With gun violence continuing to surge in Southern Ohio, cities and counties are increasingly lending prosecutors to the U.S. Attorney's Office. They hope to get a handle on what U.S. Attorney Dave DeVillers calls "the biggest problem that has ever happened to the Southern District of Ohio."
Federal Prosectors have charged more than 200 new defendants with firearms-related crimes this fiscal year 2020. Since October 2019, the Southern District of Ohio has seen an increase of 26% when compared to the district's four-year average.
To help, Hamilton County has lent a full-time prosecutor, who is focusing on violent crime cold cases. Cincinnati is devoting two prosecutors to the U.S. Attorney's Office. One is focusing on domestic violence, which normally is a misdemeanor, but if there's a previous conviction it becomes a felony when that person possesses a firearm.
DeVillers says gun violence is at historic levels in Cincinnati and Columbus. He says Dayton cases are up, too.
Many criminals are used to serving six months in a county jail for weapons violations and DeVillers says they are shocked when they are charged federally and get more time.
"We're talking about consecutive sentences - five, seven to 10 years depending upon what you do with the firearm."
DeVillers does, however, give felons possessing illegal firearms an out. "Call ATF. (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). We will not prosecute you if you say 'I've got a gun, I'm a felon, I shouldn't have this.' "
But if you use the weapon, the U.S. Attorney's Office says it will go after you.
DeVillers says most violent crimes dealing with firearms involve drugs. And he says drug dealers can't use self defense as an excuse for possessing a gun and then using it to kill somebody, like one recent case. A Cincinnati federal grand jury has indicted a pot dealer for allegedly committing murder.
"We wouldn't even look at a case of some guy selling pounds of weed," DeVillers says. "Federally, we wouldn't even touch something like that. We've got more important things to do. But when you have a gun with you and you are selling weed, we're going to prosecute you when you have a gun and you shoot and kill somebody; you're going to prison for the rest of your life."
At the end of September, DeVillers announced federal charges against 16 defendants as part of a Cincinnati gun violence initiative with ATF, Cincinnati Police and the Hamilton County Sheriff.