NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – They may seem like no big deal at the time. After all, they’re just misdemeanors. But Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi says lower-level gun charges often create a path toward death and prison – and it’s not just the person pulling the trigger.
Recent cases involving victims and defendants show a connection where they had a misdemeanor gun charge dismissed or set aside, before they eventually were charged with killing someone or getting killed themselves.
Fatehi says he began to track violent case histories, and “noticed a very alarming pattern.” He found it was often a pretty straight shot between low-level gun misdemeanors and violent gun felonies.
The gun misdemeanors would include reckless handling of a firearm, for example shooting a gun in the air on the 4th of July; brandishing a firearm; having an extended magazine so the gun can fire more bullets; and carrying a concealed gun without the proper permit, which Fatehi says is especially predictive.
“Those concealed firearms cases were acting as a leading indicator for violence,” Fatehi said.
Recent examples illustrate the connection.
Murder defendant Jayvon Smith is claiming self defense for the fatal shooting in March of a 17-year-old outside a 7-Eleven. Smith had three gun misdemeanors dismissed in February of last year.
Alvin Baum II was a suspect in two murders. He was killed by police when he pulled a gun that had an illegal magazine. His past included two other gun misdemeanors, and at least one of his victims also had a past gun charge.
Joseph Pagano pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a killing outside a Wawa. His victim had a past gun misdemeanor charge set aside.
The man currently charged in the killing of three people on Granby Street in March, Antoine LeGrande, Jr., had a gun misdemeanor charge in Chesapeake dismissed last year.
The Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office provided numbers on homicide arrests and victims. It’s important to point out they include only Norfolk charges, and not charges from other cities.
Since the beginning of 2020:
- 83 identified homicide suspects
- 18 had prior firearm felonies
- 5 had prior firearm misdemeanors
- 6 had both prior firearm felonies and misdemeanors
Among the 71 unique homicide victims connected to those suspects:
- 6 had prior firearm felonies
- 2 had prior firearm misdemeanors
- 3 had both prior felonies and misdemeanors.
Again, the data does not account for charges in cities other than Norfolk, so Fatehi says it’s highly likely it’s an undercount.
The solution? Perhaps, stronger prosecution of those lower-level crimes that often predict someone being at one end or the other of a deadly shooting. As it often is, it’s a question of money.
“The General Assembly does not fund prosecutors to prosecute misdemeanors. They only fund us to prosecute felonies,” Fatehi said.
The money for misdemeanor prosecutions comes from grants, supplements from the city, or money left over from felony prosecutions.
“This is not right. There is more than one gun for every man, woman, child and infant in the United States. We need Washington to come together,” Fatehi said.
Fatehi pointed to a recent federal report soon to be published that found we have 400 million guns in the U.S. for a population of 330 million people.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney says he will keep pressing the General Assembly for more money to prosecute gun misdemeanors, and gun felonies as well.