Sunday, February 17, 2013

Oconee County Sheriff Says His Purchases from Dana Safety Supply Were From Personal, Not County, Funds

Bought Four Revolvers

Neither Oconee County nor the Sheriff’s Office has made any purchases in the last five years from Dana Safety Supply, with which Sheriff Scott Berry disagreed publicly earlier this year because of the company’s decision not to sell some of its products to the general public.

The Sheriff said during that disagreement that he had made recent purchases from Dana Safety Supply, and he told me on Monday that those purchases had all been with personal, not county, funds.

Berry made public his disagreement with Dana in a series of interviews with journalists early this year. Included was a nearly six-minute-long interview on Jan. 4 with Melissa Francis, anchor of Fox Business Money on the Fox cable channel.

Berry told Francis that as long as the Dana Safety Supply policy restricting sales to the general public was in place “I’m not going to spend our money to go in there and buy a thing.”

Fox Introduction To Interview

Anchor Francis introduced her interview with Berry by saying he “has bought guns from this store for the past five years,” and Berry said early in the Francis interview that as long as citizens could not buy legal weapons from Dana Safety Supply “I’m not going to spend their tax money there, and I’m not going to spend my personal money there.”

Sheriff Berry 2/11/2013

“I have bought from Dana Safety Supply,” Berry said near the end of the interview, but he said he buys from a variety of vendors.

“We just had a bid for semi-automatic rifles,” Berry continued. “We just bought six more from another vendor because we wouldn’t use Dana Safety Supply. We just took delivery on those guns today.”

Berry never said in the interview that the county had bought from Dana Safety Supply, but he also didn’t say that the only purchases he had made in the past five years from Dana had been personal ones.

Francis, at least in the part of the interview telecast by Fox, did not ask Berry if his purchases has been with county funds, personal funds, or both.

Berry Clarified on Monday

The Sheriff told me in an interview I did with him in his office on Monday that he was only referring to his personal purchases when he said during the Fox interview that he had purchased from Dana Safety Supply, which has a store in Buford.

“I did buy guns from them,” Berry said. “I bought like four guns from them. They are my guns. I bought them out of my own pocket. They are not the Sheriff’s Office guns.”

Berry said he bought Smith and Wesson revolvers from Dana during the last five years.

Open Records Requests

Before the interview with Sheriff Berry, I had filed two open records requests with the county to learn more about the county’s relationship with Dana Safety Supply.

County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko had told me on Jan. 7 that the county handles the bulk of purchases for the Sheriff’s Office and usually goes with the low bidder. “I have to take personal opinion out of it,” he said.

On Jan. 23, I asked for records of all purchases from the county’s general fund, Special Purchase Local Option Sales Tax funds, or “other funds controlled by the Board of Commissioners” showing purchase “of any products from Dana Safely Supply in this fiscal year or in any of the previous five fiscal years.”

I specified in that request, sent to County Finance Director Wes Geddings, that I was not asking for records of the purchases by the Sheriff from his seized assets fund. Benko had told me in advance that the seized assets records were held by the Sheriff himself.

I filed a second open records request on Jan. 30 asking for records under the control of the Sheriff’s Office of purchases from Dana Safety Supply during the same period.

Replies To Records Requests

I received a reply from County Clerk Jane Greathouse on Jan. 29 indicating that the county had purchased $376 in general supplies and material from Southeastern Public Safety Equipment in 2006 and $234, also of general supplies and materials, from the same company in 2007.

Greathouse informed me that Southeastern Public Safety Equipment was an earlier name for Dana Safety Supply.

An email message from Dee Dee Donaldson, the open records officer in the Sheriff’s Office, on Feb. 6 indicated that there was no record of purchase by the Sheriff’s Office from Dana Safety Supply or from Southeastern Public Safety Equipment for this fiscal year or for the last five.

