Police Sergeant Under Investigation After Turning Over Stolen Gun

Officer says he was treated unfairly and was just trying to do the right thing

A Philadelphia Police sergeant is under investigation by the department’s Internal Affairs division after he allegedly hid his identity while turning in several guns to the force -- including one that was reported stolen.

But that officer says he was simply trying to make the community safer.

Sgt. Brandon Ruff, who served in the 16th District, is now on desk duty as the probe is carried out.

On the evening of August 3, Ruff walked into the 35th District in North Philadelphia carrying a bag containing three guns. He tells NBC10.com that a community member, in a different part of the city, needed help getting them to authorities.

Ruff, who himself runs the nonprofit Devoted Dads Inc., said the man had been buying the weapons from neighborhood kids in an effort to get them off the streets.

“I was working with this guy. He said he was interested in submitting firearms to me because he’d rather the kids have money to eat,” he told NBC10.com. He would not identify the man.

In plain clothes and failing to identify himself as an officer, Ruff tried to anonymously turn in the guns. However, he says district police on-duty that night repeatedly asked for his information and where he obtained the weapons.

“I said ‘You don’t need my information.’ I asked for a supervisor. I was not acting as a police officer at the time,” he said. “I’m just doing this anonymously in good faith.”

The 8-year police veteran says he then went to leave the district headquarters at Broad and Champlost Streets to get the information when several officers approached him from behind outside.

“One officer says ‘I’m f-ing tasing you.’ I said, ‘If you tase me, I’m going to sue you,” he said with two Tasers pressed up against his body.

Ruff said he identified himself as an officer, but that the proof was in his pocket, which he could not reach.

Officers then noticed the man’s personal firearms on his hip and disarmed him. Ruff said he was brought back into the precinct and treated poorly during questioning. He claims one officer called him a “piece of s---” and “disgrace to the job.”

Ruff said he was detained for seven hours until, around 1:30 a.m. that Monday, Internal Affairs detectives told him he was being investigated and taken off the street. He was stripped of his police firearm, as is protocol, and sent home.

“I just started crying uncontrollably,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that the people that I call my brothers would treat me this way.”

Law enforcement sources tell NBC10.com that ballistics showed one of the guns was reported stolen during a past burglary. The other two guns are said to be undergoing testing to find out where they came from.

A Philadelphia Police spokesperson confirmed that Ruff was the subject of an internal investigation, but would not elaborate on the details citing department policy. Officials would not say whether Ruff is suspected of any wrongdoing. The Fraternal Order of Police, the officer’s union, did not respond to a request for comment.

Illegal guns have been a major issue for Philadelphia, like many large U.S. cities. Last year, 1,128 people were shot and 201 died at the end of a gun barrel.

Those numbers were down 11 percent from 2012, however. City leaders have made a big push in recent years to crack down on illegal guns with tougher prosecution and new policing tactics.

Still, police say buying firearms on the street, despite good intentions to get them out of the hands of teens, is illegal.

Ruff believes he and the community member were simply doing the responsible thing. Asked why he chose to turn in the guns as a civilian and not a member of the law, Ruff said he didn’t want the teens involved to be “blacklisted” for life.

“I’m thinking, ‘He’s coming to me in confidence. Let’s get these guns off the streets,’” he said.

Philadelphia Police do not have a policy requiring citizens turning over firearms to provide a name, contact information and how they obtained the weapon. But a police spokesperson says officers use their own discretion as to whether to question individuals. They say in Ruff’s case, officers were suspicious about the situation and thus asked for information.

The man said had this situation happened at his district, the 16th, he would have never treated a person the same way.

“If an 80-year-old grandmother had come down to my district and tried to turn in a gun, I wouldn’t be hounding her,” he said.

Ruff says he’s been traumatized by the entire experience and has not been able to return to work since the investigation began. He’s not sure about his future with the department.

“I just want them to investigate it fairly,” he said. “Helping the community has been my passion since I’ve been on the job.”

NBC10 investigative reporter Harry Hairston contributed to this report.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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