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Press Release

United States Attorney Mike Stuart Announces Progress in Making our Communities Safer through Project Safe Neighborhoods

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One year ago, the Department of Justice announced the revitalization and enhancement of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), which is the centerpiece of the Department’s violent crime reduction strategy and a top priority of Attorney General Sessions.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime.  Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.  As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

Throughout the past year, we have partnered with federal, state and local law enforcement, local organizations, and members of the community to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.

“Project Safe Neighborhoods is a proven program with demonstrated results,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “We know that the most effective strategy to reduce violent crime is based on sound policing policies that have proven effective over many years, which includes being targeted and responsive to community needs.  I have empowered our United States Attorneys to focus enforcement efforts against the most violent criminals in their districts, and directed that they work together with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and community partners to develop tailored solutions to the unique violent crime problems they face.  Each United States Attorney has prioritized the PSN program, and I am confident that it will continue to reduce crime, save lives, and restore safety to our communities.”  

The Department of Justice has been tremendously supportive of our efforts in the Southern District of West Virginia to combat the opioid crisis and violent crime.  Earlier this year, the Department of Justice invested and committed substantial new resources to the Southern District of West Virginia, including five new prosecutors and enhanced and strengthened programs to combat violent crime and intensify civil enforcement efforts.  These prosecutors focus on identifying and prosecuting individuals who unlawfully possess firearms, including individuals with domestic violence convictions, those with violent criminal histories and drug traffickers that carry guns during the commission of their crimes.  In further support of the Department’s PSN programs throughout the country, the Attorney General also announced awards of almost $28 million in grant funding to combat violent crime through PSN and another $3 million for training and technical assistance to develop and implement violent crime reduction strategies, and enhance services and resources for victims of violent crime. 

“I am fully committed to ensuring that Project Safe Neighborhoods, a priority of this Administration, is the centerpiece of our enforcement strategy in the Southern District of West Virginia,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart.  “Since I took the oath as United States Attorney, we have built remarkable relationships with our federal, state and local partners and our aggressive enforcement actions are breaking all records in the District.  We have been and will continue to be aggressive to ensure violent crime is attacked and our citizens protected.  Everyone has a fundamental right to live in a safe neighborhood with safe streets and we will continue our efforts with a sense of urgency to ensure that public safety is our top and paramount priority.” 

“ATF is committed to reducing gun violence in our neighborhoods by arresting armed violent offenders and their sources,” stated ATF Special Agent in Charge Stuart Lowrey of the Louisville Field Division. “Our ongoing partnerships with federal, state, and local law enforcement not only are a wise use of resources, but are getting measurable results for the citizens of West Virginia. We look forward to our continued work with the U.S. Attorney in our Project Safe Neighborhoods cases.”

As we celebrate the one-year anniversary of the revitalized PSN program, here are some of the highlights of our PSN actions over the past year:

Enforcement Actions

Our PSN enforcement efforts are currently focused in the cities of Huntington and Charleston.  The City of Huntington experienced a precipitous increase in gun and violent crime in 2017:  a 75% increase in homicides, the majority of which were committed with firearms, a 42% increase in violent crime, and an approximate 50% increase in non-fatal shootings.  To address the violence, United States Attorney Mike Stuart announced “Project Huntington” in March 2018, doubling the number of federal prosecutors to focus on the most violent and chronic offenders in the city.  As a result, a major takedown took place in April 2018 that dismantled a multi-state heroin and fentanyl network and netted several related violent and gun crime offenders.  

So far in calendar year 2018, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia has filed 45 PSN related indictments and informations charging approximately 110 defendants with various violent crime related offenses.  Recent notable cases include:

  • Jonathan Chafin and Robert Reid were convicted of stealing firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer.  The two defendants admitted breaking into Sportsmen’s Gun and Pawn multiple times and stealing over 150 guns.  Chafin faces up to 10 years in prison and Reid faces up to 40 years in prison when they are sentenced in November 2018.
  • Dillon Jackson was sentenced to 36 months in prison for stealing 24 firearms from an FFL.  He admitted to trading the stolen guns for money and drugs.
  • Terry Lee Powell, a former Mason County Deputy Sheriff was sentenced to 5 months in prison, followed by 6 months of home confinement for possession of a stolen firearm.  Powell admitted that he sold a firearm he seized during an investigation instead of logging it into evidence.
  • James Anthony Mitchell, from Detroit, Michigan, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm as a result of being caught with a gun after a bar fight in Huntington.  Police received a call reporting a large bar fight at Rehab Bar.  A bystander provided officers with a description, matching Mitchell’s, of a male with a gun who had just left the area.  When officers found Mitchell, he had a loaded pistol in his waistband.   Mitchell had previously been convicted of multiple felony offenses in state court and was prohibited from possessing a firearm.
  • Bunthia Tach from Kansas was sentenced to 11 years in prison after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. 
  • Marshall Leroy Saunders was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to carjacking.   Saunders was a suspect in an unrelated crime when police observed him entering a taxi.  Saunders admitted that when police attempted to pull the taxi over, he pointed a loaded gun at the driver and ordered him out of the vehicle.  Saunders then took control of the taxi, driving at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour before he was apprehended by law enforcement officers.

Community Partnerships

The United States Attorney’s Office SDWV has built unprecedented partnerships among various federal, state and local agencies, as well as community prevention coalitions to implement prevention, outreach and reentry initiatives.  A series of community forums has been launched, with the first recently held in the Huntington, Cabell County area.  A public messaging campaign is in development to inform the community about the PSN initiative and send a message of deterrence  to potential offenders.

Improvements to Community Safety

  • The FBI’s official crime data for 2017 reflects that after two consecutive years of historic increases in violent crime, the nationwide violent crime rate began to decline in the first year of the Trump Administration.  The nationwide violent crime rate decreased by approximately one percent in 2017, while the nationwide homicide rate decreased by nearly one and a half percent.
  • The preliminary information we have for 2018 gives us reason for optimism that our efforts are continuing to pay off. Public data from 60 major cities show that violent crime was down by nearly five percent in those cities in the first six months of 2018 compared to the same period a year ago.
  • According to the FBI’s crime data for West Virginia, violent crime incidents decreased from 5131 in 2016 to 4805 in 2017.
  • Since the April 2018 DTO takedown in Huntington, the city is seeing significant decreases in violent crime.  Comparing April 2018 – September 2018 (2 quarters) with that of the same time period in 2017,  homicides decreased from 8 to 2, non-fatal shootings dropped from 24 to 9, and overall violent crime incidents fell from 217 to 181.   Interestingly, first responders report that overdoses have been trending downward in the area since our significant enforcement action.  Treatment professionals also indicate an increase in substance abuse disorder treatment referrals.
  • In 2018, ATF referred 79 firearm cases with 118 defendants to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, SDWV.  Also, during the same time period, ATF seized 466 firearms in the Southern District of West Virginia with a street value of over $86,000.


These enforcement actions and partnerships are part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally based strategies to reduce violent crime. Learn more about Project Safe Neighborhoods.


SDWVNews and USAttyStuart


Updated October 4, 2018

Project Safe Neighborhoods