Law enforcement displayed some of the firearms seized at a news conference on Friday, March 23. | Photo by Joe Sonka

U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman announced at a news conference Friday that a federal grand jury returned indictments on 23 individuals for felony firearms violations this week, continuing a joint partnership of local and federal officials to incarcerate the most violent repeat offenders in Louisville.

These local arrests made this week by the Louisville Metro Police Department in conjunction with the federal ATF included federal charges such as illegal firearms possession by a felon, using firearms in the furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and being an unlawful user of a controlled substance while in possession of a firearm.

Colman also announced additional criminal complaints against two Tennessee residents for a conspiracy to steal nearly 100 firearms from gun dealers in Owensboro and Bowling Green.

“We’re here to fulfill a promise,” said Coleman. “We’re here to make another deposit in a promise made from this podium a few months ago, and that is to have an impact on violent crime, working collaboratively — federal, state and local — to push back on the violent crime across our community here in Louisville.”

U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman | Photo by Joe Sonka

In November, Coleman and the joint task force of the FBI, ATF, DEA and LMPD — formed in early 2017 — announced the arrests of five gang members on gun charges in a 40-count indictment, involving an alleged conspiracy to illegally purchase firearms and distribute them to other gang members.

Coleman said Friday that his office is using federal tools not available to state prosecutors against the defendants, such as limited parole and mandatory minimum sentences. While some of those indicted this week would face a sentence of five to seven years if convicted, he said some are “armed career offenders” that would receive a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence for repeated offenses involving a firearm.

While Wyatt Williams of Louisville has been charged by the state of Kentucky in the high-profile murder of 7-year old Dequante Hobbs Jr., Coleman announce that his office has added an additional federal charge against him for the discharge of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.

Noting the 20 seized guns that were displayed to the media, LMPD Chief Steve Conrad said these weapons “are just a small amount of what our officers encounter each and every day. This past year, our officers took 1,900 guns of the street of our community.”

Continuing that point, Commonwealth Attorney Tom Wine added that “we live in a society where there are over 300 million firearms and handguns, and at any time, one of those can fall into the hands of the wrong person.” Wine says his office has pushed to stop amending down gun possession charges by felons and allowing probations, as this “is not just a status offense.”

Wine also touted the expected passage by the Kentucky General Assembly of Senate Bill 210, which adds enhanced penalties above 5-10 years for felons with a gun conviction who are convicted of a second crime involving a gun. Wine and LMPD officials testified before both chambers of the legislature, where it has already been passed unanimously by the Senate and could be passed by the House next week.

Stuart Lowery, the special agent in charge of the local ATF, said that he and LMPD have already begun testing and comparing shell casing from crimes scenes and the seized guns in these cases, allowing them to follow additional leads.

Unlike guns seized in state and local cases — which are auctioned off by the Kentucky State Police — Lowery said that these guns seized in federal crimes would be destroyed, unless they were previously reported stolen, in which case they would be returned to the owner.

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]