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Rifle manufacturer says JSO wasting taxpayer money with recall

Officers handing over their rifles to be fixed. (Catherine Varnum)
Officers handing over their rifles to be fixed. (Catherine Varnum)
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Updated: 9/18/2013 10:59 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Olympic Arms, a rifle manufacturer, is blasting the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, saying the department is wasting taxpayer dollars by how it is handling a trigger malfunction.

Action News first reported Thursday a number of JSO officers had to turn in their Olympic Arms AR-15 rifles due to several incidents in which the weapon discharged on its own.

No one was hurt in those incidents.

JSO said it'll cost the agency $50,000 to fix.

Olympic Arms responded in a statement from sales director Tom Spithaler to Action News.

"Olympic Arms is concerned when any report is given that one of our firearms has acted in a manner that is atypical to proper function, or acts in a manner considered unsafe," wrote Spithaler.

Olympic Arms said its limited lifetime warranty would have covered "some, if not all repairs" on the rifles.

Spithaler writes, "Had JSO taken advantage of this warranty, Olympic Arms could have saved the Jacksonville taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars."

Olympic Arms said it knew of the incidents that caused the recall, but Spithaler said the company didn't hear of the actual recall until Friday.

The company says it didn't get an "opportunity to make inspections, recommend solutions," and that "no product related to these incidents was returned for replacement report or inspection" under the lifetime warranty for the rifles.

Olympic Arms said JSO's moves voided the lifetime warranty.

Action News requested a comment from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.  A spokeswoman told Action News Friday night JSO will follow up with us on Monday after it has had an opportunity to discuss the matter.

These are just some of the claims from the weapons manufacturer.  You can read the full statement from Olympic Arms below.

Statement from Tom Spithaler, Sales Director, Olympic Arms., Inc.:

Let me begin by saying that Olympic Arms is concerned when any report is given that one of our firearms has acted in a manner that is atypical to proper function, or acts in a manner considered unsafe. Any incident where an Olympic Arms product causes the user concern, is of the utmost importance to us. This concern is increased when incidents are reported from within our substantial Law Enforcement and military customer base.

Today is the first that Olympic Arms has been made aware of a recall of our firearms from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. While we were aware of the two incidents in question that caused the JSO to issue the recall, details provided were extremely limited, and Olympic Arms was not given the opportunity make inspections, recommend solutions, or to effect repairs or make corrections. Additionally, no product related to these incidents was returned for replacement repair or inspection under the Olympic Arms Lifetime Warranty, still in effect on these rifles.

[Video: JSO news conference on rifle recall]

In watcing the full press conference linked above, there are several statements made by Director Tom Hackney with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office that I'd like to bring to your attention:
1.While communications were made about a month ago by JSO to our in house AR15 technician Mr. Andrew Wilson that these incident had occurred, the JSO armorer was unable to specifically identify the problem. Some low-resolution images were sent via email to Mr. Wilson, and examination of those images, in conjunction with considering the verbal explanation for the issues and inconsistencies lead Mr. Wilson to the conclusion that the incidents occurred because of worn, aged parts that simply needed replacing. In other words, our conclusion, based on the evidences provided was that no failures in parts had occurred, simply that, as with any 10 year old mechanical device, some parts needed replacing. Mr. Hackney seems to agree with this assessment as he states in his Press Conference, "This is normal maintenance. Guns are machines. They do have parts that break..."

It is important to note, that at the time of his conversation with JSO's representative, that Mr. Wilson reminded the JSO representative that the Olympic Arms products they owned and issued were sold with a limited Lifetime Warranty, and that if he were to simply send the units in question back for inspection and/or repair or maintenance, that repairs may have been covered under the warranty, at no expense to the Jacksonville taxpayers. At the very least, all weapons could have been inspected for proper and safe function, and returned to JSO in a condition suitable for deployment with the agency at a fraction of the cost JSO spent of their own fruition and without our consultation. The JSO representative chose not to take advantage of this opportunity.

2.Dir. Hackney states that his armorers were "specifically trained by each manufacturer". This is not accurate. Lengthy discussions were made with the JSO Deputy, Sgt. Scott Allen about performing an armoerers course for the purposes of training their designated employees and armorers assigned to and/or employed by JSO. Discussions were made offering to have Olympic Arms Staff travel to Florida and offer these classes, or to have JSO designated employees come to the Olympic Arms factory for training. During these dicussions, a quote regarding the costs for training was submitted to JSO via Sgt. Allen on 10/28/2009 via fax. These fax communications remain in my possession. Despite these lengthy discussions that spanned several months, JSO passed on this training and NO TRAINING HAS TAKEN PLACE AT ANY TIME.

3.Dir. Hackney speaks of the "discussions had with the manufacturer, Olympic Arms", leaving the Press Conference audience to presume that these discussions were to seek resolution to the issues they had experienced. The problem is, at the time Mr. Wilson had his conversation with the JSO representative, the JSO representative informed him that replacement trigger parts had already been ordered. Apparently, the decision to repair and/or replace these rifles had been made well before discussions with Olympic Arms, without consulting us for a solution.

Some of the firearms sold to JSO are as old as ten years, and as firearms age, just like automobiles or any other mechanical device, parts will wear. As these parts wear, if proper maintenance is performed, and proper functions checks performed on the rifles, normal wear and tear that may cause reliability concerns would be detected BEFORE they are issued or deployed for field use. A "Functions Check" is common to all AR15's and the process to perform a Functions Check is covered in the Owner's Manual issued with each and every AR15 sold by Olympic Arms. These Owner's Manuals were provided with the JSO firearms. Apparently, functions check protocol has been ignored.

In closing, Olympic Arms offers a limited Lifetime Warranty with every firearm it manufactures. The firearms sold to JSO would still have been covered under this warranty at that time. Had the JSO taken advantage of this Warranty, some if not all repairs would have almost certainly been made for free as a service of the Lifetime Warranty. Even if as Dir. Hackney states, "an abundance of caution" were used and he chose to replace the parts in question on Olympic Arms units sold to JSO, it would most likely have been done for between $5,000 and $6,000, not the $50,000 spent by JSO to repair many rifles that most likely needed no repair at all. Had JSO taken advantage of this warranty, Olympic Arms could have saved the Jacksonville taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

In closing, Olympic Arms would have loved to have had the opportunity to inspect, repair and or replace parts on these rifles under our Lifetime Warranty. Unfortunately, this opportunity was not provided, and instead the fire-control component parts have been replaced with component parts from other unknown vendors, and installation made by technicians not trained by Olympic Arms. This action has thereby voided the remaining Lifetime Warranty.

JSO Response

JSO Director Tom Hackney issued this statement to Action News:

"We appreciate Action News asking for our response to the email from Olympic Arms. We have reviewed their comments and appreciate the vendor’s position. We respectfully disagree with them. The remedy offered by the vendor was not acceptable to us. We chose a different corrective action we believe to be in the best interest of our officers and our community, and we stand by that decision."
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