ATLANTA — Federal and local authorities said they’ve charged a dozen of Atlanta’s “most violent offenders,” alleging they’ve played a part in a recent violent crime spike.
That documented spike, the conversation around police morale and the city’s handling of police brutality victims have been at the center of the conversation between city and civic leaders this week.
Citing “Operation Phoenix,” The Atlanta Police Department, the FBI and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced charges against 12 men during a joint press conference. While there was an emphasis on highlighting recent street racing and murders, many of the specific alleged crimes were not detailed by authorities.
Several of the men convicted of prior felonies are facing firearm possession charges, but five had unspecified charges -- with authorities only saying they’re in state custody pending federal charges.
1. Wayne Christopher Alford, 23, in state custody pending federal charges
2. Ronald Patrick Banks, 41, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
3. Kenneth Xavier Copeland, 29, in state custody pending federal charges
4. Kareem Deandre Durham, 26, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
5. Jaree Jalon Jackson, 24, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
6. Marvell Larvett Jackson, 35, in state custody pending federal charges
7. Tenquarius Trenard Mender, 23, in state custody pending federal charges
8. Laderrious Sanquentez Broughton, 29, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
9. Demario Montrez Leath, 38, pending federal charges, not in custody
10. Ricardo Haro, 19, Simple Battery against a Police Officer (state charge)
11. Randall Eddie Mellon, 33, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon
12. Jamal James Nicholl, 31, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, not in custody
Authorities are looking for the public’s help in locating Nicholl and Leath.
"There’s no specific area in the city of Atlanta that these individuals did not touch, said interim APD Chief Rodney Bryant, adding many of the men had alleged connections through gang affiliations. “There was no level of crimes that they did not have an impact on.”
By the end of July, Atlanta police had responded to two dozen murders for the month, marking one of the deadliest periods in years. In the past 20 weeks, data shows murders are 95% higher than the same period last year, while shooting incidents increased by 58%.
Bryant reached out to the FBI for assistance in August, saying a combination of COVID-19, civil unrest and department morale led to APD’s need for help in addressing the violence.
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“This is the beginning,” said Chris Hacker, FBI Special agent in charge of the operation. “This is simply the beginning, and this is phase one.”
“Bottom line is there are going to be consequences for participating in any violent crimes in Atlanta,” Hacker said.
The announcement comes a day after Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms addressed the recent violent crime spike alongside Bryant in a virtual setting.
“This is happening in almost every major city,” U.S. Attorney Byung “BJay” Pak said Thursday. “It’s not just in the City of Atlanta. It’s not just in the City of Atlanta where this is happening.”
Pak, without naming outgoing Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, also challenged recent charging decisions involving police violence and shooting cases.
Howard has stood by decisions to charge officers prior to the completed GBI investigations in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks, as well as a Taser incident involving several officers over the summer.
“There’s really no surprise when the city’s murder rate significantly exceeded the previous years and the violent crime rates are increasing because this is exactly what happens when one puts politics over people, prioritizing getting the next job, or the current one,” said Pak, citing police morale and resources.
The controversies led to ongoing outcry from the police union and supporters, as well as a brief police sickout protest over the summer.
This week, more than a dozen attorneys who say they represent the families of police brutality victims called on the city to take more accountability in the handling of civil cases tied to officers.
Just Wednesday, Bottoms addressed questions on the state of the city’s police force as it relates to the crime spike and social justice calls.
“There is not just a morale issue with our officers in Atlanta, but we’re seeing that because of where we are in terms of community and public safety interaction,” Bottoms said.
Bottoms also addressed a council member’s proposal to supplement APD with a private security force in Buckhead, an area at the center of recent violent crime data. Bottoms said she would not move to reduce police presence in the area if the proposal became a reality.
“We don’t ever take away resources. But to the extent that we can add on resources with other community partners or private partners is something that we’re always open to,” Bottoms said.