By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — The head of American Legion Post 63 says the town better be ready to pay up after the police department traded away 10 of the organization’s rifles.
Commander Douglas Micklon warned the town last week that the post may be seeking reimbursement for the M1 Garand rifles, worth a combined $10,000. The post has requested new military surplus rifles from the U.S. government, but may not receive replacements, he said.
“We are hoping things go through and they issue us the rifles,” Micklon said. “If they don’t, we will be back.”
Micklon told selectmen and Town Manager Keith Hickey the matter has led to a federal investigation of his organization.
“They traded them in for weapons for the police department — they didn’t know they legally belonged to the American Legion,” Micklon said. “We are on the hook for them.”
Hickey said it was an oversight that occurred several years ago and police Chief Paul Donovan apologized to the veterans organization in 2011. The rifles were not marked as Legion property, he said.
The issue was recently brought to Hickey’s attention after Micklon spoke to Selectman Stephen Campbell.
The post is trying to form an honor guard and cannot afford to purchase new rifles, Micklon said. Federal authorities have demanded an explanation and are considering whether the post is eligible to get replacements, he said.
“They never had a police department sell weapons before, so we are being investigated,” Micklon said. “We really don’t know if we will be allowed to get any other weapons.”
Micklon said the police department was given the military surplus rifles for safekeeping in the 1970s after the door to the post was broken down and other weapons were stolen.
In exchange, the police honor guard was allowed to use the weapons for ceremonies and other events, which it did for years, he said.
“I figured what safer place could there be than for the police department to hold the weapons and keep them in check,” Micklon said. “There is nothing we can do. They are long gone.”
Hickey said it was an unfortunate mistake that occurred when the department was trading in its old weapons for newer ones. He said Micklon should work with Donovan to resolve the issue.
But Micklon said there was no reason to speak to the police chief.
“There is nothing to discuss,” he said. “They were sold.”
Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten said Wednesday the department wouldn’t have traded in the weapons nine years ago if officials knew the guns belonged to the Legion.
“We are sorry it happened,” he said. “Those weapons were in our armory for over three decades. ... There was no malicious intent. They were traded in to better the police department.”
Hickey said Wednesday the town hadn’t been notified about any pending federal investigation.