The issues with the Adams Arms rifles began almost immediately.
The first batch of AR-15s ordered from the Odessa-based manufacturer by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office had some trigger problems, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. Then, in later batches, a few rifles switched on their own from semi-automatic to fully automatic fire.*
*[!? - Why are these "weapons of war" on our streets, anyway? < /sarc >]
The sheriff warned the company: Give us a refund or inspect every rifle and put it in writing that they’re functional.
Then came the final straw. A deputy went to shoot one of the rifles at the range and when she pulled the trigger, nothing happened.
“The AR-15 became nothing more than a club or a stick,” Gualtieri said.
Deputies traced the defect to the manufacturer. The sheriff had seen enough.
He took 309 Adams Arms rifles out of service last month, ordered replacements from a different manufacturer, and meantime reshuffled the remaining rifles.
Gualtieri is seeking a refund of just over $300,000 from the company.
Another Tampa Bay area agency, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, also has Adams Arms rifles.
A spokesman said Friday that the office hadn’t found any issues with its weapons but was still reviewing the problems that Pinellas flagged.
The progression of problems the Pinellas sheriff experienced raises questions about how the office decided to go with the boutique manufacturer in the first place.
The Adams Arms purchases didn’t go through a competitive bid process, the standard practice in government for purchases over a designated threshold where an agency solicits proposals from potential vendors and ranks them against each other.
Competitive bidding isn’t required by law for sheriffs, independent constitutional officers in Florida who are subject to rules different from those governing local governments.
Still, experts say competitive bidding is still considered best practice for keeping the process transparent.
Instead, Gualtieri relied on a memo from a training deputy that cited internet research.
“It came to me," the sheriff said. “It had been evaluated. It had been vetted.”
A representative from Adams Arms, established in 2007, said the company stands by its products.
Officials first heard about problems from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in July and began working with the agency immediately, said Jason East, president of Adams Arms Holdings, which took over the company this year after the previous owner defaulted on a $5.1 million debt.
Company officials offered to inspect and test all of the rifles, but Gualtieri declined.
Whether the manufacturer voluntarily refunds the money hasn’t been decided yet, East said. If not, Gualtieri plans to sue, he said.
“We are committed to the law enforcement community and the mission that they serve,” East said. “We would still like to continue to work with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office as well as any other agency that runs our rifles today.”