Highland Hills officials investigate how police ended up with military-grade weapons

HIGHLAND HILLS, Ohio-- The FOX 8 I -Team is investigating the story behind a machine gun and other military-grade guns handled by the police department in Highland Hills, a tiny village in Northeast Ohio.

The town leaders in Highland Hills are trying to sort it out and we’re asking questions.

On Monday, police there showed us a .50 caliber machine gun and an M-16 rifle.You might wonder why would police in Highland Hills have guns like those? A new police chief took over and he wondered the same thing.

Chief Dalton Preston also found the department had sold 27 other high-powered military-style weapons and a couple of high-powered handguns.

“I can’t think of why we would even entertain the argument of having something like this in a small village arsenal," Preston said.

Mayor Michael Booker points out the village is investigating back two years.

The chief said a family donated the guns to police when a man died. Back then, the village sold most of the guns to a police supply store, but the village didn’t collect any money.

“Being a Marine, I fired all of those weapons," Booker said. “Definitely should be talked about because procedures weren’t in place and accountability is a measure that needs to happen.”

The I-Team tracked down the former police chief, Antonio Stitt. He said he sold most of the guns to a store, but instead of getting a check, the village got credit to buy police supplies. Stitt said the former mayor OK'd it.

“As far as I know, everything was done above board. It was no money spent on personal expenditures," Stitt said.

We asked, why not just call federal authorities?

“That’s another option. We could have done that," Stitt said.

A check shows the village just got paid $15,000 from a police supply store for most of those guns. The village asked the state auditor to look into all of this. The current police chief plans to contact the federal investigators about the guns, too, to make sure they hadn’t been used in any crimes. The former chief said police had checked that when the village first obtained the weapons.

Meantime, Highland Hills Law Director Thomas O’Donnell is also reviewing policies.

“Do we have the internal policies in place so that this doesn’t happen again?” O'Donnell said.

We also reached out to the auditor’s office. But that office doesn’t discuss any possible pending investigations.

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