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Investigation reveals dozens of guns stolen from KCSO deputies

A deputy's patrol car is seen behind a recently repaired gate at the Kern County Sheriff's Office substation in Rosamond, Calif. (KBAK/ KBFX photo/ Adam Herbets)

You don't typically hear about guns stolen from the Kern County Sheriff's Office, and now Eyewitness News has discovered why.

After a recent case, the department told us it "isn't something we've found news outlets to consider newsworthy."

Since then, we have been attempting to compile a database of their stolen weapons. It's a difficult task, considering how they say they don't have a catalog of their own.

MORE: Database of guns stolen from the KCSO and its deputies

ROSAMOND THEFT PROMPTS INVESTIGATION

This whole story began with a call to our investigative tip line. This time, the tip was anonymous, but the person on the other line wanted us to look into something they thought the sheriff's office was hiding from us.

The caller said somebody stole an M-16 assault rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, and lots of ammunition from a deputy in Rosamond.

About a month later, KCSO spokesman Ray Pruitt confirmed the theft. He told us someone walked into substation parking lot and stole the guns out of a patrol car.

When we traveled to Rosamond, nobody in the city seemed to know anything about it.

"Not only was the sheriff's department broken into, but the guns were stolen? That's really scary!" said Jasmine Davis, who also lives in Rosamond. "I don't understand that. That's a big loophole in my taxpayer money."

It was a bold crime, and that's why so many people said they were so afraid of the man who took the weapons.

Even the sergeant in charge of the Rosamond substation was concerned.

"We felt secure here until this happened," he said.

After a little bit of research, Eyewitness News learned that the suspected thief had been arrested and was awaiting trial at the Lerdo Pre-Trial Facility. His name is Kevin Wallis, and he agreed to speak to us in jail, surrounded by deputies. He revealed exactly how he was able to pull it off.

"It was just a dumb thing to do, and I'm paying for it," said Wallis. "There was a hole (in the fence) already, I just made it bigger. The hole was like the size of a cat, maybe a little bit bigger."

Wallis said he's not a criminal mastermind and that none of it was planned. Instead, he said he was just depressed and "having a bad day."

"It was a statement that blew up in my face," he said. "I was trying to prove something ... they're not as invincible as they think they are."

COUNTY REFUSES TO PROVIDE THEIR REPORTS

Even though Wallis admitted his actions were "stupid," he was right about at least one thing: KCSO isn't "invincible" at all.

Still, Eyewitness News was surprised to learn about all of the details left out by KCSO related to the break-in. As we kept asking the department about stolen weapons cases, we found that officials either couldn't or wouldn't give us straight answers.

That didn't sit well with the people of Rosamond.

"So they're not going to say anything?" asked Davis. "They owe it to us, because we pay their salary ... I shouldn't have to find out at the supermarket!"

In an email from the department, spokesman Pruitt was able to provide a few case numbers and a few sentences worth of explanation for some of the missing guns.

When Eyewitness News filed a California Public Records Request, asking them to show us the reports, they refused. A lawyer representing the county claimed that every single case is still under an active investigation.

Other attorneys who specialize in First Amendment issues, told us that response was "unusual," but at the same time probably not worth suing over.

"I don't know, it doesn't surprise me they would keep it quiet," said Paul Engler, of Rosamond. "Basically, they start making it too public, people will start hitting the panic button."

BAKERSFIELD POLICE DEPARTMENT RELEASES INFORMATION

Even though the stolen guns belong to KCSO deputies, some cases are being investigated by the Bakersfield Police Department, because the weapons were stolen within the limits of the city.

Unlike Kern County, the city of Bakersfield had no problem releasing reports and paperwork outlining exactly what happened in each case. The documents had pages worth of information and even pointed us to more missing guns that KCSO didn't tell us about.

In total, Eyewitness News knows of at least 32 firearms that have been stolen from deputies since Sheriff Donny Youngblood was sworn into office in 2007. More cases have continued to surface almost every week.

Of those 32 guns, 11 of them were left either sitting in a patrol car or a personal car. By our count, just four have been recovered.

"So they leave the guns in the cars?" asked Debra Tapia, who also lives in Rosamond. "Holy moly."

Pruitt declined to specify how many of the 32 guns were issued by the department.

"They probably should bring them in and lock them up, I would think," said Engler.

SHERIFF'S OFFICE POLICIES

The department has defended its policy, which states that duty weapons can be left in a patrol car only if they're locked up in a safe, in a rack, or in the trunk.

Department-issued firearms cannot be left in a personal vehicle, even though Eyewitness News found that some deputies were leaving weapons in places like their center console, the side door, or under the seat.

"It's a learning experience, you know?" said Wallis. "I respect the sheriff's department. I respect the job they do."

Wallis turned out to be one of very few suspected thieves who actually got arrested. Now he faces a year and four months in prison.

He admitted that the crime was his fault, but he also said that it shouldn't have been possible for him to do it in the first place.

"On my side of it, it was something stupid that blew up in my face," said Wallis. "On their side of it, it could be a learning experience ... hopefully everybody can learn from this situation and not let that happen again."

Throughout the investigation, Eyewitness News only requested information about lost or stolen guns, but often times thieves will go after other items in the process.

Reports revealed that in many cases, flash drives, cameras and digital recorders have also been stolen.

Sgt. Gary Carruesco of the Bakersfield Police Department said it is possible that case information could have been exposed.

"If there was sensitive information on it, I guess it could jeopardize an investigation," he wrote in an email.

KCSO does not have a specific protocol related to stolen electronic data, and Youngblood has not stated whether he has plans to change his department's policies.

DID SHERIFF'S OFFICE LIE IN 2015?

In 2015, Eyewitness News submitted a similar California Public Records Request asking the county to provide a list of all missing or stolen items. As a result, we published a story about nearly $20,000 worth of missing property.

In the paperwork given to us by the county, officials did not disclose any items stolen or missing from KCSO.

When Eyewitness News asked Pruitt about the lack of a response, he claimed nothing was missing.

Fast-forward to 2016, as we compiled our list of stolen guns, we asked Pruitt for an explanation.

"I remember doing an interview regarding some equipment that was stolen from (the Kern County Fire Department) several months ago," he wrote in an email, "none of that property was Sheriff's Office property."

"As far as a public records request inquiring about stolen county property or me making the statement that the Sheriff's Office does not have any stolen property, I have no idea what you are talking about," he continued.

An in-depth list of information about each stolen gun case is available by clicking here.

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