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Press Release

Collaborative law enforcement strategy continues success in fighting illegal firearms

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Georgia
Dozen defendants charged for drugs, illegal firearms possession

SAVANNAH, GA:  Twelve men and women face federal felony charges related to illegal firearms possession, indicted in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. 

The charges include multiple convicted felons, many of them on state probation for previous weapons or drug charges. The cases are under the umbrella of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice initiative targeting illegal firearms, and in coordination with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives (ATF).

“A vital part of protecting our communities is in enforcing laws that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals,” said U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine. “Under Project Guardian, we will continue to collaborate with our local law enforcement partners and the ATF to lock up gun-carrying criminals.”

In the past year, at least 168 defendants have been federally charged in the Southern District of Georgia for illegal firearms offenses – most often for carrying a firearm after having been convicted of a previous felony. The charge carries a penalty upon conviction of up to 10 years in prison, and there is no parole in the federal system. Nationwide, more than 14,200 defendants have been charged with federal firearms violations in the past fiscal year.

“Gun violence has negatively impacted the lives of far too many people in the Southern District of Georgia,” said Beau Kolodka, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Division of the ATF. “This type of violence is more likely to happen when guns are in the hands of individuals willing to obtain and/or use them illegally. This inter-agency collaboration and the resulting indictments goes a long way towards addressing gun violence by removing from our streets firearms and those willing to obtain them illegally and potentially use them.”

Those named in federal indictments from the October term of the U.S. District Court grand jury include:

  • Jonah Robert Schafner, 32, of Grovetown, Ga., charged with two counts of Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Schafner was arrested July 27 when Columbia County Sheriff’s deputies responding to a report of a burglary in progress found Schafner inside a man’s residence in the Ivey Falls neighborhood where multiple firearms had been gathered, including one in his possession that had been reported stolen in a vehicle break-in. One of the charges also relates to a firearm Schafner is alleged to have sold to a pawn shop.
  • Terrence Latroy Brown, 30, of North Charleston, S.C., charged with Possession of Methamphetamine and Eutylone (bath salts), and Possession of a Firearm by a Drug User. Brown was arrested by Richmond County Sheriff’s deputies after a traffic stop in which drugs and an AK-47 rifle and ammunition were found in his vehicle.
  • Evan Vashard Smith, 33, of Augusta, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Smith was arrested Nov. 16, 2019, after running from a stopped vehicle and dropping a pistol while being chased by Richmond County Sheriff’s investigators.
  • Dennis O’Keefe Harris, 40, of Savannah, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Harris was arrested Jan. 1, 2019, by Savannah Police officers who found a pistol in his waistband after he ran during a traffic stop.
  • Cary Dewayne Cranford, 48, of Thomson, Ga., charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Cranford was arrested July 1 by Thomson Police officers responding to a report of a man firing a shotgun at a motorist. 
  • Tona Nikia Wright, 47, of Augusta, charged the Possession of Firearm by a Drug User; Possession of Marijuana; Driving Under the Influence on an Area in Federal Jurisdiction; and for entering a military installation with an unauthorized firearm. Wright was arrested April 30 after running through the gate at Fort Gordon. After her vehicle was stopped, U.S. Army CID officers found a pistol and drugs in her car. 
  • Chavar Alec Harrison, 44, of Augusta, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Harrison was arrested April 17 during a traffic stop when Richmond County Sheriff’s deputies found a pistol in his vehicle.
  • Tyshaun Richey, 24, of Savannah, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Richey was arrested Oct. 7, 2019, by Savannah Police officers after running from a traffic stop and dropping a pistol. The firearm had been reported stolen.
  • Alisha Nicole Howard, 34, of Augusta, Ga., charged with Transfer of an Illegal Firearm (Sawed-Off Shotgun); three counts of Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person; and two counts of Distribution of Methamphetamine, Fentanyl and Heroin. Howard was prohibited from possessing firearms because of previous state convictions for domestic violence.
  • Frank Mitchell, 40, of Savannah, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Mitchel was arrested Nov. 21, 2019 when Savannah Police officers investigating a domestic disturbance briefly chased his pickup truck before it ran in a ditch and Mitchel fled. After he was apprehended, officers found a pistol on the front seat along with an unharmed and unrestrained 4-month-old baby.
  • Joseph Brandon Melton, 29, of Jesup, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Melton was arrested Jan. 23 by Ware County deputies who found a pistol in his pocket during a traffic stop.
  • Ashley Pitts, 30, of Hinesville, Ga., charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and Possession of a Firearm by a Drug User. Pitts was arrested Jan. 24, 2019, when Liberty County Sheriff’s deputies responded to her home to investigate a complaint about a man brandishing a firearm. Accompanied by an officer from the Georgia Department of Community Supervision, the deputies checked to see if firearms were present in Pitts’ home and found a pistol, two shotguns and four rifles in her residence.

Criminal indictments contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Two additional defendants have been sentenced to federal prison terms for crimes including illegal firearms possession.

  • Akeem Kirksey, 31, of Brunswick, was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Kirksey, who was on federal supervised release, was arrested April 24, 2019, after a U.S. Probation officer saw Kirksey in possession of a pistol. Kirksey will be required to serve three years of supervised release after completion of his prison term.
  • Damian Kareim Barton, 40, of Augusta, was sentenced to 110 months in federal prison, fined $1,500 and ordered to serve three years of supervised release upon completion of his prison sentence after pleading guilty to Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana, and Possession of a Stolen Firearm. Barton was arrested in Richmond County Feb. 12, 2019, after a traffic stop by the Georgia State Patrol in which marijuana and THC vaping cartridges were found, along with a pistol that had been reported stolen.

In addition to Project Guardian, the cases are investigated under the Prosecutor to Prosecutor Program (P3), in which federal and state prosecutors collaborate to determine the most appropriate venue for prosecuting crimes.

Agencies involved in investigation of the cases include the ATF; the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command; the U.S. Probation Service; the Georgia Department of Community Supervision; the Georgia State Patrol; the Savannah Police Department; the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office; the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office; the Ware County Sheriff’s Office; the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office; the Pooler Police Department; and the Thomson Police Department.

The cases are being investigated for the United States by Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office Assistant U.S. Attorneys, including Project Guardian Coordinator Henry W. Syms; Patricia G. Rhodes; Jennifer Stanley; Jennifer Kirkland; John P. Harper III; and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Edwin Caban and Darron Hubbard.

Under federal law, it is illegal to possess a firearm if you fall into one of nine prohibited categories including being a felon; illegal alien; or unlawful user of a controlled substance. Further, it is unlawful to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense or violent crime. It is also illegal to purchase – or even to attempt to illegally purchase – firearms if the buyer is a prohibited person or illegally purchasing a firearm on behalf of others. Lying on ATF Form 4473, which is used to lawfully purchase a firearm, also is a federal offense. 

For more information on the lawful purchasing of firearms, please see:    


Barry L. Paschal, Public Affairs Officer: 912-652-4422

Updated October 30, 2020

Project Guardian
Drug Trafficking
Firearms Offenses
Violent Crime
Press Release Number: 137-20