Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in Columbus, touts efforts against gangs, opioids

October 2, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in Columbus, touts efforts against gangs, opioids

COLUMBUS, Ohio—U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in Columbus on Tuesday to tout new statistics showing a decrease in violent crime nationwide over the past year, as well as Trump administration funding to combat opioids and improve school safety.

Sessions, a former Republican U.S. senator from Alabama, also announced the indictment of members of a Columbus gang accused of murder, attempted murder, and drug and firearms trafficking, among other crimes.

During a news conference in downtown Columbus, Sessions announced that the number of Americans charged with firearms offenses between October 2017 and the end of September 2018 rose by nearly 20 percent compared with the same period in 2016-2017, and 30 percent over the same time in 2015-2016.

Between October 2017 and the end of last month, Sessions added, the U.S. Justice Department broke the record for the number of people charged with violent crimes by 15 percent over the previous high (the attorney general didn’t provide specific numbers).

Sessions praised the cooperation between federal and local law-enforcement officials to crack down on violent crime, dismissing unnamed critics.

“Now we’re being criticized for being too tough on gun-carrying criminals,” Sessions said. “But I know that these are priority cases – properly brought, properly targeted. These violent criminals carrying guns are the kind of people that commit violent crimes.”

The attorney general noted that the Justice Department announced Monday that it will offer nearly $320 million in grants to fight the opioid addiction crisis – including $14 million for local governments, drug courts, and treatment centers in Ohio, he said.

“These funds will have an impact on the Buckeye State,” said Sessions, who noted that opioid prescriptions have fallen compared to last year even as opioid-related deaths rose to about 72,000 last year nationwide.

Sessions led off the news conference announcing the indictments of 19 members of a Columbus gang known as the Trevitt and Atcheson (T&A) Crips after the streets in the King-Lincoln District of Columbus.

Police have already apprehended 15 members of the gang, according to a news release. The remaining four gang members – Eric Henderson Jr., Michael Henderson, Thomas Seals, and Deswan Robinson – are still at large.

Eight members of the T&A Crips are accused of involvement in five murders between 2012 and 2016, according to a federal indictment. The indictment also lists at least 26 other times when gang members tried to kill others, and it accuses the gang of selling illegal drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine to purchase firearms in Columbus and other cities to use in gang wars.

If convicted, seven of the murder defendants – Charles Carson, Jonathan Dantzler, Terrell Hansard, Brandon Martin, Shawn Nelms, Deswan Robinson, and Michael Watson – could face the death penalty, according to a U.S. Justice Department news release. Each of the other defendants could face life in prison.

For years, the gang controlled Columbus’ King­­­­­­­­­-Lincoln neighborhood “through intimidation, fear, and violence,” according to the indictment. Outsiders who came into the neighborhood to sell drugs were often assaulted or shot.

The conspirators allegedly enforced a “no-snitching” rule, using violence and threats to keep witnesses from cooperating with law enforcement.

The defendants range in age from 19 to 39, the release stated. Most have colorful nicknames such as “Drip,” “Gunner,” “Capone,” “Mook,” “Bhomo,” and “Dezzy.” They even recorded their own songs “to boast of the existence of the enterprise,” according to the indictment.

Sessions said the Justice Department will continue working with local law enforcement to crack down on such gangs, noting that their victims are usually poor and minorities.

“This is our country, not their country,” Sessions said of gangs. “We’re not going to cede one block, not one street corner, to criminals, to gangs, and to outlaws.”

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