Many questions after theft from sheriff’s office

First Posted: 4/22/2015

Now that we know what was stolen from the evidence room of the Allen County Sheriff’s office — more than 30 guns, including an AK-47 assault rifle, as well as $11,800 — the next big questions are what happened to the weapons, and if they were sold, did the people buying them realize they were stolen?

We’re also left wondering about the sheriff’s office procedures for securing evidence: Were they too lax, and what can be done to ensure something like this never happens again?

This is a textbook case for the need of total transparency so the public understands exactly what happened. As embarrassing as that could be for the sheriff’s office, it is paramount to ensuring the department’s long-term trustworthiness and credibility. Anything less could be a setback to public confidence for years.

The answers to those questions could come in several ways:

• As part of the proceedings when former Allen County Sheriff Sgt. Frederick DePalma goes to trial.

• They could be shared by authorities or sources prior to the trial for a variety of reasons, including to dispel rumors or to negate what could be damaging testimony during a trial.

• Or, when the case is closed. At this point, an investigatory file becomes public record, although prosecutors have been known to try to skirt the law by claiming a possible appeal keeps the investigation open.

Thus far, the right things are being done.

Local authorities have turned over the investigation and court hearings to parties outside of Allen County. The last thing needed is any hint of a conflict of interest. The Bureau of Criminal Investigation is handling the investigation, an outside prosecutor has been assigned, and visiting judge Randall Basinger will hear the case.

The 49-year-old DePalma had been with the sheriff’s office for 27 years. He retired in November, but maintained special deputy status until Sheriff Sam Crish terminated his credentials in late January. The way in which his career has now ended calls into question his entire length of service in regards to other possible wrongdoing.

DePalma has pleaded innocent to all charges in the 47-page, 112-count indictment. He faces 35 counts of theft in office, 42 counts of tampering with evidence, 34 counts of grand theft or theft of a firearm, and petty theft. If found guilty, he could receive a maximum sentence of 263½ years in prison.

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