Man linked to sheriffs' gun thefts

April 21, 2009 7:37:47 PM PDT
An East Bay man stole weapons and ammunition from law enforcement; some right out of their own patrol cars. The series of thefts began late last year, and the suspect is now in custody.

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Several sheriffs' patrols were broken into at different parking lots. A tip from an informant led authorities to the man accused of that crime,and of stealing thousands of dollars worth of guns, ammunition and other law enforcement gear.

Contra Costa sheriff's detectives call them tools of warfare. The 5,000 rounds of ammunition -- rifles, shotguns and handcuffs they recovered last week -- look especially familiar to local authorities because much of it was stolen from them.

Detectives said 20-year-old Daniel Vess broke into at least three law enforcement parking lots and a shooting range in December and January and brazenly took guns and bullets from inside patrol cars.

"He can best be described as a loner, an individual obsessed with firearms and tools of warfare," said Capt. Daniel Terry with the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department.

Investigators say he's also obsessed with being a police officer, and that Vess rigged his pickup truck with stolen lights and siren and may have tried to pass himself off as an officer.

"I don't believe that it's hyperbole to describe this guy as a potential domestic terrorist," said Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf.

"I think that's a crock. That's a crock. He's a good kid, he'd never think of hurting anybody else," said neighbor Staci Dillingham.

Dillingham lives next door to Vess's San Pablo area home. She's not buying the allegations.

"Every now and then he'd shoot his air soft guns, they're little plastic BB's,"said Dillingham.

While serving a search warrant, detectives tore up the back yard in the hunt for their weapons. What they found was a property riddled with bullet holes. The evidence is still wedged in the front door and the casings are still in the yard outside.

Authorities say Vess made silencers for some of the stolen rifles and then used his own truck, a sheriff's helmet, even his own walls and water heater for target practice.

"We were able to prevent a horrific act before it took place," said Capt. Terry.

Investigators believe there may be others involved with this case, but they also believe they have the primary suspect in custody. They are pushing federal officials to get involved and file charges against Vess.

Despite that huge pile of weapons and other items authorities confiscated in Contra Costa County and Martinez, they said they have not recovered all of the weapons that were stolen from law enforcement.

So perhaps the sheriff said it best when he said that this has been an embarrassment for law enforcement, but it proves that everyone is vulnerable to crime.

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