue with his handgun.
Smithee figured if he approached the venue wearing his handgun, but was denied entry, everyone in proximity would know he had a handgun and would be able to see him return to his vehicle and place his weapon inside. Thus, Smithee decided to leave his handgun and badge behind in the vehicle before getting in line.
He said he removed other items from his center console next to the driver’s seat of his truck and placed the handgun and badge in the bottom of the console. He then put the other things on top of the gun and badge so that nobody could see them from outside his truck.
Smithee locked the truck, attended the graduation ceremony, and returned to the parking lot to see his truck missing, he said. He immediately called Modesto Police to report the theft.
California law states that anyone who leaves a loaded handgun in a vehicle unattended must “lock the handgun in the vehicle’s trunk…in a locked container and place the container out of plain view, or lock the handgun in a locked container that is permanently affixed to the vehicle’s interior and not in plain view.”
If these options are not available, a peace officer may “lock the handgun out of plain view within the center utility console of that motor vehicle with a padlock, keylock, combination lock or other similar locking device,” according to the code section titled “Criminal Storage of Firearm.”
Smithee said Gilroy Police Departmentpolicy has the same wording. But the chief did not secure his handgun according to the provisions of the law and the policy because his vehicle does not have a trunk, and he does not have any other container in the truck in which to lock items up.
A violation of the state law is punishable by a fine up to $1,000, according to the code section.
The chief gave Modesto police the same description of how he left his handgun and badge in the vehicle. But Demmings noted, “It’s impossible to secure your firearm when the vehicle itself is stolen. In certain circumstances, even if you do what you should do, bad things happen.”