I-Team: Mystery grows over big weapons in small village

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HIGHLAND HILLS, Ohio (WJW) - The FOX 8 I-Team has found a growing mystery surrounding big guns in the tiny Cuyahoga County village of Highland Hills.

What we’ve just learned raises new questions about a machine gun and an M-16 donated to the police department. The police chief says those weapons had been reported stolen.

Last year, the I-Team revealed a new police chief and mayor had taken over in Highland Hills, and they started investigating the machine gun, the M-16, and dozens of handguns donated a couple of years ago.

Now, the village tells us the two most powerful weapons had been reported stolen sometime before they’d been given to police.

We went back to the former police chief, the man in charge when police took in the guns.

A family had donated the weapons after a man died.

Former Chief Antonio Stitt had told us before, his department had checked the weapons and found no evidence of any ties to any crimes. Certainly, no reports of the guns being reported stolen.

And Monday, Stitt told us, “You’re telling me, now, this. It’s shocking to me because we never had any information about anything criminal with those firearms.” He added, “My sergeants, they ran those guns. It came back nothing.”

Current Chief Dalton Preston said, “There was a procedure in place that was not adhered to.”

The chief says he found the machine gun and the M-16 in police storage. Never found files on them.

He says the other guns were sold to a police supply store.

And federal agents found the big ones had been stolen.

The chief said, “At least they weren’t on the street. At least they were in custody, and they weren’t available to hurt anyone.”

So now, more questions about how weapons like that ended up at this tiny police department. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is the federal agency involved. A spokesperson tells the I-Team the agency is working to determine where the weapons came from and what happens now. But the agency is not saying more.

Mayor Michael Booker said, “We wondered how? How did it happen? But we also feel confident that it won’t happen again.”

Booker says the village now has new policies for taking in weapons.

The village says federal agents have now seized the guns.

The former police chief says he wonders if federal agents were able to take a closer look at those weapons or do more of a background check than his officers could do when the guns were donated.

No telling, though, if anyone will be able to solve the mystery that’s now been uncovered.

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