The hundreds of guns that former San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell allegedly took from evidence rooms and then handed out to family and friends are a “huge public safety concern” because authorities have no way of knowing who has the unregistered firearms, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Tidwell, who allegedly took at least 523 guns while he served as sheriff from 1983 to 1991, pleaded guilty Monday to four felony counts of concealing stolen property.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Cheryl Kersey said that investigators were scrambling to recover the weapons and that it was believed that more than 400 of the unregistered guns – many seized from shootings, drug raids, suicides and other crime scenes – were still missing.
“The more guns out in the community that we aren’t aware of, the more concern we have for the community,” Kersey said. “Imagine the nightmare situation of Floyd Tidwell giving some guns to his buddy whose home is burglarized, with those guns then ending up in the hands of street gangs. All of these [missing] weapons are dangerous.”
Tidwell’s attorney dismissed those concerns, saying Tidwell took far fewer weapons than the prosecutor has alleged and that he gave away many of the illicit weapons to law enforcement colleagues.
“How many of these people with these guns have committed crimes? I don’t know of any,” said his attorney, David Call. Tidwell “wasn’t stupid. He wasn’t handing out guns to the Hells Angels.”
On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the current county sheriff, Gary Penrod, said Tidwell called Penrod “about six or seven years ago and said he had guns that belonged to the department and wanted to give them back.”
Penrod told Tidwell he would either arrange for the guns to be picked up or that Tidwell could drop them off. The guns were never returned, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Beavers. Penrod “said he didn’t follow up on the discussion, that he assumed it was a small number of guns that were department-issued,” Beavers said.