No investigation for Paso Robles police Chief Lisa Solomon after gun gaffe

Chief Solomon says it was a mistake to leave her gun in an unlocked car, but not registering her firearm wasn’t illegal

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comSeptember 24, 2009 

Paso Robles police Chief Lisa Solomon won’t face investigation for not registering her personal firearm several years ago, according to local and state agencies.

Her loaded .380-caliber handgun was stolen from the center console of her unlocked, unmarked police vehicle while it was parked at her Paso Robles home in late February 2008.

Solomon acknowledges that she made a mistake by leaving the car unlocked, but maintains she did nothing illegal, because, she said, state penal codes 12072 and 12078 provide exceptions to the registration law when a gun is transferred between spouses in a divorce, including transfers under section 850 of the family code.

City Attorney Iris Yang agrees with Solomon’s interpretation.

The State Attorney General’s Office said that while it’s true a gun can be transferred without going through a weapons dealer in a divorce, notifying the federal Department of Justice that there’s a new owner is still required and was when Solomon’s transaction took place.

There still won’t be charges against Solomon because the incident would have been a misdemeanor and the statute of limitations has passed, the state Attorney General’s Office said.

Filing such charges is in the Atascadero Police Department’s jurisdiction, the District Attorney’s Office said, and Atascadero Police Chief Jim Mulhall said its position “was to establish the ownership of the weapon and return it to its owner. And that’s been done.” Its position was also to catch and charge the person who had the stolen gun, and that too has been done, Mulhall said.

The state Attorney General’s Office won’t conduct an investigation on Solomon either, press secretary Christine Gasparac said, because its office doesn’t do that — the jurisdiction remains with the Atascadero Police Department.

‘A big mistake’

Leaving the gun in an unlocked car was “a big mistake,” Solomon said. “And I own up to that.”

News of the incident surfaced recently, prompting some to question what would come of it.

Solomon received the handgun during a divorce in 2000 from her former husband, who got it as a law enforcement officer in 1995, she said.

According to the county District Attorney’s Office, he purchased the gun from a licensed firearms dealer while he was an investigator in that office.

Solomon recently filed a firearm ownership record with the state Department of Justice, she said. Filing that form is the same as registering it, Gasparac said.

The police chief didn’t file it before because she maintains she didn’t have to and that the requirement was not in place when she acquired the gun in 2000, Solomon said.

Still, Solomon filed it “out of an abundance of caution,” she said. “I wanted to go above and beyond the legal requirements in order to quell any questions regarding the ownership of the weapon.”

After realizing her police car was unlocked and her gun was missing the morning of Feb. 24, 2008, Solomon said she reported the theft to the Paso Robles Police Department and called her boss, City Manager Jim App.

The Paso Robles Police Department has a theft report dated Feb. 24.

App agreed that Solomon made an error in judgment for not locking her car, but didn’t punish her.

“She knows I wasn’t happy, but I have to measure those kind of things, and in this case, it was that she had 7,000 days in (21) years of solid service with the Police Department,” App said. “And those 7,000 days outweighed this one mistake.”

The incident

While patrolling on Feb. 24, 2008, Atascadero police Officer Matt Chesson discovered the stolen handgun at 4 a.m. after searching a vehicle parked at a closed gas station on El Camino Real, according to a police report.

The Honda hatchback had two people inside — Jay Weston Short, a homeless man and the registered owner of the car, and Gregory Michael Cisneros of Templeton, riding on the passenger’s side.

Chesson found a drug pipe, a knife, eight rounds of ammunition and a handgun inside, according to the police report. The gun was unloaded when Chesson found it, he said in the report, and he didn’t know it was Solomon’s gun at the time.

Chesson arrested Cisneros for having the drug pipe and let Short go because of the way the gun was stored, according to the police report.

Chesson seized the handgun “on the basis that it could have been stolen,” Mulhall said, because Short said a friend had left the gun in the car but didn’t give a name.

Short was arrested on Feb. 28, 2008, after he denied being directly involved in the gun theft but said he knew the handgun was stolen, according to the second police report.

He was charged with receiving stolen property, a misdemeanor, and the felony of carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle.

The court dropped the concealed firearm charge in exchange for Short’s no-contest plea to the misdemeanor. Pleading no-contest results in a conviction without an admission of guilt. He was sentenced to 45 days in county jail and two years probation and fined $400 in March 2008.

It took several days to link Solomon with her gun because the Paso Robles Police Department accidentally entered its serial number incorrectly while taking the theft report, according to a follow-up police report through Atascadero. Eventually, officers discovered the error and matched the serial numbers, officials said. On Feb. 28, 2008, Mulhall signed the gun out at the Atascadero Police Department property evidence room to return it to Solomon.

Solomon also signed for it, Mulhall said, and ownership was established through a series of questions in a meeting with him.

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