A new illegal firearms initiative announced November 15th, Project Guardian-DMV, is designed to reduce violent crime and further enforce federal firearms laws across the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV).
The new initiative builds on the Justice Department’s national effort, Project Guardian, announced by Attorney General William P. Barr on Wednesday.
“Gun crime remains a pervasive problem in too many communities across America,” said Attorney General Barr. “The Department of Justice is redoubling its commitment to tackling this issue through the launch of Project Guardian. Building on the success of past programs like Triggerlock, Project Guardian will strengthen our efforts to reduce gun violence by allowing the federal government and our state and local partners to better target offenders who use guns in crimes and those who try to buy guns illegally.”
Project Guardian-DMV will localize the effort to the DMV region, and expands upon the current partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the District of Columbia and the Eastern District of Virginia, the ATF, and Metro Police Department, and now also includes the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Maryland and the Western District of Virginia, and the Virginia State Police.
“Through this partnership, we hope to stanch the flow of illegal guns from the Commonwealth of Virginia to Washington, Baltimore, and other cities in the Northeast, where, too often, they are used to commit violent crimes,” said Thomas T. Cullen, U.S Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. “We will work closely with our U.S. attorney partners, the ATF, the MPD, and the Virginia State Police to identify individuals and groups in Western Virginia engaged in this deadly enterprise and put them in federal prison.”
“The public is on notice that we are deadly serious about illegal firearms offenses,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Now with leadership of Attorney General Barr, all the tentacles of the Department of Justice, including the ATF and its Crime Gun Intelligence capabilities, and the amazing men and women in blue on the beat, we are doubling down on illegal firearms with Project Guardian.”
Reducing gun violence and enforcing federal firearms laws have always been among the Department’s highest priorities. In order to develop a new and robust effort to promote and ensure public safety, the Department reviewed and adapted some of the successes of past strategies to curb gun violence. Project Guardian draws on the Department’s earlier achievements, such as the “Triggerlock” program, and it serves as a complementary effort to the success of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). In addition, the initiative emphasizes the importance of using all modern technologies available to law enforcement to promote gun crime intelligence.
“Working together with our federal and local partners is key to reducing gun violence and violent crime in the region,” said Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “Project Guardian will allow us to identify specific incidents and trends, thereby enabling us to move quickly in investigating and prosecuting violent crime in the most appropriate venue. The correlation between the availability and use of illegal guns and violent crime is undeniable, and we will continue to work closely with our partners in the law enforcement community in the promotion of public safety and the pursuit of justice. “
“We are committed to working with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to get guns off of our streets, in order to reduce violent crime in our neighborhoods,” said Rob K. Hur, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. “If you use a gun, you could face federal time, where there is no parole—ever. Please, put down the guns and save a life—maybe even your own.”
“Straw purchasers and firearms traffickers do more than commit paperwork violations or illegally sell a firearm – they knowingly put firearms in the hands of people who should not have them, including violent offenders. These traffickers have no regard for the safety of D.C., Maryland, and Virginia communities,” said Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division. “As part of Project Guardian, ATF will continue to work alongside our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners and U.S. Attorney’s Officers to ensure anyone committing these crimes is held accountable. We are putting all gun traffickers on notice that we will find you; you will be held accountable; and you will be punished under the law.”
“Criminals do not concern themselves with state line or jurisdictions, so we have ensured that our efforts to stop the illegal flow of guns into Maryland involves working closely with our neighboring ATF Field Division in Washington, as well as neighboring U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Virginia and D.C.,” said Rob Cekada, Special Agent in Charge of ATF Baltimore Field Division.
“Our focus is on identifying, investigating, and incarcerating anyone who uses firearms to commit violent crime, and those who traffic or straw purchase firearms are supplying these offenders.
Project Guardian serves to further strengthen our multi-state and District partnerships with law enforcements and prosecutors so we can brings these criminals to justice.”
