Mayor criticizes gun-crime prosecution

He says U.S. attorney should take more cases

July 09, 2004|By Laura Vozzella and Stephanie Hanes | Laura Vozzella and Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

In the wake of last weekend's shooting death of a Baltimore police officer, Mayor Martin O'Malley questioned yesterday U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio's commitment to prosecuting city gun crimes.

O'Malley has long criticized DiBiagio, saying he should try more gun cases in the federal system, where juries tend to be tougher on crime and prisons do not offer parole. The mayor renewed those complaints yesterday when asked at a news conference whether breakdowns in the criminal justice system put officers such as Brian D. Winder at risk.

"The fact is, we would not lead the nation in the rate of reduction of violent crime were it not for that officer and the 3,000 others like him," O'Malley said. "I just wish all of us would support them more. They put themselves in harm's way every single night, on every single stop. And for the federal government to be doing half as many federal gun prosecutions as they did last year I think is really indefensible."

"The U.S. attorney's office can and should play a larger role."

Winder was shot Saturday inside G&G Village Liquors in the 4600 block of Edmondson Ave. The two suspects - Jermaine A. Gaines, 31, who was arrested; and Charles Bennett, 33, who apparently committed suicide as police closed in Wednesday - were on the street despite extensive criminal records, including felony convictions.

DiBiagio's office has prosecuted 60 Baltimore gun cases this year, O'Malley said. As of this time last year, the number was 120, he said.

DiBiagio's office did not return phone calls seeking comment.

A week ago, DiBiagio, Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy spoke about their positive working relationship in combating drug crime in Baltimore as they held a news conference announcing the federal indictments of members of the violent North Avenue Boys gang.

Clark, an O'Malley appointee, praised state and federal prosecutors at the time.

"I'm happy these cases are being looked at," Clark said. "I'm satisfied that something is being done about the guns."

Asked at last week's news conference about the decline in federal gun prosecutions this year, the officials said the number was unusually high last year. They also said city police, city prosecutors and federal prosecutors work together to determine whether local or federal authorities should take a case.

"There are professional decisions made at the trench level in terms of prosecution," DiBiagio said at the time.

Jessamy said, "Decisions of state vs. federal prosecution are weighed carefully every day. We remain vigilant partners."

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