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As part of its new focus on violent crimes involving drugs and guns, the U.S. attorney's office in the Eastern District of Arkansas is getting extra manpower supplied by six counties and two state offices.

In a news conference Thursday announcing recent gun and drug-trafficking charges against 49 people, including several gang members, U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland introduced 13 attorneys who will be joining his office as deputized special assistant U.S. attorneys to add some power behind the anti-violence push.

The special assistants work as prosecutors in six counties -- Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline, Jefferson, Lonoke and White -- as well as in the state attorney general's office and the Arkansas Medicaid inspector general's office. After undergoing federal background checks and training, they will have authority to prosecute cases in federal court but will also retain their regular duties.

While they will have the same authority to prosecute cases as any regular assistant U.S. attorney, their primary work will be on gun crimes, according to Hiland's office.

With their help, Hiland said, "the Eastern District of Arkansas will greatly increase its capacity to federally prosecute violent crimes involving guns and drugs."

While gun prosecutions are already a staple of federal court, Hiland said his office will take on more gun cases, largely by "adopting" them from local law enforcement agencies.

Doing so benefits the local jurisdictions because offenders know that at sentencing time, there is no parole available at the federal level, Hiland said. He emphasized that means that any sentence handed down by a federal judge is served in "real time -- not one-sixth of the time," as is the case in many state-prosecuted crimes.

Throughout 2017, Hiland said, his office prosecuted 122 cases of being a felon in possession of firearm. In the first two months of this year, he said, the office has already prosecuted 70 such cases, most of which started with an arrest by a local police agency.

"I am proud to join [Hiland] in the important fight against violent crime," Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Thursday. She said adding more federal prosecutors "will help law enforcement curtail unnecessary violence and lock criminals up for the gun crimes they commit. No Arkansan should live in fear, and I am confident that prosecuting and removing dangerous criminals from our streets will make our neighborhoods safer."

Many of the cases that the special assistants will prosecute will begin with arrests by the Little Rock and North Little Rock police departments, the Pulaski County sheriff's office and the Arkansas State Police, and then will move into the federal system with the help of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to a news release from Hiland's office. It said, "The ATF will provide expertise and the logistical and technical support of special agents to allow cases that began with state arrests to proceed in the federal system."

The new thrust on curtailing violent crime is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a federal program that was introduced nationwide in 2001 and that U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions promised in October to reinvigorate.

At that time, the Eastern District of Arkansas, based in Little Rock, was one of 27 districts across the country that was allotted one of 40 new federal prosecutor positions as part of Sessions' plan. Hiland said Thursday that the position isn't filled yet because it is still being advertised. It must be advertised for a certain period of time.

The position will provide a 23rd full-time criminal attorney in the Eastern District, which includes 41 counties.

Chris Givens, an assistant U.S. attorney who is the office's spokesman, identified the 13 new special assistants as John Johnson, chief deputy prosecuting attorney in Pulaski County; Pulaski County deputy prosecutors Amanda Fields and Kim Woods; Chief Deputy Attorney General Julie Benafield; deputy attorneys general Will Jones, Emily Abbott and Amanda Jegley; Bart Dickinson of the Arkansas Medicaid inspector general's office; and prosecutors Joan Shipley of Faulkner County, Carrie Robertson of Saline County, Cymber Gieringer of Jefferson County, Colbie Harsson of White County and John Huggins of Lonoke County.

Metro on 02/23/2018

Print Headline: State, county ranks aid U.S. prosecutions

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