Hot zone firearms initiative targets Hilltop

On Oct. 14, United States Attorney David DeVillers announced a surge in enforcement to address gun crimes in two Columbus neighborhoods – one being on the westside.

As part of the “hot zone” firearms initiative, federal and local law enforcement agencies and prosecuting authorities will jointly identify dangerous offenders for federal prosecution in the Hilltop and Linden neighborhoods.

According to local crime statistics, 20 homicides were committed from January to mid-September 2020 in Columbus Division of Police zone 3, which includes the Hilltop. There were 11 homicides during that time in precinct 10 alone. Precinct 10 makes up a quarter of zone 3 and is located south of Broad Street, straddling I-270. The Hilltop police zone reported 35 non-fatal shootings this summer.

City-wide, the Columbus Division of Police seized more than 1,500 illegal firearms via search warrants and misdemeanor and felony investigations from January through September 2020. In September alone, 244 firearms were seized via the same means.

Under federal law, it is illegal to possess a firearm if you fall into one of nine prohibited categories, including being a felon, convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense or under a court authorized restraining order. These crimes can be punished by up to 10 years in federal prison.

Further, it is unlawful to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense or violent crime. Defendants convicted of these crimes face a mandatory minimum of five years and up to life in prison.

DeVillers announced he is shifting resources within his office in order to handle the anticipated increase in federal firearms prosecutions. He plans to pivot some assistant United States attorneys from other types of cases to handle violent crime. City and county prosecutors are also dedicating resources through Special Assistant United States Attorneys who will prosecute at the federal level.

“Gun violence in our community is creating fear, ruining lives – and in far too many situations, taking lives. In our office this year, for example, we’ve seen a 250 percent increase in domestic violence situations that involve weapons,” said Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein. “The city attorney’s office is proud to be part of the solution in this collaborative effort that focuses on those who act in such willful and intentional ways that endanger and take the lives of others.”

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien has assigned Assistant County Prosecutors James Lowe and Jason Manning, who are current Special Assistant United States Attorneys (SAUSA), to prosecute federal firearms offenses and has committed Assistant County Prosecutors John Gripshover and Amy Van Culin, to be designated SAUSAs.

Klein has dedicated current SAUSAs Melanie Tobias and Joe Gibson to prosecute federal firearms offenses.

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