Lawyer agrees officer's answers are incriminating
By Michael Shaw
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
An Illinois State Police officer's own lawyer acknowledged in court Thursday that his client had "badly incriminated" himself by admitting in an interview with federal agents last year that he possessed a machine gun.
Defense attorney Clyde Kuehn was in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis to seek a pre-trial order to keep a jury from hearing the statements of Sgt. James Vest, one of three troopers accused last year of illegal possession of automatic weapons.
It is an unusual case, pitting law enforcement officers against each other - and drawing calls for leniency from some fellow police.
Special Agent Robert Nosbisch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified Thursday that a source told him last year about automatic weapons held by troopers who did not have the proper federal license. An automatic weapon can fire continually on one pull of the trigger.
According to Nosbisch's notes of an interview Dec. 29, Vest told him that "everyone shot it. Maybe FBI/ATF." If federal agents fired the M-4 rifle, Nosbisch suggested at the hearing they might have violated the law too.
Thursday's defense arguments seemed to fall along two lines: that the weapon was registered to the state police, where Vest is a rifle instructor, and that Vest was not adequately warned of his rights by ATF agents before questioning.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Crowe countered, "The facts of this case do not suggest coercion by any stretch." He said that as a 16-year veteran officer, Vest surely is familiar with the standard Miranda rights.
After listening to a full day of testimony, U.S. District Judge David R. Herndon said he would decide by Monday whether the disputed statements would be admitted as evidence.
The interview at the root of Thursday's hearing took place when while Vest was on vacation and summoned to state police District 11 headquarters in Collinsville.
The agent said Thursday that Vest was asked, "Do you have an illegal machine gun?" to which the officer replied, "Yes, I do."
But Vest's boss, Lt. Michael Irwin, who attended most of the interview, testified that he could not remember the word "illegal" being used.
After a few minutes of questioning Dec. 29, Vest agreed to retrieve the weapon from his home and surrender it.
Kuehn told the court that "the entire enterprise was designed to get statements to use against Sgt. Vest," then added that the officer had incriminated himself by speaking with Nosbisch.
The trooper told officials he got the gun from a law enforcement catalog in 1998, using Illinois State Police letterhead and an official tax exemption form.
It arrived months later and sat in a box for several days because, Nosbisch suggested, Vest knew he obtained it illegally and was afraid the box had been fitted with some sort of tracking device.
The hearing Thursday does not concern the two other state police officers or a retired doctor who were separately accused of possession of machine guns in violation of firearms laws. None of the charges allege the weapons were used to commit any crimes.
State Police area commander Debra Landman also testified Thursday. But neither she nor Lt. Irwin was asked whether Vest had overstepped his bounds by using department stationery.
Illinois troopers can carry the department's automatic weapons, but even police need a proper license to own one.
I would lay odds that the old Doc will play the role of the fall guy & end up with a fine & probation. The LEO's will walk.
The only hope you have is to accept the fact that you are already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you will be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function, without mercy, without compassion, without remorse.
You very well may be correct.
Any body bet they walk free and clear! Bet they let these guys go free and clear for a NFA violation and in the same breath take all of your evil guns away from all of you crazy, dangerous, criminal elements. Aka Citizens.