OHATCHEE — In a room in the back of the tiny Police Department headquarters here, 30 guns lie tumbled in piles on shelves or leaned on end in a few corners.
The guns — revolvers and rifles, shotguns and Saturday night specials — were seized from criminal defendants in various cases, removed from the streets to preempt their use in any further crimes.
But the firearms have essentially been serving life sentences since then. Some have been locked in the department's evidence closet since 1994. Now, Ohatchee police are moving forward with a kind of capital punishment for a handful of the weapons, but they need a judge's permission before they can destroy the guns. And that permission can be complicated to get.
“It’s been about a two-year project to whittle it down to these,” Ohatchee police officer Falon Hurst said on Wednesday picking up a rusted revolver.
Ohatchee police Chief Jason Oden said court action is the only recourse local police departments have to cull their evidence locker of firearms.
One such action has been initiated by Calhoun County Assistant District Attorney Sheila Field, who filed a condemnation and forfeiture lawsuit against four former defendants on behalf of the Ohatchee Police Department nearly a year ago, according to court records.
When those defendants were arrested, their firearms were confiscated, Hurst said. Those defendants have since been found guilty of their various crimes, according to the lawsuit.
One of the four defendants, charged with domestic violence in 2005, is dead. A woman on the list was convicted in 2016 of obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct. Neither of those charges, under state law, precludes a defendant, if convicted, from owning firearms in the future.
However, firearms taken from people convicted of committing a violent crime with a gun, convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, or convicted of possessing firearms without a permit can be condemned, according to the law.
Efforts to reach Field on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
“I think it’s just the way the legal process has to go,” Hurst said. “The owners of the guns have to be given an opportunity to file claim against them.”
Under the lawsuit, Oden could keep the firearms and allow his officers to use them, but he said he doesn’t plan to do that.
“None of what we have are guns that would be any use to law enforcement,” the chief said.
Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade said his office in the past has kept condemned firearms for use by deputies.
“They have to be the same as what we already use,” the sheriff said. “We don’t come across firearms like that often.”
For the Sheriff’s Office, keeping firearms could be a way to supplement the agency’s supply without having to dip into the budget.
“Selling them is probably a better supplement to us, though,” Wade said. “Under the law we can sell to federally licensed firearms dealers in the county, but it would take years of collection to see any real significant money.”
Wade said that when his office does sell firearms it does so only with “sporting weapons,” such as hunting rifles and shotguns.
“We’re not going to put weapons used in violent crimes back on the street,” he said.
For those departments that don’t keep or sell the weapons, the only option is to destroy them.
“We carry them out to the depot and put them through the shredder,” Oden said, referring to Anniston Army Depot.
For Hurst, destruction day can’t come soon enough.
“It’s been a mess trying to go through nearly 150 guns to find owners, return some to other law enforcement agencies, or find any kind of information on them,” he said. “I’m ready to get these out of here.”