07/05/2006

Federal statutes target gangs in Tenn.

By BRIAN LAZENBY
Chattanooga Times and Free Press (Tennessee)
Copyright 2006 Chattanooga Times and Free Press 

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.- Federal authorities said they are using a variety of tools to combat gang violence locally.

"We've declared war on gang activities," said James R. Dedrick, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Mr. Dedrick said he has met with members of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to ask them to enforce the federal violent crime statutes.

The statutes include existing gun laws, such as felon in possession of a firearm, using a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking or prosecuting someone as an armed career criminal. Mr. Dedrick said convictions on those statutes could increase a gang-crime suspect's sentence by 20 years.

To investigate gang violence, Tim Burke, FBI supervisor in the Chattanooga field office, said Project Safe Neighborhood, a federal gun-crime initiative, and the Safe Streets Task Force can be effective. The task force consists of local law enforcement officers working directly with federal authorities.

"It's an effective way to get harsh punishments to some of these chronic problems," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Neff, a federal gun crimes prosecutor, said racketeering statutes can be used to combat gang-related crime. Also a new federal law was designed to target "criminal street gangs" by adding 10 years to a sentence for anyone convicted under the statute, he said.

Mr. Neff said the law has never been used in the area, but that may change with the recent rise in violent gang activity here.

"We've been talking about it," he said.

A federal grand jury last week indicted Michael Lebron Branham for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Mr. Neff said authorities are considering charges against others now charged in Hamilton County Criminal Court in the June 13 shooting death of Adrian Patton and the June 16 shooting death of Jermaine Southers.

Records show that investigators believe Mr. Branham was involved in at least two gangrelated shootings, including one just hours before Mr. Patton, a known associate of Mr. Branham, was killed.

Authorities have said both the June 13 and June 16 shootings are gang-related, and they believe the June 16 shooting was in retaliation for Mr. Patton's death.

Michael "Mike-Mike" Daniels, who admitted to police that he is a ranking member of the Skyline Blood street gang, is accused of ordering a 17-yearold to kill Mr. Patton. Both Mr. Daniels and the juvenile, who will not be named here according to Chattanooga Times Free Press policy, are charged in the death.

Quanan Hutchinson, who court testimony indicated was with Mr. Patton when he was killed, is charged in the death of Mr. Southers.

Mr. Neff said he is meeting with local law enforcement officials and state court prosecutors, but no decision has been made whether to charge them federally.

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