Citronelle AL cop convicted for stealing firearms he confiscated from motorists during traffic stops

(Brendan Kirby)   A former Citronelle police officer violated the law when he kept a pair of handguns he took from motorists during his 11-year tenure on the force, a federal jury here decided this afternoon.

The jury convicted Bill Eugene Newburn guilty of 2 counts of possession of a stolen firearm. Under a preliminary calculation of advisory guidelines in his case, he faces at least a year and 9 months in prison and as much as 2 years and 3 months behind bars.

U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose scheduled his sentencing hearing for Feb. 10.

Police Chief Shane Stringer has said the 2 incidents were among several complaints he received about similar conduct, although the other incidents did not come out during the 2-day trial. U.S. District Court

During the trial, prosecutors contended that Newburn, 40, improperly kept guns that he took from 2 different people and then lied to cover it up.

Defense attorney Rick Williams countered that his client took both guns lawfully and acted within the boundaries of his duties as a law enforcement officer.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michele O’Brien summarized the testimony of both incidents. In September 2007, Newburn — then a sergeant with the Citronelle Police Department — took a Llama 9mm handgun that was in the vehicle of a man charged with public intoxication on Pleasant Circle.

But the vehicle and the gun belonged to that man’s father, Johnny McBride, and Citronelle Municipal Judge John Williams ordered the weapon returned to him. O’Brien pointed to testimony that McBride never got it back.

“This firearm should have been returned to Johnny McBride, and he tried and tried and tried to get his firearm back,” she said.

O’Brien told jurors that the defendant followed a similar pattern in March of this year when he took a .22-caliber revolver that was in a woman’s car. The owner of that gun, Eric Newburn, testified that the officer — who is not related to him — later falsely told him the gun had been destroyed.

“The defendant told him, ‘Your firearm has been destroyed, cut into 2 pieces.’ Ladies and gentlemen, that shows intent,” O’Brien said. “What the defendant’s intent was was all over this case.”

Rick Williams told jurors in his closing argument that his client had reason to take both guns. In the first instance, Williams said, Sgt. Newburn was responding to a possible drug deal and found a loaded gun for which the driver had no pistol permit. In the second, the woman he questioned was parked on the side of the road in a known drug area and claimed not to know whom the gun even belonged to.

“He was acting within the line and scope of his employment as a police officer,” Williams said. “That’s what he should have done. That’s what he had a duty to do.”

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