Former Taneytown police Chief William Tyler pleaded guilty Tuesday at a hearing in the U.S. District Court of Maryland to one count of possessing and transferring a machine gun.
“[Tyler] apologizes to the community and its hard-working citizens who he served for many years,” Tyler’s attorney Robert Biddle said in a written statement.
Tyler entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander. After his guilty plea the former police chief is faced with a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. He will be sentenced on June 14.
Tyler illegally possessed and transferred two .223 caliber, Ruger KAC556 model machine guns between Nov. 8, 2017, and Jan. 15 “in the District of Maryland and elsewhere,” and initially lied to federal agents that he had never fired the machine gun found at his residence and that he didn’t know it was an automatic rifle, according to a statement of facts prepared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Tyler recanted when he spoke again with federal agents, this time with his attorney present.
“These two machine guns were registered to the [Taneytown Police Department] and were restricted to Government entities or export in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record,” according to the statement of facts.
Tyler, who agreed to the facts outlined in the statement by pleading guilty, transferred one of the machine guns to himself for personal use on Nov. 8, 2017, and the other machine gun to “Officer 1” for their personal use on Nov. 13, 2017.
“[Tyler] did not attempt to report the transfers of machine guns or his possession of the machine gun to the National Firearms Act Branch,” the statement details.
Federal agents found one machine gun at Tyler’s residence in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, and the other machine gun at “Officer 1’s” residence when they executed sealed search warrants at the Taneytown Police Department and the two police officials’ residences on Jan. 15 in Fairfield.
Taneytown police Sgt. Brian Jestes lives on Mile Trail in Fairfield, according to the Adams County Tax Services Department, where FBI activity was reported on Jan. 15. According to a 2019 Taneytown police roster, obtained by the Times through a Public Information Act request, Tyler and Jestes were the only police officials who have listed addresses in Fairfield.
Tyler was released on his own recognizance before his sentencing hearing June 14, but he must report on a regular basis to a pretrial supervision facility in Harrisburg, Pa.
As a condition of his release, Tyler must refrain from possessing firearms and has to transfer ownership of three firearms he owns that are in Montana — where he owns property — to his father, who lives in the state. Tyler already signed paperwork to write over the firearms to his father, Biddle told the court.
Tyler is also not allowed to be in contact with potential witnesses in the sentencing hearing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office would have to put in writing any person Tyler could not contact.
“I think the conditions are very reasonable,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Hines told the court, highlighting the charges and that Tyler admittedly lied to federal agents.
The City of Taneytown announced Monday that it believed the machine guns outlined in Tyler’s charges “were at one time property of the Taneytown Police Department, having been acquired between 2002 and 2003.”
Former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent David Chipman told the Carroll County Times on Feb. 5 that the word “transfer” in charging documents is preferred to “sell” because prosecutors do not have to prove money was exchanged, only that the weapon changed ownership — from person to person or from entity, such as a police department, to a person.
Chipman, now a senior policy adviser at Giffords Law Center, a nonprofit organization aimed at curbing gun violence, said it would be easy for a police department to buy new machine guns, whereas eligible members of the public cannot buy fully automatic firearms manufactured after 1986.
“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.”
Taneytown elected officials in September received an anonymous complaint about its Police Department signed by a “concerned officer.” The complaint called into question the Police Department’s leadership and alleged that equipment — including ammunition — was regularly purchased for personal use. The Carroll County Times obtained the complaint through a Public Information Act request.
After calling Tyler into a meeting closed to the public, the city’s elected officials opted not to take any action because the then-police chief had reasonable answers for all of the allegations described in the complaint and the officials had reservations about acting on an anonymous letter.
“We asked the Chief [Tyler] about the issues that were raised,” Taneytown Mayor James McCarron said in January. “And he addressed each of the issues we raised to him and explained them to council’s satisfaction.
Tyler and the other officer, who the city has declined to identify, were placed on administrative leave by Jan. 17.
Tyler resigned Jan. 30. The other officer remains on administrative leave.
Police Lt. Jason Etzler, who was named in the anonymous complaint, which said that he and Tyler ruled by “fear,” was appointed Monday by the mayor and City Council as acting police chief.
“We’re awaiting info regarding any federal investigation that may involve the other officer,” Acting Taneytown City Manager Jim Wieprecht told the Times Tuesday. “We hope that after today’s events in the courtroom we may either have, or be able to obtain, some information on the matter so we can better plan for the needs of the department.”