Barnstable Sergeant Suspended After 10 Year Old Boy Finds His Gun in Restaurant

HYANNIS, MA — A Barnstable police sergeant and 19-year veteran of the force has been on paid administrative leave since September when he left his loaded firearm in the bathroom of a Bourne restaurant where he had eaten breakfast, according to Chief Paul MacDonald.

The handgun was later found by a 10-year-old boy and his father, MacDonald said Tuesday during an interview about the incident.

After finishing his meal, Sgt. Christopher Challies, 45, entered the bathroom, where he removed his gun from his pants and placed it above a paper towel dispenser, where he forgot it when he left, MacDonald said.

The boy’s father, who was familiar with firearms, unloaded the gun and handed it over to restaurant staff, who contacted the Bourne Police Department, he said.

After running the serial number on the gun, the Bourne Police Department was able to track it back to Challies and the Barnstable Police Department, prompting MacDonald and other department officials to speak to the sergeant.

“We had a conversation with him,” MacDonald said. “It was quite clear that there were some underlying issues that Sgt. Challies was dealing with.”

MacDonald and deputy police chiefs Sean Balcom and Matthew Sonnabend declined to comment on what kind of issues Challies is dealing with, but said he is undergoing treatment the department has made available to him while he is on leave.

“The treatments and conditions didn’t exist before this job,” Balcom said about Challies. “This job can have fairly drastic effects.”

MacDonald said Challies was a firearms instructor and member of the county’s regional SWAT team.

“Sgt. Challies has been here for over 19 years. He is a valued member of the police department,” MacDonald said. “He’s done a great job. He’s never been disciplined before.”

MacDonald suspended Challies’ firearms license and seized his work and personal firearms from his home. He has not been on duty since his gun was found in the bathroom, MacDonald said.

An internal affairs investigation is ongoing and will be made public when it is completed, according to MacDonald.

“That will be up to Sgt. Challies,” MacDonald said about whether Challies would return to active duty. “There will be a fitness for duty exam. His future is in his hands.”

Challies was legally allowed to have his firearm at the restaurant in September because he had a license to carry, MacDonald said.

According to Massachusetts law it is illegal to store or keep any firearm, rifle or shotgun in any place unless the weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device so it is inoperable by any person other than the owner.

Bourne Police Chief Dennis Woodside, however, said the improper storage law was intended for instances when a firearm is left unattended and unlocked at a home. In cases where individuals mistakenly leave their gun in public, the general practice is for the police chief in the issuing town to suspend the individual’s firearms license and not charge them criminally, he said.

“In a case like this, the best action to take is the suspension of the license to carry,” Woodside said. “People make mistakes.”

During the suspension, the chief of the department that issued the suspension will sit the individual down, have a conversation about safety and determine if the license should be reissued at a later date, Woodside said.

“If that was a regular guy from the town, we would suspend his license,” Woodside said. “That’s what we would do.”

There was a similar incident involving a Bourne resident who mistakenly drove away while his gun was on the roof of his car about four or five years ago, Woodside said. When the gun was recovered, the man’s firearms license was suspended for about six months, he said.

If the department charged Challies with improper storage of a firearm, it wouldn’t have been able to prove he intended to commit the crime, Woodside said.

But attorney Jason A. Guida, who is the former director of the Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau, said intent isn’t required to prove someone improperly stored a firearm.

“So any time your firearm leaves your direct control, meaning your ability to prevent a third party from gaining access to the firearm, it has to be secured,” Guida said. “Intent doesn’t matter. It’s a strict liability statute.”

Leaving the firearm in a place where a minor has access to it can result in an enhanced penalty, Guida said.

Guida, who represents defendants in firearms cases, said improper storage of a firearm is a charge police departments file often. In the past five years he has handled about 15 clients who have been charged with it at least once, he said.

“I’ve handled a large number of cases with this type of a scenario,” Guida said. “My experience is, generally, they (police departments) charge first.”

Several active police officers have reached out to Guida over the past five years for consultation about their own improper storage issues, at least one of whom had left his gun in a public place, but none of the officers were charged criminally, he said. The officers faced administrative issues within their own department or suspensions of their gun licenses, he said.

“To be fair, I have had a few clients, who weren’t officers, who improperly stored their firearms, lost their license, but weren’t charged,” he said.

Cape and Island’s District Attorney’s office spokeswoman Tara Miltimore said her office was not involved in the investigations of Challies’ actions by Bourne or Barnstable police.

“We were not consulted by either police department, which is not unusual as we are not consulted on every investigation,” she said. “We prosecute the charge of improper (storage) of a firearm whether on its own or with other criminal charges when there is sufficient evidence to support all of the essential elements of the crimes charged.”

Challies, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, was promoted from patrol officer to sergeant in 2012 and earned nearly $94,000 in 2014 with overtime.

The police department is a “microcosm of society” and officers are not immune to conditions that face the rest of the community, Balcom said. The stresses of police work can make officers vulnerable to issues that require professional treatment, he said.

Just days before the incident in Bourne, Challies was supervising a fatal crash scene, MacDonald said.

“You can only deal with so many dead bodies before it starts to take a toll on you,” Balcom said.


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Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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