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Originally published June 28, 2011 at 5:01 PM | Page modified June 29, 2011 at 6:26 PM

Seattle police 'embarrassed' by rifle left unattended on cruiser

Seattle police are looking into the "very embarrassing" circumstances that led to a semi-automatic assault rifle being left on the trunk lid of an unattended patrol vehicle in public.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Everybody's done it.

You place an item on top of a car only to remember later — after you or someone else has driven off.

But when the forgetful individual is a Seattle police officer and the item is a semi-automatic rifle, it's more than a little embarrassing. It's also the focus of an internal investigation.

Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb conceded Tuesday it was "very embarrassing" that a semi-automatic rifle was left on the trunk lid of a police cruiser in downtown Seattle on Monday.

"The fact of the matter is that a police rifle was left on a car in public, and that is unacceptable," Whitcomb said. "It's very embarrassing, and it shouldn't have happened."

According to two sources with knowledge of the incident, it began when one officer was inside the secure parking garage at the West Precinct and unloaded his equipment from a police cruiser. The officer placed the rifle on the trunk of a nearby patrol car.

That officer, identified by sources as acting Sgt. Bill Collins, forgot about the rifle and walked off.

Another officer, identified as Lt. Deanna Nollette, then went into the garage and drove away in the patrol vehicle without realizing the rifle was on the trunk lid, the sources said.

The patrol car was parked a few blocks away from the West Precinct in front of the Roosevelt Hotel on Seventh Avenue around 9 p.m. Monday when at least two people spotted the rifle on the unattended vehicle.

A man who identified himself as Nick Gonzales confirmed he snapped a photo of the unsecured weapon.

Police said he then flagged down a couple of nearby bicycle officers.

A second witness noticed the rifle around the same time, and tracked down and alerted the officer, Whitcomb said.

He would "not confirm or deny" the sources' account, but said an investigation has been launched into the "circumstances that would allow for this patrol rifle to be left on this car."

He also couldn't say whether the rifle, reportedly an AR-15, was loaded.

Whitcomb would not speculate as to whether either officer would face discipline, but the Police Department's policy manual requires officers to inspect patrol vehicles before use.

He said it is a violation of the department policies to leave a weapon unattended, but not a criminal violation.

Whitcomb said such rifles are assigned only to officers who have additional training.

The high-powered weapons usually are kept in the trunk or between the driver and passenger seats.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983

or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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