The deputy district attorney summed up the firearms prosecution against a former Sacramento sheriff’s deputy as a matter of “simple case, simple verdict.”
Twice, Ryan James McGowan illegally sold detachable large-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 25 bullets to an undercover federal agent, said Deputy District Attorney Tan Thinh. And a search of McGowan’s home in Elk Grove turned up a modified Saiga 12-gauge shotgun and a PS90 assault rifle, both of which, in most circumstances, are illegal to possess.
“That’s the case,” Thinh said in his closing argument Tuesday, “and that’s the crime.”
Before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White sent the jury out to deliberate the charges against McGowan, 33, Assistant Public Defender Robert Woodard told the group the case and the law are both a bit more complex.
Since McGowan’s transactions of three years ago, which resulted in his arrest announced in a high-profile news conference a year later, California lawmakers rewrote firearms legislation to more clearly target the transfers of detachable large-capacity magazines, Woodard said.
As for McGowan’s guns, the shotgun was broken and he tucked it away in a safe, Woodard said, and the deputy fastened the magazine to the assault rifle to make it no longer detachable.
“When you take the prosecution’s case and stack it up, I’m confident that on every single count, you’ll find Mr. McGowan not guilty,” Woodard said.
McGowan, according to Woodard, is the first defendant to go to trial in either state or federal court since U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner two years ago announced the firearms dealing prosecutions of two now-former Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies and the resignations of two police officers from Sacramento and Roseville. District Attorney Jan Scully, Sheriff Scott Jones, former Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel and Roseville Police Chief Daniel Hahn, all joined Wagner for the news conference.
The other former deputy, Thomas Lu, who was 42 when the case broke, pleaded guilty shortly afterward to a single count of dealing firearms without a license. Lu agreed to assist the government in the pending federal case against two civilian defendants as well as McGowan.
Regardless of what the Superior Court jury does, McGowan will remain a defendant in the federal case, Woodard said.
The McGowan case that went to trial in Sacramento Superior Court stemmed from his two 2011 interactions with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent Tehran Palmer in the parking lot of the River City Gun Exchange on Fruitridge Road.
Authorities said McGowan, who was able to acquire “off-roster” guns as a law enforcement officer, hooked up with Palmer on the Calguns.net website and arranged to sell him an Uzi semi-automatic pistol on July 15, 2011.
The deal was one of an estimated 20 that Thinh said McGowan consummated, without a license, and good for a gross in the range of $10,000 to $12,000 and a 50 percent profit.
Along with the Uzi, McGowan told Palmer he also had a 25-round magazine clip available and offered to show him how to put it together.
“That’s exactly what he did,” Thinh said. When he followed through on the offer, “he just committed a crime,” the prosecutor told the jury.
McGowan met with the agent once again on Aug. 4, 2011, to sell him a .22 pistol and a magazine that held 35 rounds, Thinh said. McGowan took the magazine apart and gave it to Palmer, an act the prosecutor characterized as the former deputy “manipulating” the law and also knowing it well enough to try and find a legal loophole if he needed one.
The magazine transactions led to a Nov. 3, 2011, search of McGowan’s home, where investigators found the shotgun and the rifle, according to the prosecution’s case. Both firearms had detachable magazines, Thinh said, which prosecution experts testified made them both assault weapons.
In McGowan’s defense, Woodard insisted “it wasn’t illegal” to transfer the magazines. The lawyer, under his reading of the laws on the books in 2011, characterized the magazines as “conversion kits,” which could be transferred in individual components.
“He just sold the components that came with the firearm,” Woodard said of McGowan’s two transactions with the undercover agent. “It was simple as that,” the lawyer told the jury.
Woodard said McGowan’s intent “was always to disassemble the magazine when he transferred it.”
As for the PS90 assault rifle, McGowan inserted a bolt to make the magazine nondetachable, Woodard argued.
With the shotgun, Woodard said the magazine lock broke off when McGowan used it once, so he took out the gas piston to make it a single-shot weapon and locked it away in a safe at home until he had an opportunity to fix it.
“He made it not an assault weapon,” Woodard said. “He was not trying to break the law. He was trying to follow the law the best he can.”