Government

Federal prosecutors in Iowa make gun prosecutions a top priority

Added two prosecutors to focus on violent crimes

Assistant U.S. attorney Ashley Corkery photographed at the US District Court in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Assistant U.S. attorney Ashley Corkery photographed at the US District Court in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The recent shooting that killed two teens and injured two others is a tragic example for why federal prosecutors continue their heavy focus on gun prosecutions.

“Our goal is to reduce violence in the community,” said U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan Jr. “This latest shooting is why we make these crimes a priority.”

Matrell Johnson and Royal Abram, both 18, were fatally shot in the parking lot of the Iowa Smoke Shop at 70 Kirkwood Court SW about 1:20 a.m. May 18. Two others — a man and woman, both 19 — had life-threatening gunshot wounds.

With two new prosecutors added last fiscal year to focus on violent crimes, Deegan is hoping to reduce shootings like this one and others that have resulted in injuries in recent months.

The new positions were part of the U.S. Department of Justice adding 311 assistant U.S. attorneys to offices nationwide in an effort to combat violent crimes, immigration, civil enforcement and the opioid crisis. It was the largest increase in decades made by the department, Deegan said.

New attorneys focus on violent crimes

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Iowa has 26 prosecutors in the Cedar Rapids and Sioux City offices. Deegan had the opportunity to hire the two to prosecute violent crimes — assistant U.S. attorneys Ashley Corkery and Kyndra Lundquist — plus four others since being confirmed in 2017.

Corkery was an assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district before coming to this office. She mostly prosecuted cases involving guns, drugs, white collar crime and child exploitation.

Lundquist, after graduating for the University of Iowa College of Law, was a judicial law clerk for Iowa Supreme Court Justice Edward Mansfield and then clerked for U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose for two years in Davenport. She also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua from 2009 to 2011.

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Other assistants, Mikala Steenholdt, formerly a special assistant with the southern district, and Patrick Greenwood joined the office last year; Elizabeth Dupuich, former assistant Johnson County attorney, joined in April; and Melissa Carrington and Ronald Timmons will start June 10.

Deegan said he was pleased to have more diversity in the office. There are five women from various backgrounds and experiences, and the two men served in the military. The office’s diversity committee looks for diverse backgrounds in the hiring process.

gun cases on the rise in northern district

The gun cases have steadily increased over the years and Deegan expects the trend to continue this year. Some of the offenders facing firearms charges could also be charged for drugs, or some of the firearms charges may be drug-related.

There were 90 people charged with firearms offenses in fiscal 2016, 103 in 2017 and 166 in 2018, according to office’s statistics.

Those charged with drug offenses: 146 in 2016 — 20 opioid, 110 methamphetamine, 16 other drugs in 2016; 165 in 2017 — 10 opioid, 116 meth, 39 other in 2017; 149 in 2018 — 30 opioid, 109 meth, 10 other in 2018.

Total number of defendants charged in the northern district: 388 in fiscal 2016, 425 in 2017 and 437 in 2018.

Deegan said his office is not only looking at the nature and circumstances of a crime but also at the characteristics of the offender — violent history, recidivism, use of firearms, drug users and distributors — when deciding cases to pursue.

Deegan said the office works closely with local and state agencies on gun and drug cases, which are usually referred to his office because they have more resources than the county, and the federal penalties for firearms garner more prison time.

Many times in federal court, offenders will have previous convictions for violent crimes, which judges can consider at sentencing often resulting in more prison time.

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First Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said many times a case will go straight to federal court if it involves a drug user or felon in possession of a firearm. Other times, a firearms or drug case may be filed in state court but then federal authorities have an interest, or county prosecutors refer the case to federal court.

Maybanks didn’t have numbers for how many cases are referred to Deegan’s office because his office doesn’t track those, but he did say a significant number of firearm cases involving prohibited people or drug users in possession go federal.

“We are consistently in contact with our friends at the U.S. Attorney’s Office to determine in which jurisdiction these crimes ought to be prosecuted to maximize justice and protect the community,” Maybanks said.

Deegan said the office’s other priorities remain the same — opioids and methamphetamine cases, which also continue to rise, along with sex exploitation and fraud cases, which includes those who target the elderly.

“The elderly fraud cases also remain a priority,” Deegan said. “They are important cases because they seek out the more vulnerable (victims).”

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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