Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 4, 2013

Man finds trooper's gun, takes it home

BY MATT TROUTMAN mtroutman@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — KALKASKA — Trouble followed the discovery of a handgun in a Kalkaska grocery store restroom, but not for a Michigan State Police trooper who left the fully loaded firearm atop a toilet paper dispenser.

A Fife Lake man who found the weapon, Timothy Alan Flanagan, 49, could face a 10-year prison sentence after authorities said he failed to report a gun he found inside the Kalkaska Family Fare supermarket.

State police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said an off-duty trooper from the Wayland Post in Allegan County used the restroom inside the supermarket on May 20 and accidentally left the gun behind. She said there was no disciplinary action taken in the case and the trooper remains on active duty.

“He certainly had to answer internally for what happened,” Banner said. “He did not face disciplinary action because it was determined to be human error. He didn’t attempt to hide it or cover it up. In this case as soon as the trooper realized he did not have the weapon, he made immediate contact with his commander.”

The Wayland post commander didn’t return a call for comment. A representative at the post referred all questions to Banner, who did not release the trooper’s name, citing union-negotiated protections.

Flanagan doesn’t think it’s fair he faces felony charges of larceny of a firearm and receiving and concealing a firearm while the trooper wasn’t punished, particularly considering the gun was left in a public restroom where a child potentially could find it.

He said he initially thought the firearm was a toy or a starter pistol, but a closer look revealed it was the genuine article: a loaded, .357 Magnum Smith and Wesson handgun.

“I knew it was a professional’s gun,” he said.

Flanagan said he brought the gun home with “all intentions” of calling police, but he feared repercussions as time passed so he left it locked in a shed on his property. He had the weapon for six weeks, then a family member told Kalkaska County sheriff’s deputies about the weapon on July 5.

“I did what I felt at the time was the smartest thing to do,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan said he never fired the gun and doesn’t own other firearms. He said in hindsight he should have locked the bathroom door and told the supermarket’s manager about the gun, but grew concerned after he touched the firearm.

“I should have done things a lot differently, but don’t feel should be criminally charged for keeping it safe,” he said. “I wasn’t hanging onto it as a toy or personal weapon.”

Kalkaska County Prosecutor Mike Perreault said Flanagan’s problems started when he took the gun and failed to report it.

“If you come across a firearm, the appropriate response is to report it,” Perreault said. “Same if you find a wallet on the sidewalk. You should report it.”

Traverse City defense attorney Gerald Chefalo isn’t involved with the case, but said the facts as presented by a Record-Eagle reporter raise several questions about the judgment of the individuals involved, especially Flanagan.

“He could have left it,” he said. “He could have not touched it and informed staff at store. (Instead) he put his hands on the weapon, removed it from the store and kept it safe”

“This obviously is not a shining moment for how to properly handle a loaded firearm,” he said of the unnamed trooper. “That has almost nothing to do with what the accused did here.”

Perreault said the fact a state trooper’s gun was involved in the case had nothing to do with how it was charged.

“It would be the same thing if he was walking through a grocery store and found somebody’s purse and took it and (hid) it in a closet for a month,” he said. “This isn’t a case of ‘finders keepers, losers weepers.’”

Flanagan’s defense attorney Thomas Seger didn’t return calls for comment. A jury trial in 46th Circuit Court is scheduled for Dec. 17.