Ex-Taneytown police chief charged with illegally possessing machine guns due in court Tuesday: 5 things we know

Former Taneytown Police Chief William Tyler is scheduled to make his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Tuesday, Feb. 12, for an arraignment hearing on charges of transferring and possessing illegal machine guns.

The arraignment hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. in Courtroom 5B before U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander. Court records show Tyler is being represented by Baltimore-based attorney Robert W. Biddle.

Here are five things we know about the situation thus far.

1. Warrants were served at three locations in January

Agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Jan. 15 executed search warrants at the Taneytown Police Department, Tyler’s residence in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, and another residence in Fairfield.

FBI activity was reported Jan. 15 on Mile Trail in Fairfield. Taneytown Police Sgt. Brian Jestes lives on Mile Trail, according to the Adams County Tax Services Department. As of Monday, the warrants remained sealed. No additional charges, other than those against Tyler, appear to have been filed at this time.

2. Chief placed on administrative leave, then resigned

Tyler and another officer, whom Taneytown Mayor Jim McCarron recently identified as a sergeant in the department in his “Mayor’s Message” of the city’s most recent newsletter, were placed on administrative leave after agents executed the search warrants Jan. 15.

Two weeks later, the city announced it had accepted Tyler’s resignation on Jan. 30. Charges were filed in U.S. District Court days later.

3. Machine guns are easier for law enforcement to obtain than civilians

Tyler is charged with illegally possessing and transferring two Ruger .223 caliber, model KAC556 machine guns.

It’s unclear when the firearms were produced or how Tyler obtained the weapons, but the fully automatic firearms would be easier for a law enforcement official to purchase for their department than they would be for a member of the public to legally obtain, according to both a local machine gun dealer and former federal agent.

Machine guns manufactured before 1986 can be transferred and sold by individuals registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said David Chipman, who was an ATF special agent for 25 years and is now a senior policy adviser at Giffords Law Center, a nonprofit organization aimed at curbing gun violence.

Post-’86 machine guns are only available for military and law enforcement, Chipman told the Times.

A police chief who wanted to buy a machine gun for his department could go to a machine gun dealer with a letter — on department letterhead — stating that he wanted to buy a certain machine gun, and that dealer could sell it to the chief, said Skip Edgley, owner of S & J Arms Co., a machine gun dealer in Sykesville.

Automatic weapons police departments obtain for official use are supposed to be used exclusively for the department duty, Chipman said. The former ATF agent added that he saw cases where a law enforcement official bought automatic firearms under the auspices of their position, but employed the guns for personal use.

“When police departments come forward and they have this exemption that they can buy new machine guns, you’re buying it for official use,” Chipman said. “So there would be that crime if you never intended it for official use.”

4. Taneytown received complaint from ‘concerned officer’ prior to raid

In September, about four months prior to the federal raid at the police station, Taneytown’s mayor and City Council received an anonymous complaint that called into question the police department’s leadership and alleged equipment was regularly purchased for personal use.

The Sept. 7 complaint letter, signed “Concerned Officer,” alleged the department is “ruled by fear,” naming Tyler and his second-in-command, Lt. Jason Etzler. The author wrote that “special” flashlights and communication headsets were purchased for personal use and that ammunition “mysteriously disappeared” from the department.

On Sept. 10, the mayor and council entered a closed session to address the complaint. No action was taken regarding the anonymous complaint, according to the closed session minutes.

Tyler had a reasonable answer for all the concerns raised by the complaint, Mayor James McCarron and councilmembers Judy Fuller, Joe Vigliotti and Bradley Wantz said.

“We asked the Chief [Tyler] about the issues that were raised,” McCarron told the Times. “And he addressed each of the issues we raised to him and explained them to council’s satisfaction… The ammunition that was supposedly missing wasn’t at all based on what was disclosed later.”

After questioning Tyler, council members say there was no need to discuss further action or potentially having a larger law enforcement agency perform an audit or investigation.

5. Taneytown is expected to announce its next steps Monday night

The Mayor and Taneytown City Council met in a closed session on Saturday to receive legal advice regarding the ongoing situation involving the Taneytown Police Department and federal investigators.

A statement from the Mayor and Council says that they have “agreed upon a plan of action that will address both their concerns and those of the citizens of Taneytown” and that additional information will be provided at the council’s upcoming meeting on Monday, Feb. 11, at City Hall.

Etzler assumed command of the Taneytown Police Department after Tyler was placed on leave, and has continued to lead the department on an interim basis.

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