Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Anchorage Hires Two Attorneys To Speed Up Gang Prosecutions

Spurred on by a recent unprecedented outbreak of gang-related shootouts in Anchorage, Mayor Mark Begich (pictured at left) announced that the city is hiring two new attorneys and two support staffers and sending them to work for the federal prosecutor. The idea is to move some cases from an overcrowded state docket to a relatively undercrowded federal docket, where criminals also face harsher laws and penalties. The hirings will be paid for by a $100,000 grant from the Department of Justice, along with some municipal tax funds. Click here for the full story from the Anchorage Daily News.

The city wants to send a message to criminals that they will be put away for a long time, Mayor Mark Begich said. The move is also viewed as an interim solution to help clear out and speed up the state's clogged court system until the State Legislature provides the means for a lasting solution.

With a $100,000 grant from the Department of Justice and some municipal tax funds, the city is hiring two attorneys and two support staffers. They will be cross-designated as federal prosecutors. They'll look for ways to send criminals through the federal system. Particularly noteworthy about the Federal system is the hard-nosed approach toward gun crimes. Long sentences, straight time, and no parole.

However, Alaska's Federal public defender Rich Curtner expressed reservations. "I always hate to see the type of problem that should be addressed in state courts brought to federal courts," he said. "Federal laws are Draconian as far as guns are involved. The result is usually taking young people and sending them to federal prisons outside of Alaska for a long stretch of time. I fear that when those people come back to Alaska, which they always do, what kind of citizens we'll have then, after 10 years in a federal prison?" He'd prefer to see a beefed-up state system with more drug rehabilitation programs, he said.

The city normally prosecutes misdemeanors and sends felony cases to the state district attorney. Begich said he want the option of sending gang-related cases to federal courts because, in his opinion, the state doesn't slap gangbangers with the prison time he thinks they deserve.

Regarding caseload, District Attorney Bob Linton agrees that the state courts are backed up. He said the state had about 300 cases ready for trial earlier this year. But for the past three years, only about 30 cases were tried annually. "How long does it take to try 300 cases if you're doing 30 a year?" he said. He and others point out that the federal courts carry a much lighter load.
Wendy Lyford, head of the court system for the Third Judicial District, said 2,171 felony cases were filed in state court in fiscal 2005. Comparatively, only 170 criminal cases were filed in federal court, she said.

In a related development, the Anchorage Daily News also reported that 20-year-old Robert L. Gardner (pictured at left) was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Antonius "Tony" Garvin on June 20th. He was arrested after a family member brought him to police headquarters on Monday evening. This was the shooting that took place on June 20th at Reka Drive near the intersection with Bragaw Street. Another person, 19 year old Claire McCloud, was arrested in earlier in conjuction with the shooting and charged with hindering prosecution. The latter arrest shows the District Attorney is now getting serious with people who fail to cooperate with law enforcement on these issues. Click here for the full story.

Note: Just moments ago, KTUU reported that a third person, Randy McDaniel, has been arrested in this case. He will be charged with second degree murder, assault, and hindering prosecution. And in a separate development, Governor Frank Murkowski announce that his administration is working on a Gang Violence Action Plan.

Analysis: Federal grants of $100,000 don't just materialize overnight, so obviously Mayor Begich has been working on this issue behind the scenes for a while. He wasted little time in taking command of the situation, getting Dennis LeBlanc out front quickly to run media interference. The plan to roll local prosecutors into Federal positions is innovative. Impressive and flexible response by the administration!

What's also interesting is the sudden retirement of APD Chief Walt Monegan. When the chief announced his retirement, the mayor made a cryptic remark about how he was merely accelerating his plans. Combined with the fact that when Begich first took office, he didn't endorse the chief immediately but made him "cool his heels" for several weeks, I'm wondering if the mayor was dissatisfied with the chief's performance. There was never a hint of public friction between the two individuals, though.

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  1. The Wasilla Police Chief is retiring, also.
    A lot of the police dept. has been working for 20/30 plus years.
    There comes a time when you retire.

    Besides, Begich has to get his butt in gear or people are going to be just a little more than ticked off at him for not doing something to stop this gang problem. He'd do well by worrying less about the posies in downtown for the tourists and more about putting money into hiring more police.
    The department can do just so much with the money and resources handed out by the local government.

  2. It's always been axiomatic that the Begich-Tesche-Shamberg axis have considered "flowers and lights" more important than "nuts and bolts". But now he apparently realizes that tourists won't want to visit if they think they run the risk of getting winged by a stray bullet.

    Perhaps you're right about Monegan. However, when Begich was first elected, he seemed very equivocal about the chief, delaying a decision by several weeks. You would think he could've figured out during his campaign whether he wanted to keep Walt Monegan or not, and not put him on ice for a month after the election. Now Duane Udland was a completely different story - he was a great deputy chief, but lacked the necessities for the top job. The No. 2 guy in any paramilitary organization is always the "hammer", but the No. 1 guy must be more of a diplomat.

    Perhaps the lack of public friction between Begich and Monegan vindicates your more optimistic assessment.

  3. Have you thought that maybe the Police Chief is tired of trying to get Begich to do something?
    Like I said, the Police Department can only do so much on what they are handed.