Sheriff’s department seizes pistol during search warrant disguised to look like toy Nerf gun

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CATAWBA, NC – Sheriff’s deputies in Catawba County made an interesting discovery while serving a search warrant on March 17th, allegedly finding a pistol modified so as to appear as though it was a NERF toy gun.

While the practice of doing so isn’t illegal, it was described as “concerning” to law enforcement officials.

On March 17th, narcotics investigators with the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office, Hickory Police Department and the Newton Police Department reportedly executed a search warrant at the residence of 35-year-old Damien Alonzo Burch.

When executing said warrant, investigators reportedly seized various narcotics, which were said to have been cocaine, mushrooms, and marijuana. Which resulted in Burch being charged with felony cocaine possession, felony mushrooms possession, and misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Yet, the show-stealer in this search warrant came from what wasn’t illegal – but seized – via the search warrant, as noted in a press release from the Catawba County Sheriff’s Office:

“Investigators also seized approximately $2,300.00 in United States Currency and twenty firearms consisting of pistols, rifles and shotguns.”

“One of these weapons, a converted Glock model 19 pistol with a fifty round drum magazine, had been altered to resemble a toy Nerf gun. Firearms of this type, while not illegal to possess, are concerning to law enforcement. Firearms, in general, are commonly seized in conjunction with searches were felony amounts of narcotics are present.”

Sheriff's department seizes pistol during search warrant disguised to look like toy Nerf gun
Image of altered pistol – Catawba County Sheriff’s Office

It’s certainly fair for law enforcement to have concerns over weapons modified to the point that they appear as though they’re children’s toys – but it’s still perfectly legal.

Painting and modifying a firearm for the sole purpose of alteration of appearance is just as legal as painting your car and adding a body kit.

As for the suspect in the case, Burch was issued a $20,000 unsecured bond and made his initial court appearance on March 18th.

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Back in December, we at Law Enforcement Today shared another story pertaining to a gun bust in New York City. 

Except…it wasn’t really a “gun” bust, but rather toy guns or ones intentionally rendered inoperable. And for some reason, the police agency actually posed for a picture in front of the toy guns and shared it on social media. 

To make matters worse, a woman is actually facing up to a quarter-century in prison for the weapons used as props. 

Here’s that previous report. 

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NEW YORK CITY, NY – A Queens woman is facing a 25-year prison sentence and felony weapons charges after police raided her home and seized a “stockpile of weapons,” which were later found to be toys and production props. One year later, Elizaveta Zlatkis is still fighting to have the charges dismissed.

The bizarre case began with a search warrant executed on her Queens, NY home on December 27, 2019. The NYPD’s 112th Precinct Field Intelligence Officer and Special Operations Unit executed a search warrant on Zlatkis’ 67th Road home based on a tip.

A criminal complaint at the time said multiple guns were taken from the home and that two young children had been found on the premises. Zlatkis was charged with four counts of criminal possession of a weapon, one count of acting in a manner injurious to a child under 17, and eight counts of violating local laws.

The 112th Precinct spread the weapons out on a table, took a picture of the officers involved standing behind them, and tweeted the photo praising the operation.:

“Great job yesterday from our Field Intelligence Officer and Special Operations Unit for a successful search warrant taking multiple guns off the streets of Forest Hills.”

However, 21 of the 22 firearms seized were not real, and the one real gun had been rendered inoperable.

Despite the firearms actually being airsoft rifles, toy replicas, and starter pistols incapable of firing ammunition, Zlatkis is still facing felony charges and a possible 25-year prison sentence. Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz has declined to drop the case against Zlatkis.

Zlatkis said the arrest and continuing saga have made her life difficult. She said high school friends have separated from her, and she had to turn down a job offer because of a background check.

“I look completely crazy,” she said, noting that many of her high school friends have shared stories about her arrest on their social media pages. “It’s humiliating.”

Zlatkis explained that she and her husband loan fake guns to rappers and producers as props for music videos. She said two of her recent customers were rappers Cru’cial and Tay Spades. Crucial reacted to the arrest:

“We do videos with (the guns) as props. I didn’t know you could actually get in trouble with all that. That’s wild. They’re fake.”

The day of her arrest, Zlatkis spent a night in jail before being released on her own recognizance the next day. Her attorney, Joe Murray, pointed out that even the judge during her arraignment knew the charges were absurd. Murray said:

“Not a single gun was real. I want to clear her name. She’s not a gangster.”

Pro-gun blog Bearing Arms pointed out that although Zlatkis may not be a gangster, she is not out of the woods:

“In the eyes of the law, Zlatkis may very well be a gun owner, since a firearm is defined federally to include a finished frame or receiver for a gun, even if it doesn’t have a trigger attached to it.

“Even starter pistols meet the definition of a firearm under federal law because the ATF says they can be ‘readily converted’ into a real firearm.”

Bearing Arms explained that Zlatkis has been charged under a provision which New York state reserves for cases involving ten or more firearms. Despite the firearms not being able to fire live ammunition, Zlatkis possessed at least ten starter pistols or inoperable guns. Under the law, that meets the elements necessary to be charged with the crime.

Bearing Arms wrote:

“What gives this case an extra dose of lunacy is the fact that, while Zlatkis is looking at decades behind bars for possessing non-functional firearms, those arrested in New York City for actually shooting someone are quickly returning to the streets.”

According to data released by the NYPD, nearly 90 percent of suspects arrested on gun charges this year have been released in the city. NYPD has blamed the releases as fuel for a historic spike in shootings that have left 1,756 people dead or wounded as of November 30, 2020.

NYPD has admitted that the weapons were fake. According to the Queens Eagle, Detective Denise Moroney said:

“Firearms were recovered on Friday, December 27, 2019 in regards to a search warrant and deemed inoperable at a later date.”

People on Twitter also noticed the guns were fake when the 2019 photo was tweeted. Benton Blount reacted to several posts praising the police for taking guns off the streets:

“Why are you happy that (the police) are posing in front of fake guns?”

Another user with the screenname Ca. DemoCat Horder wrote:

“Great job, you have a bunch of toy guns off the streets, even the only real gun would have taken a gunsmith an hour to fix if they had the parts on hand.

A user identifying himself as a police officer said he was embarrassed by the case:

“You took airsoft guns, toy guns, and an inoperable firearm with its trigger and other internal parts removed off the street. The owner rents the toys as media production props. As a fellow cop, I’m embarrassed for you. If I made a similar arrest I’d be laughed out of my station.”

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