Feds focus on violent offenders in Alaska crimes
Federal prosecutors in Alaska are offering Anchorage police and Alaska State Troopers greater aid in addressing violent crime, based on an approach targeting specific defendants thought to be dangerous.
Flanked by federal, state and local law enforcement officials, Acting U.S. Attorney for Alaska Bryan Schroder announced a series of measures intended to take violent offenders off the state’s streets.
The move follows U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plan this week to resurrect Project Safe Neighborhoods, an initiative which promotes “networking existing local programs that target [guns] and gun crime and providing these programs with additional tools necessary to be successful.”
“The cornerstone of PSN is really the cooperation between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to combat violent crime in neighborhoods and particularly gun crime,” Schroder told reporters Wednesday, citing FBI statistics for last year that listed Alaska as the nation’s most violent state per capita and Anchorage as the second-most violent U.S. city. “It’s not just an Alaska problem; it’s a problem all around the country.”
Among the steps being taken, Schroder said, is a federal duty agent being placed on-call to respond to Anchorage murders and shootings. A task force is also being convened to examine and compare bullet casings and other evidence left at shooting scenes, which has already yielded valuable correlations for investigators.
“The purpose of the federal duty agent is to provide intelligence to law enforcement on the scene and also examine possible federal charges,” Schroder said. “That provides intelligence for the officers to look into who’s really doing the shootings.”
APD Chief Justin Doll said the federal aid “couldn’t come at a better time for APD,” with investigators facing some of the same links Schroder described.
“As we’re conducting investigations, we keep seeing the same names come around again and again,” Doll said.
Information from those sources will feed Project Real Time, a collaborative effort to target offenders with violent records Schroder referred to as “the worst of the worst.”
“Often in shootings these kinds of things are done by a limited number of people, so if you can get them off the street it’s really a lot of bang for your buck in fighting violent crime,” Schroder said.
An example of that logic in action, Schroder said, was the filing of federal charges against Shane Twigg and Myles Gonangnan in a pair of reported Sept. 25 robberies at Anchorage coffee shops. Federal charging documents alleged that Twigg and Gonangnan had interfered in “interstate commerce” because the shops’ coffee beans were procured Outside, but Schroder said the case went federal because Twigg had seven previous felony convictions and Gonangnan had 16 convictions including one for felony burglary.
“They took a shot at an Anchorage PD unit, and I think the state still has some charges out as well,” Schroder said.
The two men now face a minimum sentence of 32 years if they’re convicted on their federal charges in the robberies, according to Schroder.
Another Anchorage defendant facing federal charges, Michael Sampo, was arrested Sept. 12 after police said he had stolen a woman’s SUV at gunpoint.
“When she doesn’t immediately find the keys, he fires a shot just to scare her,” Schroder said.
Police eventually forced Sampo, who Schroder said was a four-time felon, off the road in a high-speed chase near Merrill Field. Sampo now faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years if convicted on a federal carjacking charge, followed by 10 more years for the use of a firearm in the crime.
Federal prosecutors have also stepped up Alaska charging efforts, charging 68 people with 56 crimes over the past two months – versus a total of 120 cases for 2016.
For cases in rural Alaska, Schroder said, an assistant U.S. attorney has been assigned to work with troopers to identify and target violent offenders in a similar fashion.
“The idea again is to identify potentially violent people who have firearms, to get them out of their villages where they’re causing harm,” Schroder said.
Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said the federal-state relationships discussed Wednesday already exist, but will be augmented by the additional help.
“The way I look at it is that we’re supercharging it,” Lindemuth said. “What I reiterate is that this is about efficient and strategic use of law-enforcement resources.”
Prosecutors and law enforcement will also work together on Project Face to Face, which Schroder described as an effort to speak with inmates nearing release about the rehabilitation options available for them – as well as the added resources arrayed against them if they return to crime.
“We’ll still be there, and…if they commit more crimes we’re going to be there to arrest them,” Schroder said.
Daniella Rivera contributed information to this story.
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