Southeastern Public Safety Equipment and Dana Safety Supply each have listings in the Georgia Secretary of State corporate database, and Wanda Hobbs of Greensboro, N.C., is listed as the corporate secretary for both companies.

A web search for Southeastern Public Safety Equipment directs readers to the web site of Dana Safety Supply.

Sheriff Completed Web Form

Berry told me when we met on Monday that he had completed an online form on the Dana Safety Supply web site informing the company of his displeasure with the company’s policy. The Sheriff said he wasn’t sure when he had completed the form, but he thought it was around first of the year.

“I told them that, essentially, since they wouldn’t sell legal-to-obtain firearms to my taxpayers, that I wouldn’t buy anything from them,” Berry said.

Berry had sent me a copy of his message to Dana Safety Supply in response to my request in early January, and, in that message, he referred to the weapons Dana was not selling to the public as “self-loading rifles.”

Berry said on Monday that Dana had put a “sign on their door that they won’t sell semi-automatic riffles to civilians.”

“If their (civilians’) money is not good enough, I’m not going to spend any of my budgetary money in there,” he said.

Discussions About Body Armor

Berry said he began a discussion with Dana Safety Supply last August about the possible purchase of body armor for his personnel.

He said he was waiting on samples from Dana so that he could try them out before making a purchase. He was particularly concerned about comfort, he said.

Berry said he had not received those samples at the time he decided to send his message to Dana Safety Supply via the web site indicating that he would not make any future purchases from the company.

Message And Response

Berry said someone from Dana Safety Supply called him not long after he went public with his disagreement about Dana’s policy.

Dana Safety Supply representatives volunteered to come to Oconee County and meet with him, Berry said, but he choose instead to travel with another officer to Buford.

He said he talked with “people who identified themselves as store managers.”

“They understood my position,” Berry said. “They said they took their instructions from their leadership. And I appreciate that being their position. I shook their hands. And we drove back.”

Berry said he was not trying to influence Dana Safety Supply’s policy when he went public with his disagreement with the company’s policy.

“They’ve got the absolute right to sell guns as they choose to,” Berry said. “I have the absolute right not to buy any guns from them or anything else from them, like body armor.”

Clyde Armory Provided Riffles

Berry told me he bought the six riffles he mentioned to Fox’s Francis in her interview that aired on Jan. 4 from Clyde Armory, 4800 Atlanta Highway.

He showed me a receipt for $4,479 for the six weapons and 14 magazines. Berry said he paid for these from his seized assets fund.

Berry said he didn’t actually put this out to bid, since the weapons were all used and “we got them for below market value.”

He said he did not consider Dana Safety Supply as a possible supplier.

Media Attention Widespread

Berry’s comments in January about Dana Safety Supply received widespread media attention, including a front-page story on Jan. 5 in the Athens Banner-Herald under the headline: “Sheriff: Taking a stand for gun rights.”

That report said that “the Sheriff’s Office has purchased guns from Dana Supply in the past.”

Berry is a prominent figure in Georgia. He is immediate past-president of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association and remains on its Board of Directors.

I did a Google search at 8 p.m. tonight for Dana Safety Supply. The fifth item on the first page of search outcomes was about Berry’s statements. Three of the top 10 search listings referenced Berry’s disagreement with Dana.

Dana Corporate Contact

I contacted the corporate office of Dana Safety Supply in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday and asked for the public relations office. I was told to leave my name and phone number and someone would call me back.

When I didn’t hear back, I called again on Friday and again was told to leave a name and phone number. I didn’t hear back from anyone on Friday.

I had not indicated why I was calling either day.

Dana Safety Supply’s web site today still contains this message:

“While we support the rights of Americans to own and safely use firearms, we have chosen to sell some select firearms to law enforcement personnel only.”

1 comment:

Beanne said...

Sheriff Berry caught playing politics. Good work as usual, Lee. You are our only investigative journalist in this area. Our noble newspapers don't do the legwork to be sure stories are accurate. Thank you very much!