Police Chief Helped Friend Bypass Gun Law

Times Staff Writer

San Diego Police Chief Bill Kolender last year helped a friend buy a handgun without waiting the mandatory 15-day "cooling off" period required by state law.

Under that law, only a police officer can purchase a gun off the shelf, and only if the gun is for use in the line of duty. Everyone else must wait 15 days to take delivery of a handgun so the state Department of Justice authorities have time to run a background check.

But in September, 1985, Kolender helped his friend get around that law when he went to a Mission Valley gun shop and signed a receipt so Jim Ciancimino, owner of a men's gift store, could buy and walk away with a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer P-226.

"He was a personal friend," Kolender said. "I just signed so he didn't have to wait for two weeks."

Kolender has been an outspoken supporter of gun control, and earlier this year he led a meeting of other big-city police executives in denouncing efforts to water down federal handgun laws.

"We don't think you should be able to walk . . . into a store and buy a gun," Kolender said at a meeting in February of the Major City Police Chiefs. "We don't think you should be able to buy a handgun through a mail-order catalogue. We don't think the public needs to possess Uzis. That is ridiculous."

Kolender has figured in supplying at least two of his friends with handguns, according to documents and interviews.

The first incident is recorded in the diary of former Officer Jeanne Taylor, who was injured on the job and then served as the uniformed "light duty" officer in Kolender's office from 1980 to 1981. The diary was submitted to the city's Civil Service Commission recently as an exhibit in a complaint about the way the Police Department treats people who make disability claims.

In an entry for early April, 1981, Taylor wrote: "Dropped off a gun for Frank Curran at the Charger office. Collected a check of $233.30 from Curran."

Taylor also kept a piece of paper given her by Kolender on which the chief apparently figured the cost of the firearm by writing the $220 price, plus $13.20 tax, The Times has learned.

Although Taylor wrote the name Frank Curran in the diary, her attorney, Patrick Thistle, said she made a mistake and intended to write the name of Pat Curran, a former professional football player who is now the Chargers' business manager.

The diary doesn't say who the check was made out to, or where the gun came from.

Curran said he is a friend of Kolender's. He declined to discuss the gun transaction, except to say that it had "nothing to do with the Chargers."

"I'd rather not talk to you about it," he said. "I don't think it is any of your business."

Kolender said he doesn't remember if he sold a gun to Curran. "I don't recall the incident, period," he said.

San Diego City Manager John Lockwood said he is including the gun sales on the list of items he is investigating about Kolender and the Police Department.

Kolender helped Ciancimino buy the Sig Sauer P-226 from Emergency Equipment Engineering, a firm at 5927 Fairmount Ave. that caters exclusively to law enforcement personnel.

Ciancimino, owner of The Company Store, said he met Kolender when the two served on the board of directors for the Make a Wish Foundation, a charity for children with terminal illnesses. A former Marine, Ciancimino mention to Kolender last year that he was interested in buying a Sig Sauer, which was in the running at the time for selection as standard equipment by the military.

"He was a friend, and he found a source," Ciancimino said. "He was looking; he was trying to get me the best price that he could find. . . . He was trying to do me a favor."

Kolender found a Sig Sauer model that carries 15 rounds at the Mission Valley gun shop for $450, Ciancimino said. That price was not unusual for the pistol, although it carried a suggested retail price of $625 at the time, said a spokesman for the Virginia company that imports the firearm.

On their way to lunch one day, Kolender and Ciancimino stopped at the gun shop. Ciancimino said his check register shows he wrote a check to Emergency Equipment on Sept. 9, 1985, and added that he believes the receipt was made out in Kolender's name. He initially offered to supply a copy of the check to The Times but then withdrew the offer.

"I'll tell you whose name wasn't on the invoice, and that was the San Diego Police Department's name," Ciancimino said.

Kolender corroborated Ciancimino's account of the transaction, adding that he interceded to help his friend avoid the 15-day wait required by the California Penal Code.

"I signed so he could get the gun without having to wait the two weeks, yes," Kolender said. The chief said he hadn't performed a background check of Ciancimino, but that he has "known him for a long time."

Juan Vega, a criminal identification specialist with the state Department of Justice, said the waiting period "provides us a little time to check the record by name and date of birth. If the person (buying the gun) happens to be in one of the classes that is forbidden to possess guns, we can stop the transaction--an ex-convict or a person who is mentally incompetent or a user of narcotics, a minor. . . . "

The only exception, Vega said, is for law enforcement officers, who can buy a gun off the shelf only if they have a letter from their chief saying that the firearm is needed in the line of duty. Another Department of Justice source told The Times, however, that it is common for law enforcement officers throughout the state to use their positions to buy guns for their friends.

Violation of the 15-day provision is a misdemeanor, Vega said.

John Proffitt, general manager of Emergency Equipment, said he doesn't recall selling any gun to Kolender or Ciancimino, and his records for Sept. 9 and the rest of that month show that no Sig Sauer was purchased at his store.

Emergency Equipment caters exclusively to law enforcement personnel. City records show that it sold only $359 worth of holsters and flashlights to the Police Department in 1985.

Ciancimino said the purchase wasn't so urgent that he couldn't have waited the 15 days. He said he has yet to buy ammunition for the weapon.

"Frankly, the thing has been sitting in a drawer for 14 months," he said.

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