A Prince George's County police officer assigned to a state gun seizure task force stole weapons from an evidence locker and resold them on the street, prosecutors told jurors Monday at the start of the officer's trial.
Cpl. Juan D. Carter faces six counts of misconduct in office and seven theft charges related to 16 weapons that went missing while he served as a property officer for the Maryland State Police-led Gun Interdiction Task Force.
"He knew what he was supposed to do and yet the guns that he seized — machine guns, shotguns, and handguns — they wound up back in the community," Assistant State's Attorney Jonathon Church said during opening arguments in Mr. Carter's trial. "At some point those guns wound up being recovered on the streets and those guns were traced back to the defendant."
Mr. Carter's defense attorney questioned what benefit his client, a mid-career police officer with no debt to speak of, could have gained from putting his job on the line to sell stolen guns for minuscule amounts of money.
Rather, attorney Douglas Wood said, the task force on which Mr. Carter served was disorganized and prosecutors were out to make him the fall guy for the missing weapons.
"Juan Carter was very active in seizing the guns but not as good at the paperwork," Mr. Wood said. "At no point did Juan Carter take any guns from the task force and sell them on the street."
Prosecutors said that when Cpl. Carter, 37, learned that investigators were looking into his activities that he took measures to erase his paper trail and, as a result, had no record of making any gun seizures for approximately 19 months.
Cpl. Carter, of Bowie, was indicted on the charges in October 2010 after a nearly year-long investigation. The Prince George's County Police Department's internal affairs division was alerted to the suspected thefts in November 2009 and Cpl. Carter, a then-13-year veteran of the force, was immediately suspended from duty, police officials said.
He has been suspended without pay since October 2010, a police spokesman said.
According to trial testimony, the gun task force was composed of eight officers who came from the county police department and sheriff's agency as well as the Maryland State Police.
The group targeted individuals who were prevented from owning guns because of criminal histories but appeared to be still purchasing ammunition from local gun shops, testified Maryland State Police Capt. Donald Harrison. He initially supervised the task force after it was formed in 2007.
Guns seized by the task force were often stored in a padlocked locker in the office where the task force was based before the arms were forwarded to the police department's firearms examination unit, Capt. Harrison said.
An undetermined number of people, ranked as supervisors or senior corporals like Cpl. Carter, had access to the storage rooms at the police department's narcotics enforcement division where all guns seized by the police department were stored, testified Lt. Etienne Jones, a former county police internal affairs investigator.
"I can't tell you who had access to those rooms," Lt. Jones said when asked by Mr. Wood for a list of names of people who could go into the rooms where the guns were supposedly taken.
Cpl. Carter's trial is expected to last through Wednesday.
Family members who escorted him out of the courtroom declined to comment.
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