Editorials

He found SLO police chief’s gun — now he might be charged with theft? That’s not justice

Is this justice?

A Los Osos man who apparently has a mental disability happens upon a gun in a restroom at El Pollo Loco — a gun the San Luis Obispo chief of police had absentmindedly left behind — and he does the worst possible thing. He pockets it and takes it home.

Now, the San Luis Obispo Police Department is asking the District Attorney’s Office to file three criminal charges against Skeeter Mangan: grand theft of a firearm, possession of a loaded firearm in a public place and burglary. Two of them are felonies.

It’s ultimately up to District Attorney Dan Dow to decide whether to charge Mangan for his role in what’s turned into one of the most convoluted and Keystone Coppish episodes in the history of the SLOPD.

Don’t do it, Mr. Dow.

Don’t waste taxpayer money and the office’s valuable time on this dog of a case.

First of all, how are you going to find a jury in San Luis Obispo County that hasn’t heard about the Case of the Chief’s Missing Gun and hasn’t already formed some sort of opinion?

Plus, there are extenuating circumstances: Police Chief Deanna Cantrell bears part of the blame for, by her own admission, carelessly leaving the gun in the restroom in the first place.

And these charges!

Burglary? That crime requires proof that Mangan entered the restroom intending to commit a crime.

Unless he admits that he went into the bathroom to filch a few rolls of toilet paper and maybe a plunger and then thought .... hmmm, even better, I’ll take this gun that happens to be right here on top of the toilet paper dispenser .... it’s going to be tough to prove Mangan had any intention of committing a crime.

Possessing a loaded firearm in the public place? Technically that may be true, but again, did Mangan even know the gun was loaded? Given the highly unusual circumstances, this is a ridiculous accusation.

And finally, theft of a firearm. This is the most problematic charge for Mangan. In the eyes of the law, “finders keepers, losers weepers” is not a legitimate excuse for appropriating property that is obviously not yours. California law requires making “reasonable and just efforts” to find the owner of lost property. In this case, there’s no evidence Mangan made any effort whatsoever until he was contacted by a relative.

However, if Mangan can show he took the weapon with the intention of returning it to its rightful owner, that is a defense.

Here’s where his brother-in-law, Sean Greenwood, comes in.

After police launched a search for the missing weapon, Greenwood recognized Mangan from the photo the San Luis Obispo Police Department circulated of the suspect — a photo it obtained from video taken by El Pollo Loco security cameras.

In a written statement, Greenwood wrote that he visited Mangan, who told him that he wanted to return the gun to its owner but didn’t know how to do that.

Greenwood also wrote that Mangan has mental disabilities; has a difficult time verbalizing; doesn’t own a cell phone or computer and isn’t on social media.

That would explain why Mangan wasn’t aware of the hunt for the missing gun and why he did not return it immediately,

Once Mangan was told about the situation, he said he wanted to return the gun to the “cop shop,” according to Greenwood’s statement.

Mangan and Greenwood then brought the weapon to the sheriff’s substation in Los Osos.

That should be the end of the story.

Instead, Mangan now has the threat of criminal charges hanging over his head — charges that could potentially land him in prison if he’s convicted and deprive him of rights that felons don’t possess, including the right to vote.

And what would that accomplish?

Absolutely nothing.

When the story of the missing gun first broke, we urged that Chief Cantrell be given a break; as we pointed out, we’re all prone to making mistakes.

Many community members also spoke out in support of Cantrell.

She got the break she deserved: She lost about $1,500 in pay and was required to take firearms safety training, but she kept her job.

Skeeter Mangan also made a mistake when he pocketed the gun instead of calling 911 or alerting management at El Pollo Loco.

Like the chief, Mangan also deserves a break, especially if he has mental disabilities that made it difficult for him to figure out the best way to handle such an unusual situation.

He’s been through enough.

And this episode has gone on long enough.

This isn’t justice.

We strongly urge the District Attorney’s Office to reach a decision as quickly as possible — and to show Skeeter Mangan the compassion and understanding this situation deserves.

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