Sandy Springs businessman defends giving police guns
By Mary Macdonald
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/22/08
A Sandy Springs businessman said Monday he had no ulterior motive when he offered his private firing range for an unusual Police Department training session or gave several weapons as gifts to two high-ranking police officers.
Bruce Weiner, chairman of the nonprofit organization Friends of Sandy Springs, said his gifts to ex-police Chief Gene Wilson and ex-police Maj. James Moore were returned by the two men before last week's release of a city-initiated investigation report.
"I haven't done anything wrong," Weiner said. "The only thing I've done is support the whole city."
He continued: "I don't need any favors. I'm not in any business that the police can do me a favor."
Weiner, 49, owns Sandy Springs-based Homeland Self Storage, which has eight facilities and 14 under construction. He's also creator of a nonprofit museum of miniature cars on his property in rural Madison.
As a leader of Friends of Sandy Springs, which raises funds for city police, fire and parks services, Weiner said he helped the start-up public safety departments obtain more than $250,000 in equipment. The foundation provided funds for a police dog, specialized Fire Department flashlights and fire commander ear pieces, among other things.
Last fall, Weiner donated $50,000 of his own money to the Police Department to purchase tasers for patrol officers.
His generosity, both individually and through his position with the nonprofit organization, became more publicly known with the release Friday of an investigation into Police Department personnel.
That report played a role in the recent resignations of Wilson and Moore.
Both men were criticized in the report for accepting a gift of guns from Weiner.
Although the investigator, James Walker, determined their acceptance of the weapons didn't violate city policy, he said both Wilson and Moore should have exercised better judgment. Another police supervisor, Lt. Trudi Vaughan, was criticized and later fired, in part, for overseeing 20 special operations officers who took part in a training session at Weiner's Madison ranch in April. The training included riding all-terrain vehicles without safety gear and shooting weapons the officers were not trained to use.
City Manager John McDonough said Monday the city is now drafting a "more specific" set of rules on accepting gifts.
The existing policy states that employees may not "solicit or accept rewards" for performance of their duties or use their position to seek "favors or preferential treatment of any kind."
McDonough said the training activities posed a liability for the city.
"A training officer develops a training plan for an outing. There is a safety plan in place. There are certain things you want to accomplish. Those are our expectations when we're spending taxpayer dollars on training."
Although Weiner provided the range free of charge, city police were on a regular workday when the training took place.
The new gifts policy, expected to be in place soon, is "going to be much less gray, much more specific, than it is right now," McDonough said.
According to a transcript of his July 7 interview with Walker, the police chief said both he and Moore received the guns from Weiner, a federally licensed firearms dealer, after he had run into the police officials at a New Orleans firearms tradeshow.
By the time Wilson accepted the weapon, he said, Weiner already had given the Sandy Springs Police Department camera equipment for cruisers and $50,000 for tasers for patrol officers.
"Now, to me, it was just a little irrational to say I can't take this from you because you may expect something from me when he's giving the department a quarter of a million dollars in gifts," Wilson said, according to the transcript.