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Saga of Manteca Police weapons in wrong hands
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A simple conversation with a freelance photographer while we were on a short vacation over the holidays evolved into a dramatic saga about three MP-5 automatic weapons being sent to the Manteca Police Department some 28 years ago.

Ted Snoddy is not only a photographer and author in the historic gold mining town of Julian but a retired veteran of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.  He had been a patrol officer, detective, internal affairs investigator, served at the Vista jail and later with the District Attorney’s office in preparing cases to go to trial

As we chatted in front of his display of photographs that depict the charm of the former mining town, our conversation centered on police departments and on Manteca. At the mention of Manteca, his eyes widened saying he knew quite a bit about the Central Valley community and had recovered several of Manteca’s automatic weapons that had been sent in error from the German gun manufacturer Heckler and Koch in 1983 to the address of a known felon in the town of Vista.

Snoddy said his captain had ordered him and another detective to do what it would take to recover those weapons and get them off the street.  He said he received the address from the delivery firm and drove to the residence and scoped out the house.

“We knocked on the front door and grandma answered.  We told her why we were there and she said her grandson was out and would return later that day.  She said it was OK to look around and she let us go in the house – we didn’t have a search warrant,” he remembered.

The detectives located one of the weapons behind the grandmother’s rocking chair in the living room, but two remained unaccounted for in their search.

That night he stayed late at the station and received a telephone call from the 33-year-old suspect at about 6:30 p.m.  The man told the officer that he had loaned one of the guns to a friend who had taken it out in the dessert where he fired some 100 to 150 rounds to try it out.

“You know you’ve got a warrant out for your arrest,” he told the man.  “We won’t arrest you if we get both of the other guns back too,” he bartered with the suspect who had a violent background in domestic violence.

It was just a half hour later that the detective received another call from the subject on the north side of the Vista community peppered with three to five acre homes.  He told the officers they could take a rural road leading out of town and stop at the third telephone pole beyond the curb where they would find a large tire leaning against a tree – the guns would be there.

Snoddy was warned to come alone and have no police cars in the vicinity.  He said that he and fellow officers were concerned because he would be out in the open and an easy target that could have easily been fired upon from the road that was looking down on his detective unit.

It was getting dark and his partner stationed himself at the end of the road as other detectives set up a clandestine perimeter in case anything went wrong.  Snoddy and his partner were credited with recovering all three weapons valued at about $4,500.

“The biggest thing was to get the guns out of the hands of the felon, so we had to make a deal with the guy,” he noted.

Former Manteca Police Chief Charlie Halford was on the force in 1983 and recalls the mix up with the gun delivery.  He said the late Detective Sgt. Jerry Kubena drove down to Vista to pickup up the automatic weapons.

Halford said that his department returned the guns to the manufacturer not knowing what they might have been used for when they were in the wrong hands in addition to being used for target practice in the dessert.

Julian is located in the mountains east of San Diego with its history dating back to 1860 when gold was discovered the nearby creek beds.  The quaint mountain community is known for its world famous apple pies, bed and breakfast resorts.  Its treasure of sights, sounds and smells of the yesteryear town can be found in the retired officer’s compilation of digital photographs.

You never know just what kind of a story is going to come forward when striking up a conversation with a stranger.  After all, a friend is often only a smile and a handshake away.