The Washington Times - June 17, 2012, 10:07PM

Army First Lt. Augustine Kim’s finally got the Washington Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to return his guns after two years — only to find them permanently damaged. The department violated its own regulations on handling firearms in evidence by engraving marks on the sides of the guns, and the city should reimburse the soldier for the loss. 

auggee(This is the final part of a four-part series on Lt. Kim’s case. Click here to read part one: Injured Vet’s Guns Stolen By D.C.)

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The Afghanistan war veteran was wrongly arrested while lawfully transporting his firearms from New Jersey to his home in South Carolina.

All charges were later dismissed, but the city refused to respond to repeated requests from the national guardsman to return the $10,000 worth of property seized during a traffic stop.

After The Washington Times highlighted this case,  his congressional representatives — Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Tim Scott — got involved. 

Mr. Graham wrote to Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier to demand the guns be returned to his constituent immediately.

On Friday, May 18, MPD Property Clerk Derek Gray ruled that the guns should be sent to a police department in Charleston “next week.” 

09By Thursday, May 24, with one day to go until the deadline, the guns had not arrived. Lt. Kim’s attorney, Richard Gardiner, could not get an answer about when they were sending it from the evidence department.

I asked MPD Spokesman Gwendolyn Crump about the status. She responded two hours later that the guns, “will be delivered to the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office by Saturday.” 

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In a last-minute effort to make the deadline, MPD paid the shipping cost for priority overnight Saturday FedEx delivery.

The department should have saved the taxpayers’ money because the Forensic Services Service department in the Charleston County Sheriff’s office was closed on the weekend. Since Monday was Memorial Day, the soldier was not able to pick up his personal guns until Tuesday. 

At first, Lt. Kim was pleased when he opened the two large boxes and found all of the items - two pistols, a rifle, various parts and accessories and even 11 rounds of .45 caliber ammunition - accounted for. Most of the items were sealed in moisture resistant evidence bags and showed little corrosion on the parts. 

scrape“It looked like the property had been very well cared for,” said Lt. Kim’s attorney, Richard Gardiner. “Then Augee investigated more closely and found markings.” When the national guardsman unwrapped the pistols, he found letters engraved on the sides of the frame.

Mr. Gardiner emailed Mr. Gray’s boss, MPD Inspector Nathan Sims: “Lt. Kim picked up his packages this morning. He noticed that there were what appeared to be initials engraved on all but one of the firearms. Is it departmental policy to mark recovered items with the officer’s initials and/or any other markings? If so, why were only three of the firearms marked?”

Inspector Sims wrote back: “Yes, it is our General Order 601.1 policy. Whoever was the recovering officer is required to mark pistols/handguns to allow for easy identification by the member at a later date. Large weapons would have only been tagged.”

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While it is routine practice for cops to engrave their initials on seized firearms, they are supposed to do it in accordance with their agency’s policy.

In this case, someone ignored the policy detailed in an internal MPD directive that says evidence should be marked “in a manner that does not deface or alter its appearance.”

The policy to which Inspector Sims referred, General Order 601.1 which is detailed on an internal MPD directive, is much more specific about the markings on firearms. It says that evidence should be marked “in a manner that does not deface or alter its appearance.” 

The internal guidelines are specific about how this should be done on a firearm. “All pistols shall be marked by removing the grips from the frame of the weapon and making the appropriate remarks beneath the grips.”

Lt. Kim’s guns were marked on the side of the gun, which is clearly a violation of the policy and diminishes the value of the firearms. 

Mr. Gardiner said his client has not yet decided if he will file a lawsuit.

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“The charges were dismissed and his property has been returned, said the longtime firearms attorney. “So the case is over unless Augee decides to bring a civil suit for the extensive delay in returning the property and for the damage to the property as well.” 

Lt. Kim is preparing to deploy to Kosovo this summer. It’s good that his two-year ordeal is over before leaving the country, but the District shouldn’t have left this permanent scar on his guns as a reminder. 

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times. Her “Emily Gets Her Gun” series on the District’s gun laws won the 2012 Clark Mollenhoff Award for Investigative Reporting from the Institute on Political Journalism.You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.