Metro law officials unveil effort to curb gun violence

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Felons who use guns will face stiffer penalties under an initiative announced Monday to prosecute criminals under the federal law enforcement system.

The new program calls for Wayne County prosecutors to work with the U.S. Attorney's Office to secure more prison time for offenders who illegally possess guns by prosecuting them under federal guidelines, which usually call for longer prison sentences.

■Felons with one prior violent crime conviction will now face federal prosecution.

■Offenders with three prior violent felony convictions or drug convictions will receive a mandatory minimum 15-year prison sentence for possession of a firearm.

■Offenders who use a gun during a violent crime will face a minimum of five years, with additional mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years for a second offense.

Under the state system, a felon in possession of a weapon faces up to five years in prison, as compared to 10 years in federal court.

"Federal laws are different from the state laws," U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade said during a news conference in her office announcing the initiative. "In the federal system we have the ability to get very lengthy sentences."

Part of the effort will be a public service campaign to warn criminals they face tougher penalties if they use firearms. Billboards will go up next week bearing the message: "You do the math ... Felon + Gun = Federal Prison," followed by 15 tick marks representing the 15-year minimum sentence.

McQuade said she has received funding from the U.S. Department of Justice for two additional prosecutors, who will be dedicated to prosecuting the gun cases. Other prosecutors in her office will also take on those cases, she said, adding that federal prosecutors will talk daily with Wayne County prosecutors to determine which cases should be adjudicated federally.

The effort is part of the Detroit One violence reduction partnership of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and community groups.

During the past three years, the city has had between 1,400 and 1,600 fatal and non-fatal shootings annually.

"As everybody knows, gun violence in the city of Detroit is at an unacceptable level," Mayor Mike Duggan said. "It's going to take hard work and a collaborative effort to bring that down. Every month that goes by we are going to make it more and more difficult to get away with a crime using a gun."

McQuade said the effort was inspired by a similar initiative launched last year to prosecute carjackers federally. "We saw a 36 percent drop in carjackings," she said.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the collaborative carjacking effort has worked, and hopes to see similar results with the gun violence initiative.

"No one agency, no matter what they say, can do it by themselves," Worthy said. "I'm very happy with the progress we've made with the carjacking cases. It's very, very important to have collaborations. All of us face certain resource pulls, and it's important we can pool our resources"

Detroit Police Chief James Craig agreed. "There is no other place that has been as effective as coming together with partnerships. So it does work," he said.

Craig pointed to the quick arrests last week of three suspects in a string of carjackings, another attempted carjacking, a homicide and felonious assault as an example of how law enforcement collaborations work.

As of May 24, the city had 341 nonfatal shootings, an average of 2.4 shootings per day. The year-to-date total was the same last year and 17 percent below the 411 shootings through May 24, 2013.

Lyvonne Cargill, whose 17-year-old son, J'Rean Blake, was gunned down in May 2010 by a man who didn't like the way the high school student looked at him, was not at Monday's announcement, but applauded the effort to target gun violence.

"Everybody needs to come together to stop this craziness," said Cargill, whose son's slaying triggered the police raid that ended with the accidental shooting death of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones by a Detroit police officer.

"We need to show these kids the right way because after they shoot someone they end up in prison wishing they'd never pulled the trigger," Cargill said.

"People need to understand what happens when they kill someone. I lost my son. I wish I could touch him, talk to him. I wish this was just a dream. But it's not."

Others in the collaboration include Michigan State Police, Crime Stoppers of Michigan, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Michigan Department of Corrections.

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