October 1, 2014

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Officer who retired amid investigation suspected of mishandling guns

LORAIN — Retired Lorain police Officer Ralph Gonzalez was being investigated for mishandling his department-issued firearms, two of which police believe are now on the black market, when he turned in his retirement paperwork Sept. 28.

Gonzalez, who joined the force in September 1992, fell under suspicion when a Glock 9 mm semiautomatic pistol issued to him by the city turned up during a felony warrant arrest May 16, according to Lorain Police Department records.

Gonzalez had reported the weapon was destroyed in a March 5, 2011, fire at his Sheffield Township home, Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera wrote in a report recommending that the veteran officer be suspended without pay for 60 days.

After the gun turned up in a raid on West 10th Street, Aaron Tate told police that he had purchased the weapon from Chad Boyd, who had previously been convicted of theft for stealing another city-owned gun from Gonzalez. In that instance, Gonzalez received a three-day unpaid suspension, Rivera wrote.

A third gun, a .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol, was stolen from Gonzalez’s home during a 2008 burglary.

Rivera wrote that while most city police officers are issued two guns, one for use on-duty and another as a back-up weapon, Gonzalez has been issued six firearms. He also wrote that Gonzalez’s son, who has not been charged with a crime, appears to have been involved in the theft of three guns from his father.

Gonzalez told police that he suspects his son of involvement as well, and the report indicated that while prosecutors didn’t initially believe there was enough evidence to charge the son, they are now re-examining the case.

Police couldn’t prove that Gonzalez was trying to defraud the city, but Rivera wrote that the officer didn’t handle the matter correctly.

“It was evident that Gonzalez was not completely truthful during the investigation and that, at a minimum, he had been negligent in the storing of his weapon,” Chief Rivera wrote. In his investigative summary, police Sgt. Albert Rivera wrote that Gonzalez had turned in two guns to the Police Department following the fire, stating that they were his city-issued weapons. A third Glock pistol, which he said he purchased at a Medina gun show, was destroyed in the fire, as well, and Gonzalez told Sgt. Rivera that he threw the gun away because “it was a burnt up piece of garbage.”

But Sgt. Rivera determined that Gonzalez had turned in his personal gun to the Police Department and told his superiors it was his city-owned gun.

Gonzalez also said that while he believed he’d thrown his personal gun away, his wife had told him that he had kept it and it was not in a box in his garage, according to the report.

Gonzalez and Sgt. Rivera then went to his home and his wife, June Gonzalez, denied having seen the gun.

“You said that you threw that pistol away in the trash because it was ‘burned up,’ “ the report quoted June Gonzalez as having said.

And while Gonzalez told police that the fire destroyed all three pistols and that their charred remains were given to him by insurance investigators, State Farm Insurance reported that one of the guns was fully operational when it was returned to Gonzalez following the blaze.

Gonzalez later acknowledged that he mishandled the situation and should have checked the serial numbers of the weapons he gave to police to make sure he was giving them the right guns.

But he also refused to take a polygraph exam that his superiors had ordered him to take, even after they agreed to rescheduled the test. Chief Rivera recommended that Gonzalez reimburse the city for the fee the city was charged for the untaken polygraph and that he should reimburse the city for the cost of two guns.

The chief also wrote that while prosecutors had requested a criminal investigation of Gonzalez, it was determined after an initial review that there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue criminal charges against the officer.

Chief Rivera wrote that while Gonzalez had a good record for most of his time with the Police Department, the misconduct he was being investigated for was an “especially egregious departure from what is expected of our police officers.”

In addition to damaging the Police Department’s reputation, Rivera wrote, three police-owned firearms ended up on the street, two of which are still “more than likely in the wrong hands.”

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.