Gun crime charges up as prosecutors try to cut violent crimes

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday that the number of gun crimes charged this past year is up 14 percent over last year.

That is the result of an initiative by his office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to crack down on gun crimes, and in particular, felons in possession of a firearm. However, in the wake of the death of three-year-old Terrell Mayes,Jr., the effort must continue and more must be done, he said.

“Every one of us is sickened by what happened to this young man,” Freeman told a news conference Wednesday. “It shocks the community because he was so innocent and he was in the safety of his home. We need to do everything we can to get illegal guns off the streets.”

For the reporting period of July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, prosecutors in the county attorney’s office charged 286 gun cases. That compares to 251 from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. The number of convictions on those gun cases was up, too, from 212 to 256.

Besides focusing on criminals committing crimes with guns, police and prosecutors are zeroing in on people who are always around gun violence, Freeman said. They either are standing near the person doing the shooting or the victim of the shooting. Prosecutors also look to state and federal laws to see which jurisdiction would have the longer sentence for a particular gun-related crime.

Sometimes, the sentence can be longer in the federal system, and in close consultation with the U.S. Attorney’s office, a number of the cases have been transferred from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to the federal office. Last year, 17 of the 286 cases were charged in federal court.

“We meet every other week with the U.S. Attorney’s office,” Freeman said. “That kind of coordinated effort has the goal of getting the longest sentence legally possible.”

As an example, on Jan. 4, Darryl Donail Walker, 34, of Minneapolis will be sentenced and could receive up to 15 years in prison instead of the usual five years. During the execution of a search warrant for drugs, the criminal complaint (PDF) says police saw Walker toss something out of a window and discovered it was a semi-automatic pistol. Instead of charging him with just the relatively minor fifth degree drug procession, prosecutors also charged him with prohibited person in possession of a firearm, because of his previous felony history.

During the trial, the prosecutor asked the jury to find him guilty of the crimes, but also to find Walker a danger to public safety. The jury did both, as requested, and that will allow the judge to impose the harsher sentence.

These heightened efforts by Minneapolis and suburban police officers and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office on guns comes at the same time that violent crime is down again this year. Freeman said efforts like this, and working on juvenile crime and truancy, all play some role.

“No one knows for sure why crime is down,” Freeman said. “The tragedy with Terrell is that there is one too many guns on the street.”