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Teenager who took combat rifle from back seat of cruiser apologetic

TRACY MCLAUGHLIN, SUN MEDIA

A 17-year-old teen says he was "scared, but curious" when he came across a police officer's combat rifle laying in the back seat of an unlocked car late one night when he was out rummaging through vehicles.

The teen, who cannot be identified, plead guilty to theft of a firearm and was sentenced yesterday to 18 months probation and 50 hours of community service and he must write a letter of apology to the police officer.

In court, Justice Joseph Wilson voiced his disappointment with the carelessness of the police officer, who has never been charged with any offence.

"I find it shocking that a firearm and 180 rounds of ammunition were kept in a back seat by a trained police officer," he said.

"And that there was no report that it went missing for four days."

The incident started late one night last April when the teen and his friend went out "car-hopping" for cash and goods when they came across an unmarked police officer's vehicle on a residential street.

The amateur thieves hit the jackpot when they found the rifle in a canvas case in the back seat -- along with 180 rounds of ammunition.

The weapon belonged to OPP SWAT team officer Jennifer Van Allan, who forgot that she had left it in her back seat and didn't report it missing for four days.

The teen brought it into his basement, where he and his friend were wide-eyed.

"We didn't know what to do," said the teen outside of court as he stood beside his father. "We thought it must belong to a drug dealer or something."

They kept it hidden in a garbage bag, stored separately from the ammunition.

A month later, it was accidentally mentioned at school, and an anonymous tip ended up going to Barrie Police.

"The next thing I knew, I'm walking out the door of my house with my daughter and there's a SWAT team pointing guns at us," the teen's father said, adding he's angry at the police officer.

"You don't leave a machine-gun lying around in the back seat," he said. "This weapon could have got into the wrong hands."

In court, the teen apologized for his behaviour. "It was a stupid thing to do," he told the judge, adding that now he's "back on track" and concentrating on school and hockey.

The teen's lawyer, Angela McLeod, said she is upset over the charges. "He's been sentenced with a weapons offence, yet nothing has happened to this police officer."

OPP Sgt. Dave Ross said the officer is being investigated by the professional standards unit.



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