Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 10, 2013

Editorial: State Police owe public explanation

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Lesson No. 1: If you find a loaded handgun sitting on a toilet paper dispenser in a grocery store restroom, do not pick it up, take it home and stash it in a shed.

Lesson No. 2: If you’re going to leave a .357-caliber Magnum handgun sitting on a toilet paper dispenser in a grocery store restroom but you don’t want to get into any trouble, be sure you’re a Michigan State Police trooper.

Timothy Alan Flanagan, 49, of Fife Lake, is facing up to 10 years in prison after authorities said he failed to report a gun he found inside the Kalkaska Family Fare supermarket.

But the off-duty state trooper from the Wayland Post in Allegan County who left the gun behind when he used the restroom May 20 is facing no disciplinary action and remains on active duty.

“He certainly had to answer internally for what happened,” state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said. “He did not face disciplinary action because it was determined to be human error.”

Well, gosh, who can hold a law enforcement officer accountable for a simple human error like leaving a loaded handgun where anyone, including a child or someone who wants to stick up a gas station, might find it.

Flanagan said he initially thought the firearm was a toy or a starter pistol, but quickly realized it was real. He said he took it home with “all intentions” of calling police but feared repercussions as time passed; so he left it locked in a shed on his property. Six weeks later a family member told Kalkaska County sheriff’s deputies about the gun and now Flanagan faces felony charges of larceny of a firearm and receiving and concealing a firearm.

That Flanagan did something most of us would consider pretty dense (to put it charitably) is beyond question.

But it’s also beyond question that the state trooper did something inexcusable, yet is facing no public repercussions.

“He certainly had to answer internally for what happened,” Banner said. “He didn’t attempt to hide it or cover it up” and “made immediate contact with his commander” when he realized the gun was missing.

That’s not good enough. The trooper’s name wasn’t released, he didn’t face public censure, he wasn’t suspended and who knows what having to “answer internally” means.

This may not be a cover-up but it’s the next best thing — a whitewash, perhaps. Imagine what that officer’s “human error” could have led to in other circumstances. We’re all lucky no one is dead.

Flanagan also committed a “human error” and is paying the price. But then he’s not a state trooper.