Editorial: Former Pelham police chief Edward Fleury must not handle guns

  • Former Pelham police chief Edward Fleury listens during his sentencing Thursday in Hampden Superior Court. He was sentenced to two years of probation, fined $7,500 and ordered not to possess, use or store firearms at his home.   GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Former Pelham police chief Edward Fleury last week  was ordered to give up all his firearms as part of the sentence for improperly storing guns at his home. It’s about time.

Superior Court Judge Daniel Ford on Thursday sentenced Fleury, 60, of Pelham, to two years of probation and a $7,500 fine after a jury in September found him guilty of 12 of 22 counts of improper firearms storage. He was acquitted of the other 10 charges. Ford also ordered that Fleury not possess, use or store at his home any firearm, rifle or gun.

Though it is Fleury’s only conviction on gun-related charges, he has been linked to previous incidents involving the accidental discharge of weapons or questionable judgment in handling firearms. They began in 2003, when Fleury issued a public apology after he unintentionally fired a gun he did not realize was loaded during a firearms safety class in Pelham. The bullet went through a wall of the community center and into a steel door frame.

In 2009, after he was charged with involuntary manslaughter and furnishing a machine gun to a minor, Fleury resigned from the police chief’s post he had held since 1991. Those charges resulted from the death of an 8-year-old Connecticut boy who accidentally shot himself in the head with a 9mm micro Uzi submachine gun during the Oct. 26, 2008, Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo at the Westfield Sportsman’s Club. It was sponsored by COP Firearms & Training, which Fleury owned.

Fleury was found not guilty of those charges after his lawyer argued that though he had helped organize the show, he was not directly responsible and had not given the guns to the children who attended. The Westfield Sportsman’s Club, though, pleaded no contest to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and paid a $1,000 fine. The club also agreed to donate a total of $10,000 to two charities in exchange for dismissal of four charges of illegally providing a machine gun to a minor.

In accepting the club’s plea deal in March 2010, Hampden Superior Court Judge Peter Velis asked, “This poor young fellow lies in his grave. … What in God’s name was anyone, if not everyone, thinking?”

The latest charges against Fleury resulted from a search of his home in September 2014 by police looking for a .40-caliber Glock handgun he pointed at a friend outside VFW Post 8428 in Belchertown after consuming several beers the night of Aug. 2, 2014. According to court documents, Peter Terapulsky told police the two met about 9:15 p.m. at the VFW to “discuss a business venture involving firearm safety, producing handguns, and developing an indoor firing range.” Terapulsky said he was talking with another friend outside the VFW around midnight when Fleury joined them, drew the Glock and pointed it at him so the red dot from the laser sighting device glowed on his chest “for a second or two.”

Fleury was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, and during his trial, Terapulsky testified that “it’s certainly the first time I’ve stared down the barrel of a large semi-automatic handgun” and that he had become increasingly anxious when “I realized just how close I was to death or injury.”

Fleury testified that he had meant no harm to Terapulsky and that he was demonstrating a de-escalation technique toward “a person who is making a deadly force advance” after the two had discussed “a particular kind of training scenario … involving lasers.” A jury acquitted Fleury of the assault with a dangerous weapon charge.

His conviction for improperly storing large-capacity firearms came after a four-day trial during which prosecutor Matthew Thomas described an “improperly stored arsenal” of weapons among the more than 200 firearms police found in Fleury’s home. Fleury’s lawyer, Elizabeth Rodriguez-Ross, said he possessed all the weapons legally and that he was a collector with a gun from every war in which the United States had participated.

Though Ford spared Fleury time in prison, which the prosecution had sought, he delivered a clear message: “One of the cardinal rules of sentencing is that the sentence must fit the crime but also must fit the offender. The defendant should have known better. He is a former chief of police.”

We agree. If Fleury violates the conditions of his probation by possessing firearms, he should then be sent to jail.