Project Guardian’s national and DMV implementation is based on five principles:
1) Coordinated Prosecution. Federal prosecutors and law enforcement will coordinate with state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors to consider potential federal prosecution for new cases involving a defendant who: a) was arrested in possession of a firearm; b) is believed to have used a firearm in committing a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime prosecutable in federal court; or c) is suspected of actively committing violent crime(s) in the community on behalf of a criminal organization.
2) Enforcing the Background Check System. United States Attorneys, in consultation with the Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in their district, will create new, or review existing, guidelines for intake and prosecution of federal cases involving false statements (including lie-and-try, lie-and-buy, and straw purchasers) made during the acquisition or attempted acquisition of firearms from Federal Firearms Licensees.
Particular emphasis is placed on individuals convicted of violent felonies or misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, individuals subject to protective orders, and individuals who are fugitives where the underlying offense is a felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence; individuals suspected of involvement in criminal organizations or of providing firearms to criminal organizations; and individuals involved in repeat denials.
3) Improved Information Sharing. On a regular basis, and as often as practicable given current technical limitations, ATF will provide to state law enforcement fusion centers a report listing individuals for whom the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) has issued denials, including the basis for the denial, so that state and local law enforcement can take appropriate steps under their laws.
4) Coordinated Response to Mental Health Denials. Each United States Attorney will ensure that whenever there is federal case information regarding individuals who are prohibited from possessing a firearm under the mental health prohibition, such information continues to be entered timely and accurately into the United States Attorneys’ Offices’ case-management system for prompt submission to NICS. ATF should engage in additional outreach to state and local law enforcement on how to use this denial information to better assure public safety.
Additionally, United States Attorneys will consult with relevant district stakeholders to assess feasibility of adopting disruption of early engagement programs to address mental-health-prohibited individuals who attempt to acquire a firearm. United States Attorneys should consider, when appropriate, recommending court-ordered mental health treatment for any sentences issued to individuals prohibited based on mental health.
5) Crime Gun Intelligence Coordination. Federal, state, local, and tribal prosecutors and law enforcement will work together to ensure effective use of the ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Centers (CGICs), and all related resources, to maximize the use of modern intelligence tools and technology. These tools can greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness in identifying trigger-pullers and finding their guns, but the success depends in large part on state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners sharing ballistic evidence and firearm recovery data with the ATF.
Virginia Supreme Court grants temporary statewide eviction moratorium
Governor Ralph Northam today, August 7, 2020, announced a temporary statewide moratorium on eviction proceedings in Virginia. The moratorium, which will begin on Monday, August 10, and remains in effect through Monday, September 7, halts all eviction proceedings related to failure to pay rent. Governor Northam requested this moratorium in a letter to Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Lemons on July 24.
“Today’s decision comes at a time when we are still battling this public health crisis and need all Virginians to maintain safe, stable housing,” said Governor Northam. “As the ongoing Congressional stalemate leaves hundreds of thousands of Virginians without federal housing protection or unemployment relief, this is a critical step towards keeping families safe in their homes. I am grateful to the Virginia Supreme Court for granting this order, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly this month to develop more permanent legislative protections for Virginia homeowners and tenants.”
On June 29, Governor Northam launched the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP), which provides an initial $50 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for Virginia households facing eviction and foreclosure due to COVID-19. Eligibility and application information for the RMRP is available here.
Tenants are encouraged to know their rights and responsibilities and pay their rent on time if they are able. Please visit StayHomeVirginia.com for additional information and resources on tenant rights.
Governor Northam’s letter to Chief Justice Lemons requesting this moratorium is available here. Today’s order from the Virginia Supreme Court can be found here.
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – August 5, 2020; rapid testing, Tropical Storm Isaias, restrictions in Hampton Roads area
Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response. Here are the highlights:
- COVID-Wise app to send alerts to those who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. The app is free, and voluntary, to download and use.
- Joining 7 states to expand the use of rapid antigen testing.
- Feds to continue to fund the majority of the National Guard’s presence in Virginia in response to both COVID-19 and tropical storms such as Isaias.
- Increased restrictions remain in place in the Hampton Roads area.
