Tuesday, March 18, 2008

AG McDonnell continues anti-gang initiative in Shenandoah Valley

OAG Budget to Fund Special Prosecutor; State Budget Funds Statewide Crime Analyst; OAG Uses Asset Forfeiture Funds to Provide New Equipment to Local Law Enforcement

[Many thanks to Bob McDonnell for his continuing interest in the serious problem of gangs in the Shenandoah Valley. --SWAC Girl]

Weyers Cave- Attorney General Bob McDonnell announced today the continuation of a successful anti-gang initiative in the Shenandoah Valley. Among those joining the Attorney General at today’s announcement were John Brownlee, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, and Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg).

McDonnell specifically announced that a special prosecutor, currently funded through a federal grant set to expire, will join the payroll of the Office of the Attorney General. He also announced securing of state budget funding for a statewide crime analyst, currently funded through the same expiring federal grant. In addition the Attorney General announced that his office would provide state of the art equipment to local law enforcement, purchased with asset forfeiture funds.

The highlight of today’s event was the formal announcement that Phillip O. Figura, Special Counsel to the Shenandoah Valley Multi-Jurisdiction Grand Jury and Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, would remain on the job, despite the elimination of federal funding for his position. Figura was brought on board in March of 2006 through a federal grant secured in 2005 with the assistance of Congressmen Frank Wolf and Bob Goodlatte. The federal grant enabling this hiring will expire in June.

During this past session of the General Assembly, McDonnell and local legislators attempted to secure a budget amendment to provide for state funding for this effective prosecutor position. However, that funding could not be secured. Recognizing the importance of the gang prosecutor to the Valley, McDonnell announced today that through cost cutting measures and a reallocation of resources within the office, he will fund this initiative directly through the budget of the Office of the Attorney General. Figura will continue his duties as an Assistant Attorney General.

Speaking about today’s announcement, McDonnell remarked, “We stood before you two years ago to announce this important initiative. Three gang related murders and a rash of violence made it clear to me, my predecessors in this office, and the local Commonwealth’s Attorneys that a gang prosecutor to coordinate use of the multi-jurisdiction grand jury and handle gang cases would be critical to an effective law enforcement strategy to combat gangs. While we have achieved a great deal of success, we must continue this coordinated offensive against gang violence. We had hoped to do so within the state budget, but given the tough economic situation faced by the Commonwealth, this was not possible. Therefore we have gone within the existing budget in our office to find the resources necessary to continue this post. My foremost commitment is to ensure the safety and security of all the citizens of Virginia, and in the Shenandoah Valley that means finding a way to keep our anti-gang efforts underway and fully funded. We have done that.”

In addition, McDonnell also announced that the new budget provides funding for the Office of the Attorney General to use in employing a statewide crime analyst to assist law enforcement and prosecutors as they investigate and prepare their gang cases for trial. Currently, David Graham, operating under the same expiring federal grant as Figura, has been effectively working with the law enforcement team in the Valley and contributing to the successful investigation and prosecution of a significant number of cases. The new budget will allow these vital services to continue.

McDonnell also used today’s event to formally present, for use by local law enforcement, a variety of much needed equipment to aid criminal investigations. The equipment was purchased by the Office of the Attorney General, using asset forfeiture funds, after consultation with law enforcement regarding their needs. The equipment will be used by law enforcement investigators working cases for the multi-jurisdiction grand jury.

United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, John Brownlee, also spoke at today’s event, noting, “As Virginia’s top law enforcement official, Bob McDonnell has aggressively pursued violent criminals” Brownlee continued, “our joint efforts against gangs and drug dealers has resulted in safer and more hopeful communities.”

Marsha Garst, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County stated “I applaud Bob McDonnell’s leadership and I am pleased to be a part of a cutting edge approach to combat criminal street gangs. The multi-jurisdiction grand jury has been a tremendously useful and effective tool to make our Valley a safer place.”

Thanks to a provision introduced by Senator Obenshain in 2004, multi-jurisdiction grand juries are able to effectively investigate gang crimes. The investigations conducted through use of this single grand jury, by law enforcement throughout the Valley, have produced more than 90 state and federal indictments that have resulted in gang members and their close associates being incarcerated for more than 150 years.

Gangs in the Shenandoah Valley
Based on information provided by local area law enforcement, there are known to be over 300 documented gang members or affiliates currently in the Shenandoah Valley. Since 2001 there have been three gang-related homicides in the area.

In 2001, Christopher Scott Kenedy, a member of the “Crips” was killed in Augusta County for attempting to leave the gang.

In 2001, Brenda Paz, a member of MS-13, was killed in Shenandoah County for agreeing to testify against other gang members.

In 2005, William Pannell, Jr., was killed by William “Tim Tim” Jones, a member of the Bloods, because Pannell would not remove a blue bandana. (seen as a sign of membership in the Crips)

Participating Partners in the Shenandoah Valley Anti-Gang Effort

Local Partners

Commonwealth’s Attorneys
Marsha Garst, of the City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County;
Albert Mitchell, of Shenandoah County;
Raymond Roberts, of the City of Staunton;
Charles Ajemian of the City of Waynesboro;
Lee Ervin, of Augusta County;
Robert Joyce of the City of Lexington and Rockbridge County.
Christopher Russell of the City of Buena Vista
John T. Hennessy of Page County

Randy Fisher, Sheriff of Augusta County
Tim Carter, Sheriff of Shenandoah County
R.W. Day, Sheriff of Rockbridge County
Don Farley, Sheriff of Rockingham County
Daniel Presgraves, of Page County
Randy Hamilton, Sheriff of the City of Buena Vista
Alex T. Caldwell, Sheriff of the City of Staunton

Police Chiefs
Colonel Don Harper, Harrisonburg Police Department
Chief Jim Williams, Staunton Police Department
Chief Doug Davis, Waynesboro Police Department
Chief Steve Crowder, Lexington Police Department
Chief Lewis Plogger, Buena Vista Police Department

State Partners

State Senate
Emmett Hanger, 24th District
Mark Obenshain, 26th District
Creigh Deeds, 25th District

House of Delegates
Steve Landes, 25th District
Chris Saxman, 20th District
Ben Cline, 24th District
Todd Gilbert, 15th District
Matt Lohr, 26th District

Virginia State Police
Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Superintendent
Captain Rick A. Jenkins, Second Division, Culpepper
Captain Frank T. Whitehurst, Third Division, Appomattox
Captain George (“Stick”) W. Austin, Jr., Sixth Division, Salem

Virginia ABC
Frank Monahan, Director of Enforcement
Roger Stevens: Regional Agent in Charge

Federal Partners
Senator Jim Webb
Senator John Warner
John Brownlee, United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.
Congressman Bob Goodlatte
Congressman Frank Wolf

Cross-posted at SixtyFour81.com

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