Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN): Progress in making our communities safer
Project Safe Neighborhoods is a nationwide initiative that brings together federal, state and local law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and community leaders to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in a community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.
The Department of Justice announced the revitalization and enhancement of PSN in 2017. According to FBI’s 2018 Crime in the United States Report released in September 2019, the violent crime rate decreased for the second consecutive year, down 3.9 percent from the 2017 numbers.
In Ohio, violent crime was down 5.5 percent in 2018 versus 2017. Armed robberies decreased by 21.6 percent statewide and murders by firearm were down by 21 percent.
There are several PSN efforts across the Southern District of Ohio and each is committed to a strategic effort to reduce violent crime across the District.
Started in Cincinnati in February 2016, a Violent Crime Working Group – which is comprised of federal and local law enforcement, as well as federal and local prosecutors and adult probation – meets regularly to discuss violent crime trends and to share information. Weekly meetings occur to discuss specific cases involving felons arrested with firearms in their possession. These cases are vetted and a decision regarding the most appropriate venue for prosecution is made.
According to the 2018 FBI report, violent crime in Cincinnati dropped 10.5 percent in 2018 compared to 2017. The murder and manslaughter rate decreased by 18.6 percent in the same timeframe.
Similar working groups operate in Columbus, Montgomery County, and Clark County.
In Columbus, the murder and manslaughter rate was 30.3 percent less in 2018 than in 2017. Violent crime in general dropped by 1.4 percent.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office also has Special Assistant United States Attorneys designated to handle PSN cases through partnerships with the Cincinnati Solicitor’s Office, Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office and Clark County Prosecutor’s Office.
Work is underway to establish formal PSN task forces in Scioto and Lawrence counties.
Violent crime case examples in the Southern District of Ohio:
U.S. v. Jose Martin Aguilar-Rivera et al (MS-13)
Racketeering charges were filed against 23 members and associates of MS-13 in a series of February 2018 indictments and criminal complaints in a racketeering conspiracy, which includes five murders as well as attempted murder, extortion, money laundering, drug trafficking, assault, obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, weapons offenses and immigration-related violations. The defendants allegedly used violence and threats of violence to extort money and drug trafficking proceeds from others. They used the money to further their own criminal activities in El Salvador, Ohio and other places in the United States. Multiple defendants have since pleaded guilty in this case; some will serve life in prison and others will serve a range of 30-45 years in prison.
U.S. v. Dominique Bryant et al (T&A)
Nineteen members and associates of the Trevitt and Atcheson Crips gang in Columbus were indicted in October 2018 with a racketeering conspiracy responsible for five murders, multiple attempted murders and other violent and drug-trafficking crimes. The alleged crimes date back to 2010. The murders occurred between 2012 and 2016.
U.S. v. Antwan Hutchinson
Antwan L. Hutchinson was sentenced in October 2019 in federal court in Columbus to life in prison with no chance of parole for murdering two potential witnesses and conspiring to distribute narcotics. Hutchinson admitted he intentionally killed Sidney Campbell and Marie Stamp in February 2017 because they were perceived as potential witnesses against the defendants.
U.S. v Gerald Lawson
Gerald A. Lawson III bought a gun for his friend, Quentin L. Smith, who used it to sheet and kill Westerville Police officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering on February 10, 2018. Smith was a convicted felon and not allowed to buy or own a handgun so he gave Lawson the money for the gun and $100 to buy the gun at a gun shop in Broadview Heights, Ohio. Lawson pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting the possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and was sentenced on October 18, 2018 to five years in prison.
U.S. v Keith Drummond
Keith Drummond, a violent Westside Columbus drug trafficker, was sentenced in June 2019 to more than 16 years in prison for crimes related to trafficking narcotics and using firearms. According to court documents, the charges resulted from a years-long investigation by the Columbus Division of Police and ATF. Beginning as early as 2011, Drummond routinely enlisted drug addicts to work for him at that residence as a “security” force. He would arm these addicts with firearms and then instruct them to safeguard the house, the drugs and his drug proceeds. Drummond also kept a firearm at his personal residence and in his vehicle. He was prohibited by law from possessing any firearms due to prior felony convictions for possession of drugs, domestic violence and felonious assault, as well as two prior convictions of misdemeanor domestic violence.
U.S. v Dayvon Cook
In September 2018, Cincinnati Police received a 911 call regarding a male carrying a gun and threatening to rob people in the parking lot of the Stanley Rowe Tower apartment complex. Cincinnati Police officers responded to the scene and identified a suspect matching the call, who was later identified as Cook. Cook ran from the officers and threw a semi-automatic pistol under a car. The firearm was loaded with sixteen rounds of ammunition in an extended magazine.Cook had previously been convicted of a felony crime. He is currently in state custody for a separate firearms crime and will serve his 64-month federal sentence after his current 24-month state sentence that was imposed on Feb. 27, 2019.
U.S. v Rasu Taylor
A Dayton man was sentenced in October 2019 to 70 months in federal prison for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Rasu Taylor was on state parole when a Clark County Sheriff’s deputy conducted a traffic stop of Taylor’s vehicle in the parking lot of a Motel 6 in Springfield. Upon approaching the vehicle, the deputy noticed an open container of alcohol in the console and Taylor attempting to hide a firearm. A search of the vehicle revealed a pistol with a full magazine, marijuana, scales and nearly $2,000 in cash. A subsequent search of the motel room Taylor had been living in for 19 days revealed marijuana, fentanyl, body armor, a Glock pistol with two magazines and more than $2,600 in cash. Taylor had been previously convicted of felonies, including possession of drugs in Montgomery County and felonious assault in Clark County.
U.S. v Henry Essick
Henry B. Essick III was sentenced in August 2019 in Dayton to seven years in federal prison for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Essick was on post-release control with the State of Ohio in September 2018, when during a parole visit, authorities searched Essick’s residence on Harvard Boulevard in Dayton and located a rifle in a downstairs closet. Essick has previously been convicted of felonies, including attempted aggravated arson, rape and kidnapping.
U.S. v. Edwards et al
In May 2019 a federal grand jury in Cincinnati indicted six defendants in an alleged violent, Middletown narcotics conspiracy. Co-conspirators allegedly used and brandished firearms to facilitate a drug trafficking business and intimidate and punish rivals. As part of their fentanyl and heroin conspiracy, some defendants allegedly discussed at least one murder-for-hire. The government seeks to forfeit 19 vehicles – including a Maserati, Jaguar, Mercedes Benz and BMW – at least nine firearms and nearly $12,000 in cash in this case. The narcotics conspiracy is punishable by a minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison.
Domestic Violence initiative
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced in May 2019 a new initiative in which federal and local prosecutors are working with law enforcement and domestic violence victim services agencies to hold accountable domestic abusers who illegally possess firearms. Eldon G. Draper, Stephon A. Moore and Brandon N. Zachariah, all of Columbus, were charged by a federal grand jury with possessing firearms and/or ammunition after being convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence and felony crimes. Possessing a firearm or ammunition as a convicted felon is a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes or have an active domestic violence protection order are prohibited from possessing a firearm.