- Case counts have begun to slowly rise throughout most of Virginia, with a sharp rise in the Eastern Region. Seeing about 1,000 new cases per day, which is similar to the number of new cases per day at the peak. Averaging, statewide, between 15,000 and 20,000 tests per day. Statewide percent positivity is 7.2%.
Supreme Court of Virginia denies appeals by Goodwin and Ramos for their role in the beating of Deandre Harris during Unite the Right Rally
Attorney General Mark R. Herring and his team have again successfully defended the convictions of two men who were convicted of malicious wounding for their roles in the beating of Deandre Harris in a Charlottesville parking garage during the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally. The Supreme Court of Virginia denied Jacob Scott Goodwin’s petition for appeal today and denied Alex Michael Ramos’ petition for appeal in early May.
“The violence, mayhem, injury, and death caused at the hands of the racists and white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville for the Unite the Right rally can never be forgotten, but we can make sure that the individuals who broke the law or incited violence are brought to justice,” said Attorney General Herring. “My team and I will do everything in our power to combat this white supremacist violence that we continue to see in the Commonwealth, and I will not hesitate to hold these racists and white supremacists accountable when they act on their hate.”
In each of the opinions denying the appeals, the Supreme Court of Virginia said, “Upon review of the record in this case and consideration of the argument submitted in support of the granting of an appeal, the Court refuses the petition for appeal.”
Goodwin was sentenced to serve eight years in prison and Ramos was sentenced to serve six years for their roles in the beating of Deandre Harris.
Virginia State Police urging travel safety during tropical storm
As the Virginia State Police prepares for Tropical Storm Isaias, Virginians are encouraged to get ready and plan ahead, too. Forecasts are currently calling for the eastern and central regions of the Commonwealth to be significantly impacted by heavy rains and strong winds.
Virginia State Police have all available troopers and supervisors working through the night and Tuesday as the storm makes its way across the Commonwealth. To prevent unnecessary traffic crashes from occurring on Virginia’s highways during the storm, state police advises residents to postpone travel plans and avoid driving, when possible.
If having to travel during the storm, drivers are reminded to do the following:
- Slow your speed. Though state police works closely with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to identify problem areas on Virginia’s highways during a storm, drivers still must drive for conditions. Slowing your speed gives you more time to safely react and avoid a crash, downed trees and/or debris in the roadway. Drive your vehicle based on your ability to properly maintain control of your vehicle.
- Turn Around. Don’t Drown. Never drive through standing water. What looks like a puddle can be deep and swift-moving water. Turn around and find another, safer route to your destination.
- Don’t tailgate. You need increased stopping distance on wet road surfaces. Give yourself more space between vehicles traveling ahead of you in order to avoid rear end collisions.
- Use headlights. Increasing your visibility helps you to avoid standing water and/or flooding. Headlights also help other drivers see you better, especially in a downpour when visibility is limited.
- Buckle Up. Most crashes that occur during inclement weather are caused by vehicles sliding off the road or other vehicles. Wearing your seat belt protects you from being thrown around the inside of your vehicle and suffering serious injury in a crash.
- Put down your phone. Having to drive in heavy rain requires a driver’s full, uninterrupted attention. Do not text and drive or shoot video of the bad conditions while driving, as these actions put you, your passengers and other vehicles at extreme risk of a crash and/or injury.
- Check Your Vehicle. Make sure your vehicle is in good working order for the conditions. Fill up the tank in advance. Check windshield wipers, tire tread, battery life, etc.
For the latest in road conditions and updates, please call 511 on a cell phone, download the App or go online to the VDOT Virginia Traffic Information Website at www.511virginia.org.
Virginians are advised to only call 911 or #77 on a cell phone in case of emergency. It is essential to keep emergency dispatch lines open for those in serious need of police, fire or medical response.
Governor Northam declares State of Emergency in advance of Hurricane Isaias
Governor Ralph Northam today declared a state of emergency in advance of Hurricane Isaias, which is expected to impact parts of coastal Virginia starting on Monday, August 3, 2020.
