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Ex-cop shot himself to death with gun he’d turned in to police years earlier

A Glock 17 9mm handgun, similar to the one ex-Cicero police Officer Donald Garrity was able to retain after his gun was transferred to his significant other at the time. | Courtesy of Ken Lunde

A former Cicero police officer took his own life in June using his old service pistol — a weapon he wasn’t supposed to have.

Donald Garrity, 44, died June 6. He shot himself in his Plainfield home, according to police records. The death was ruled a suicide, and the case was closed.

Now, authorities have reopened the case after the Chicago Sun-Times told Plainfield police that the gun Garrity used to end his life was his police service pistol, a Glock 17. He had turned it over to law enforcement years earlier when his Firearm Owners Identification card was revoked due to mental health issues, records show.

He had access to the gun due to a soon-to-be-closed loophole in Illinois’ firearm laws.

Garrity had left the Cicero Police Department and was collecting a disability pension for post-traumatic stress after he shot and killed Cesar Munive, a member of the Latin Counts Street Gang, in 2012.

A wrongful death suit was filed by Munive’s family, leading to a $3.1 million settlement with the town of Cicero last year.

Garrity’s ex-fiancée asked police to check on him because she was concerned about texts he’d sent and remarks he’d made. She told police he battled depression and addictions to alcohol and opioids, the case report police filed regarding Garrity’s death said. And she said he had been hospitalized at Linden Oaks, a clinic that treats both mental illness and substance abuse.

She was also concerned he had guns he wasn’t supposed to have, the police report states.

Under the Illinois Firearm Owners Identification Card Act, when police learn someone could be a danger to themselves or others due to mental illness or drug addiction, that police department has 24 hours to notify the Illinois State Police. The state police can then revoke the person’s FOID card.

If that happens, a gun owner is given 48 hours to turn over an FOID card and any weapons to local police. Local police can get a warrant to seize the card and weapons if a gun owner doesn’t comply.

Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General published a report in April saying Chicago police routinely failed to notify the Illinois State Police after learning of gun owners who posed threats, meaning they could have kept their FOID cards.

While the inspector general report dealt only with Chicago, Garrity’s case shows that even when proper steps are followed — state police were notified, the FOID card was revoked and weapons were confiscated — a tragedy still can occur.

Romeoville Police confirmed Garrity surrendered his FOID card in March 2015, along with a number of firearms — including the Glock service pistol. He transferred some of his firearms to another valid FOID holder (whose name was redacted from records obtained by the Sun-Times) and told police the Glock could remain in the Romeoville department’s evidence lockup until his fiancée got a valid FOID card and legally could retrieve it, records show.

Just a year later, that Glock was released from the evidence lockup; Plainfield police said Garrity’s fiancée signed for it. It’s not clear if the couple lived together at that point, but they had separated by the time Garrity shot himself over the summer.

It is unknown how the Glock ended up back in Garrity’s hands. Attempts to reach Garrity’s ex-fiancée were unsuccessful.

Cesar A. Munive. | Provided photo
Cesar A. Munive. | Provided photo

During his life, Garrity wasn’t a stranger to controversial media coverage. He had issues as a cop in Berwyn, where he worked prior to Cicero. In 2008, Garrity was arrested for going 90 mph on Cermak Road in a personal car. He’d also previously been under investigation there for wielding a high-powered rifle during a traffic stop.

His ex-fiancée told police: “Donald got into a little bit of trouble, and Berwyn Police pretty much gave him the option to quit, or get fired.”

In the Munive lawsuit, Garrity’s lawyer, Craig Tobin, claimed Munive pointed a gun at a fellow officer in a nearby police cruiser when Garrity shot the 22-year-old. Lawyers for Munive’s family disputed that, saying Munive was unarmed and that Garrity planted the gun at the scene.

The Sun-Times and the Better Government Association reported last year that the gun found with Munive had been part of a Chicago police gun buyback years earlier, turned in by a Cook County judge, and was supposed to have been destroyed.

Tobin said Munive obtained the gun from a fellow gang member, and he noted that Garrity was cleared of any criminal conduct by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office in July 2014 after an investigation into the shooting.

It’s tough to track a gun in Illinois if it’s in the hands of a legally licensed owner — especially if the owner illegally gives the gun to someone without a FOID card, officials said. Illinois does require firearms owners to notify law enforcement if a gun goes missing or is stolen — but Garrity’s Glock wasn’t in the stolen-gun database when Plainfield police checked.

When the Sun-Times alerted Plainfield police of the gun’s origin, the investigation into Garrity’s death was reopened. The probe is now in the hands of the Will County State’s Attorney’s office, which said it’ll review the case before deciding if anyone will face charges.

Giving a gun to somebody who has no valid FOID card or has recently been a patient in a mental institution is a Class 4 felony under Illinois law and could result in one to three years of jail time.

At the time of the transfer, it was legal for Garrity to transfer his gun to someone he lived with. That will change next year when a new law, the Firearms Restraining Order Act, takes effect in January.

That will prevent the transfer of weapons after a FOID revocation to someone living at the same address as the at-risk individual and make the newly titled owner of the firearms sign an affirmation they will not give access to guns back to the original owner.

Without that law, “I could transfer [guns] to somebody in the same house … which is a little disconcerting because clearly I’m going to have access to those firearms,” said Colleen Daley, executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

Daley said requiring that someone given custody of a gun swear they won’t give the gun back makes it clear that the new owner knows the law.

At-risk persons “should not have possession of those guns,” Daley said.