SALT LAKE CITY – Federal prosecutors and their law enforcement partners, concerned about how domestic violence disproportionately impacts Utah’s homicide rate, are targeting offenders who attempt to buy guns illegally and are prohibited under federal law from possessing them. In some years, more than half of Utah homicides have a connection to domestic violence.
Many of Utah’s domestic violence homicides involve firearms. Studies show that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide. Prosecutors are also concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on domestic violence cases in Utah. COVID-19 presents a perfect storm of conditions for victims of domestic violence that requires concern and immediate action. What could be worse for a domestic violence victim than isolation with an abuser coupled with reduced access to shelter, resources, lawyers, advocates, and court proceedings?
In Utah, increased calls for police assistance with domestic violence incidents have been reported along the Wasatch Front during stay-at-home directives. In some areas around the country, police leaders are concerned that reported domestic violence crime is actually under reporting what is happening behind closed doors.
Last November, Attorney General William Barr launched Project Guardian with the goal of stopping violence before it starts. Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers are using federal firearms laws as a “homicide prevention” tool in Utah. For example, under federal law those who are subject to a protective order or who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor are prohibited from possessing a gun. Tragedies happen when these restricted persons possess firearms, and in Utah, that tragedy too often involves a domestic violence homicide.
According to FBI statistics, 157,414 individuals with a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence conviction were denied firearms purchases between Nov. 30, 1998 and April 30, 2020. Another 65,032, subject to a protection or restraining order for domestic violence, were denied firearms purchases.
“Project Guardian – launched by Attorney General Barr – will get Utah law enforcement to the next level in fighting gun violence. Our intent is to spot the potential for violence, and address it before the violence occurs. If we can prevent even one domestic violence homicide, we are on our way to making a significant impact in Utah,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said today. “It’s the victims who motivate my partners and me to pursue these cases using federal law.”
U.S v Kelly
On April 13, 2020, several Emery County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to a possible domestic violence incident based on a report that Vincent Mac Kelly had destroyed part of the interior of a family member’s home and fired several rounds from a firearm into a trailer and in the front yard of his residence in Huntington, Utah.
According to federal charging documents, as the deputies approached the residence, Kelly ran into the trailer. While officers were trying to speak to him, Kelly opened the door and threw a knife at them. He later threw a revolver and a lemon at the officers. A live round of ammunition was in the revolver he threw at officers along with seven spent cartridge casings.
Kelly, according to the complaint, eventually came to the door and was taken into custody. Officers found five live.357 rounds of ammunition in his pocket. They also found drugs, large knives and speed loaders containing .357 ammunition in his trailer. Speed loaders are used to quickly reload revolvers with all the ammunition at once rather than one cartridge at a time.
The complaint charges Kelly, age 46, with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of a firearm and ammunition while subject to a protective order. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison for each count if he is convicted of the charges.
U.S. v King
James Albert King, age 71, of Magna, is charged with making a false statement during the acquisition of a firearm and possession of a firearm while subject to a protective order in a complaint filed Tuesday.
On Dec, 6, 2019, King went to Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) store and selected a semi-automatic pistol (essentially an AR-15). According to a complaint filed in the case, as King filled out an ATF form to buy the gun, he answered “no” to the question asking if he was subject to a court order restraining him from harassing, stalking, or threatening your child or an intimate partner or child of such partner. Based on the information King provided, the FFL submitted the ATF form. A background check indicated that King was prohibited and the purchase should have been denied.
However, an employee at the business missed the denial indicator, and King was allowed to purchase the weapon for $1,037.09. A short time later, the FFL realized the purchase should have been denied. A manager made several calls to King to request he bring the firearm back to the store. In a conversation Dec. 13, 2019, King told the manager that he could not return the firearm because it had been stolen from his vehicle in a Walmart parking lot.
Agents with the Utah Department of Public Safety’s State Bureau of Investigation and FBI special agents took King into custody Thursday night. During the execution of a search warrant, agents recovered the semi-automatic weapon he purchased in December along with two other handguns. He was booked into jail on the federal warrant and two Class A protective order violations. ($25,000 bail set Friday morning by state judge).
Each of the two counts in the complaint, false statement during the acquisition of a firearm, and possession of a firearm while subject to a protective order, carry potential 10-year sentences.
US v Lowery
Shane Curtis Lowery, age 55, of Hurricane, was charged with possession of a firearm and ammunition by a person subject to a domestic violence protective order in a complaint filed in November. On Nov. 2, 2019, Hurricane Police Department officers responded to a report of a family fight. According to the complaint, witnesses told officers that Lowery had been seen leaving the property of his wife. Among other things, all four tires on her rental car had been punctured.
A district court judge in St. George issued a protective order for his wife in June 2019 that prohibits the defendant from being within 500 feet of his wife and her residence. It also prohibits him from trying to commit or threatening to commit any form of violence and prohibits him from possessing firearms or ammunition.
Officers located Lowery later on Nov. 2, 2019, in LaVerkin and placed him under arrest for the protective order violation and domestic violence related charges. Individuals approached the officers and told them Lowery had threatened to harm to his wife. They also told officers he had a firearm in his truck.
With a court-authorized search warrant, Lowery’s truck was searched and a Hi-Point 9mm handgun with a magazine containing eight bullets was located. Two additional magazines for the handgun and an additional box of ammunition were also located in the truck. The LaVerkin Police Department assisted with the case.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Lowery in December 2019.
Lowery pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release on May 1, 2020.
US v Tatton
Sentencing is set for July 13, 2020, for David Lynn Tatton, age 50, of Nephi, who pleaded guilty in February to making a false statement during an attempted acquisition of a firearm. Tatton admitted that on Nov. 29, 2019, he made a false statement in an attempt to purchase two shotguns. As a part of the purchase process, Tatton indicated on an ATF form that he was not subject to a court order restraining him from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner – a statement he knew was false. The Utah State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the case.
US v Shaw
Daniel Wayne Shaw, age 37, of Tooele, is charged with making a false statement in an indictment returned Jan. 22, 2020. According to the indictment, in an attempt to buy a handgun, Shaw made a false statement on an ATF form. He falsely answered “no” to a question asking whether he had been convicted of a misdemeanor count of domestic violence in any court. The answer was untrue, the indictment alleges. A trial is set for June 16, 2020, in federal court in St. George. The trial date may be changed based on the coronavirus outbreak.