“Hurricane Isaias is a serious storm, and current predictions indicate that it may impact parts of Virginia as early as this weekend,” said Governor Northam. “This state of emergency will ensure localities and communities have the assistance they need to protect the safety of Virginians, particularly as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. I encourage Virginians to take all necessary precautions, monitor local weather forecasts, and stay alert.”
A state of emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and equipment needed for response and recovery efforts. While the track of Hurricane Isaias is still uncertain, it appears increasingly likely that Virginia could see impacts and therefore must prepare for the possibility of flooding, high winds, and potential storm surge that could come along with a tropical storm or hurricane.
Virginians are encouraged to consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines preparedness, response, and recovery actions designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and protect public health.
The Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) is actively monitoring the situation and coordinating resources and information to prepare for this storm. The Virginia Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) will coordinate preparedness efforts with local, state, and federal officials.
Recommendations for Virginians
• Know your zone. Evacuation may become necessary depending on the track and severity of the storm. Review Virginia’s evacuation zones at KnowYourZoneVA.org. It is important to note that the zone colors have been updated for 2020. Users can enter their physical address in the search bar of the website to view and confirm their designated evacuation zone. If the internet or computer access is not available, call 2-1-1 to learn your zone. Residents not residing in a pre-identified evacuation zone should listen to evacuation orders from local and state emergency agencies to determine if and when to evacuate.
• Make a plan. Virginians residing in eastern and coastal Virginia should consult the Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which outlines ways to prepare for both weather and pandemic-related risks. Additional planning resources are available at ready.gov/plan.
• Prepare an emergency kit. For a list of recommended emergency supplies to sustain your household before, during, and after the storm visit VAemergency.gov/emergency-kit. Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, emergency kits should include face coverings and sanitization supplies.
• Stay informed. Virginians should follow the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook for preparedness updates and their local National Weather Service office for the latest weather forecast, advisories, watches, or warnings. Download the FEMA app on your smartphone to receive mobile alerts from the National Weather Service. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available so you can still receive life-saving alerts.
For more information about preparing your business, your family, and your property against hurricane threats visit VAemergency.gov/hurricanes and ready.gov/hurricanes. Additional information about preparing for hurricanes during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
AG Herring again defends Virginia’s COVID safety measures
Attorney General Mark R. Herring has again successfully defended Virginia’s COVID safety measures against legal challenge, making it at least the 13th decision Attorney General Herring and his team have won in defense of the Commonwealth’s COVID mitigation efforts that were put in place to prevent the spread of the virus and keep Virginians and their families and communities safe and healthy.
“Science has shown us that Virginia’s COVID mitigation efforts are proven effective in preventing further spread of the virus and keeping Virginians safe,” said Attorney General Herring. “As we continue to see a surge of cases around the country, including certain areas of Virginia, we know that we must continue to adhere to these critical safety measures to keep Virginians healthy. I am pleased we were once again able to successfully defend these important COVID mitigation measures, and I am really proud of the hard work my team has done to keep their fellow Virginians safe during these unprecedented times.”
The Plaintiff, in this case, William G. Dillon, Jr., who owns the Abbey Road restaurant in Virginia Beach, filed suit challenging the Governor’s executive orders that were passed to keep Virginians safe and healthy and prevent further spread of the deadly coronavirus. The Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction that would allow him to have more patrons in his restaurant. Judge David W. Lannetti of the Norfolk Circuit Court denied the request for a preliminary injunction, as well as the plaintiff’s petition for writ of mandamus after finding that “Plaintiffs failed to prove that they will suffer irreparable injury without the requested temporary injunction, that the requested relief is in the public interest, and that the equities tip in their favor.” Additionally, Judge Lannetti acknowledges that the COVID-19 situation is ever-evolving, but he makes the point that “Courts…resolve legal – as opposed to social or political – questions; the other branches of government establish and enforce statutes and policies.”
This is the thirteenth decision Attorney General Herring and his team has won in defense of Virginia’s COVID mitigation measures, including two cases that explicitly challenged Virginia’s mask requirement, in addition to winning court cases to protect the vote during the COVID pandemic.