East Bay News

Cops investigated for gun buying scandal

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Two Richmond police officers are on paid leave Tuesday as authorities investigate whether they illegally gave guns to young men who wanted to be cops. But the allegations do not end there. There is a startling claim they may have used women as decoys to dupe the men into a drunk driving arrest.

"Just growing up in a rough neighborhood, seeing the police be proactive, that kind of actually influenced me a lot to become one of them," former Richmond Police Explorer Orlando Torres said.

Torres and his best friend Sergio Rios joined Richmond's Police Explorer program hoping to get a foot in the door.

"We learned a lot, we learned a lot about the laws," Rios said.

They were excited when Danny Harris and Ray Thomas, the two officers who ran the Explorer program, asked them to work at their private security firm. Patrolling Richmond's notoriously dangerous Crescent Park Apartments felt like it was practice for real police work. They say they each paid Harris $500 to buy them Glock pistols.

"The handgun was needed for work and for working purposes," Rios said.

But at the time they were 19 and 20, too young under federal law to purchase a gun. It is illegal for someone else to buy guns for them.

After more than a year on the job, the friends say their relationship with their mentors went south when they complained about money and work conditions. That is when Rios says two strange women kept coming on to him.

"They wanted me to go out and meet them in the San Ramon area and drink, but they also wanted me to take my guns so they could take pictures with them naked," Rios said.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports the women are part of a Contra Costa County scandal involving private investigator Christopher Butler. Authorities say he hired female decoys to target men and get them drunk at bars like one in Danville where Butler's police contacts were there to arrest the men as they drove away drunk.

Rios says just before his meeting with the women a stranger sent him a message on Facebook warning him not to go. The tipster said Rios' former employers were setting him up.

Richmond's police chief said the department asked outside agencies like the FBI to investigate.

Chief Chris Magnus said in a statement, "The current media attention has made this story breaking news. It is not breaking news to us. We have been actively investigating and acting on this information for over a year."

As for Rios and Torres, they still want to be police officers.

"Not everyone in that police department is bad, you can't assume that whole police department is bad because of two officers, I don't see it that way," Torres said.

The FBI and Richmond police internal affairs are investigating. The two officers are on paid leave and have been for months. ABC7 was unable to reach them for comment but Thomas has reportedly denied the allegations.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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