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‘We go after the people that are pulling the trigger’: ATF targeting gun crimes with new local partnerships

When law enforcement seized eight weapons and ammunition — including an AK-47-style rifle — from a house on Dayton’s Anna Street on Sept. 27, the case went directly to federal court with the potential of more serious punishment.

It was the latest prosecution aided by increased federal and local partnerships that have boosted the area’s pursuit of the most serious gun crimes.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) embedded two agents with Dayton police and one with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office starting in January 2018. Officials say the added manpower, technology and prosecution options are important factors in lowering gun violence.

A Dayton Daily News analysis of Dayton’s U.S. District Court cases showed at least 15 defendants in 12 cases filed in the past few months, including many charges brought by the ATF plus those brought the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other federal entities.

Cincinnati/Dayton ATF Resident Agent in Charge Clayton Merrill and federal prosecutors said official statistics are not yet available, but that federal cases against felons possessing guns may have tripled in fiscal year 2018 from fiscal year 2017.

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“We go after the people that are pulling the trigger,” Merrill said. “If you have a person out there that’s willing to shoot a firearm, we’re going to go after you. And that’s what we’ve been doing.

“We’ve been targeting the people that are responsible for the most violent crime in the city of Dayton and Montgomery County. And you can see that uptick (in cases).”

Law enforcement seized eight weapons and ammunition — including an AK-47-style rifle — from this house on Dayton’s Anna Street on Sept. 27.
Photo: Staff Writer

Dayton police Major Brian Johns said he took over the Dayton police’s Violent Offender Unit in July 2017, about a month before Merrill took over his position in Cincinnati.

Merrill said he realized, “You have to embed your people where the crime is” about the same time Johns was looking to fortify federal partnerships.

“Over this last fiscal year we’ve done a lot of good work up there indicting people federally,” Merrill said. “I’d love to shine the light on those guys up there that are doing the work … it’s been a big turnaround.”

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Johns said another benefit has been using a ATF canine agent that can sniff out spent shell casings that human eyes can’t always see.

“It’s an ongoing battle to try to get those (guns) off the street,” Johns said. “I have no problem with a law-abiding citizen having a gun. But the problem you have is have criminals with felony records having guns and who are prone for violence.”

A list of items seized from a house on Dayton’s Anna Street on Sept. 27.
Photo: Staff Writer

Bruce L. Long, 47, is being prosecuted federally for having the weapons on Anna Street after a man was shot but not seriously injured.

So is Jamahl Evans, whose 13-year-old son shot and killed his 2-year-old son J’veontae Johnston with one of his father’s guns on June 4, 2018. Separate from his state case, Evans could face a minimum of 15 years in federal prison if he’s convicted under the Armed Career Criminal Act recently

Bruce Long.
Photo: Staff Writer

reviewed by the Supreme Court.

More than a dozen other defendants face weapons counts and, in some cases, other charges. Those cases don’t include gun store robberies such as one in Sharonville that led to recovered weapons in Dayton and ongoing investigations.

“It’s just another resource for us,” Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said. “When you get federal agents embedded in your department, you bring in the federal assets.”

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Plummer specifically mentioned the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which allows law enforcement to log and and access the “fingerprints” of spent shell casings, and eTrace, a firearm-tracking database that can link gun crimes.

“We have immediate resources right at our fingertips,” Plummer said. “You know, we have a guy who can get into their data system. That’s the value. And we have an extra body helping out. … We all need to work together and target the career criminals who are committing gun violence.”

Johns said his unit has worked 11 cases with ATF agents. Six have been prosecuted in common pleas court, and five have gone to Dayton’s U.S. District Court.

Plummer and Johns said federal law also provides stiffer penalties for felons with weapons than Ohio statutes.

“It gives us a lot more avenues to address violent crime,” said Johns, who mentioned the recent shooting death of 17-year-old LaShonda Childs.

“The shootings like this, our top priority is to reduce those. And the violent crime has been up this year. Our goal is to reduce that as much as possible.”

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Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Greg Flannagan said prosecutors indicted nearly 200 defendants for having weapons under disability in 2017 alone in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

“On many cases, our office works in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to determine the best way to pursue a conviction,” Flannagan said. “At times, when a convicted felon is in possession of a firearm, and that is the only crime pending, it makes sense to pursue the charge in the federal system if the possible penalty would be higher for that particular defendant.”

Jamahl Evans.
Photo: Staff Writer

Statistics provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office show that the combined firearms sentences imposed in Ohio’s Southern District (Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus) have varied from from 89 in fiscal year 2014 to 48 in 2015 to 70 in 2016 and 102 in 2017.

Benjamin Glassman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said perhaps there has been an emphasis on collaboration and cooperation.

“This office has worked to prioritize the prosecution of the most violent offenders, including taking those (career criminal) prosecutions federally where federal court gets the most bang for the buck,” Glassman said. “We accomplish prioritizing the most violent offenders by sharing intelligence and information among law enforcement agencies — federal, state, and local — and by using technologies like NIBIN to identify those targets as to whom the investment of resources is appropriate.”

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Johns and Plummer said federal partnerships have been useful in the past, but that sometimes they lapse and need rekindling.

Merrill said the potential impact in a city of Dayton’s size made the resources sensible.

“You can go into a community like (Dayton) and you target 10 of the worst people that are committing the most crimes and you’ve done something,” Merrill said. “You go into a city of 3 million people and target them and what have you done? You haven’t done anything.

“But if you remove violent people from a community of (Dayton’s) size … you can really put a dent in crime.”

Merrill said the limitations of state prosecution across the country make federal cases that much tougher, especially when it comes to pretrial detention.

“When you get locked up, you stay in jail until your trial, generally,” Merrill said. “If you’ve got a bad record, the chances of you staying on the streets are slim and none.”

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