Sheriff to Ban Deputies from Carrying Guns While Drinking

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LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca plans to ban off-duty deputies from carrying guns while drinking.

Baca says there has been a disturbing rise in alcohol-fueled misbehavior among his deputies.

Over the past four years, more than a dozen deputies have been accused of brandishing or shooting a gun while under the influence of alcohol.

In one instance, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Sullivan celebrated his return from a tour of duty with the U.S. Marines in Iraq by drinking with a friend.

After consuming at least 11 drinks, Sullivan placed his loaded 9-millimeter Beretta into his longtime friend's mouth and pulled the trigger, according to prosecutors.

Sullivan insists that they were horsing around and that the gun accidentally went off when his friend grabbed his arm.

The man died and Sullivan was out of a job.

"This tragedy could have been prevented," Baca said. "Alcohol and guns don't mix."

Merrick Bobb, special counsel to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on the Sheriff's Department, said Baca's proposed policy would place the department at the forefront of an issue that has long been recognized as a problem for law enforcement.

Bobb says he first raised the issue of off-duty shootings and alcohol in the mid-1990s.

"It is not only alcohol but prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications," Bobb said. "They can all hurt the ability of an officer to make judgments. I've consistently recommended if you have your gun and you're off duty and you know you're going to be drinking, then you need to lock up your weapon before you go in the bar."

Law enforcement experts say Baca's proposed policy is among the most restrictive in the nation.

Under the policy, deputies would be banned from carrying a firearm when they are under the influence of alcohol, medication or a controlled substance to the extent that they cannot exercise "reasonable care and control of a weapon."

The deputies' union opposes the restriction.

Union leader Steve Remige says it would let criminals know that deputies who had put them away would at times be unarmed.

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