Repeat offenders with guns become a focus for city leaders

At least 50% of people convicted of felony gun charges in Jefferson County are not sent to prison, court statistics show.
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 6:42 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - At least 50% of people convicted of felony gun charges in Jefferson County are not sent to prison, court statistics show.

The issue is something city leaders are now publicly discussing, something that was shied away from in years past.

“When we see that there are individuals that are committing homicides, or other violent, heinous crimes, that are then back out on the streets in a matter of months, there’s a problem with that,” Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg told WAVE News Troubleshooters in an exclusive investigation.

Among some of the city’s most high profile violent incidents, including several of the most recent officer-involved shootings, there often times will be a similarity - the suspect was not supposed to have a gun.

“I believe in the law and I believe in dispensing it equitably,” Commonwealth Attorney, Gerina Whethers said. “But I’m telling you, we can’t continue to do the same thing over and over again because it’s not working.”

Whethers, who took office in May, is stepping into a role while the stakes and frustrations are high.

“I believe in second chances,” Whethers said.  “I believe that you make mistakes and you learn from the mistakes, because there are so many people that have done that, but there are others who just don’t care.”

She was talking about people like 38-year-old Jaron Bobbitt, the suspect who police say pointed a gun at them Monday before they fired at him.

WAVE News Troubleshooters found 21 criminal cases in Bobbitt’s criminal history.

Some of the previous charges included assault, drugs, trafficking, fleeing from police and multiple charges for illegal gun possession among others.

We also found Bobbitt had been granted shock probation in 2010 only to reoffend a short time later. He would later also be charged with escape.

In January, 2023 Bobbitt was arrested again on new charges of trafficking, having a gun and giving a false name.

He was granted home incarceration, or HIP by Judge Tish Morris in lieu of a $10,000 bond.

Morris is the same judge who recently granted Dominique Thompson HIP before LMPD Officer Brandon Haley was shot. Thompson wasn’t charged with the shooting but was arrested in connection to the number of guns found in a home he was at, despite his previous gun charges.

Mayor Greenberg refused to talk about specific judges, but did share his overall concern.

“When you look at the stats like this, and the data that far too many individuals who are already ensnared in the justice system are being killed themselves or are killing other people, there’s a problem,” he said.

WAVE News gathered numbers through an open records request from the Administrative Office of the Courts for calendar years 2020-2022.

In District Court, the first stop after an arrest, about 30% of gun possession charges were dismissed.

From the charges that did proceed into Circuit Court, which deals with only felonies, about 70% were convicted. From there the report shows 40% were placed on probation and about 50% received incarceration, which includes HIP.

The Louisville Metro Department of Corrections said gun charges make up nearly 20% of all the people currently on HIP.

Conservatively the numbers indicate at least half of those with gun charges walk out the doors.

Chief Villaroel says her officers are frustrated seeing the same offenders on the streets.

“I hear it with a resounding loud voice, almost in unison,” she said. “Law enforcement is just one piece of the puzzle, and so I am going to ensure that we are doing our part, but everybody has to do their part.”

Retired Circuit Court Judge and current Court Administrator, McKay Chauvin warned numbers are never a sure indicative of who a person may be.

“The fact that a person is charged with a firearm offense does not make him or her the same as every other person who is charged with a firearm offense,” Chauvin explained in a statement. “Judges don’t, and we should not want them to, make decisions based on statistics or the category a person appearing before them appears to fall into.

No matter how smart, experienced, and well-intentioned a judge may be,” he continued, “there are going to be times when an individual who was placed on bond or probation does something terrible. While that possibility can and does keep judges awake at night, it can’t keep them from placing people on bond or on probation when, in their judgment, they should as a matter of law be on bond or on probation.”

Mayor Greenberg didn’t 100% agree.

“We need to ensure that judges are paying attention to the bigger picture as well as the individual cases,” Greenberg said.

Prosecutors can refute a probation or HIP disposition if they don’t agree.

We asked Whethers if she thought judges were supportive of her quest to prosecute felons with repeated gun charges.

“We have a good group, a good set of judges,” she said. “I know because I’ve worked with them. But of course, that’s a whole other issue.”

The Mayor said year to date 37 of the people murdered were out on bond or HIP, with the people out to get them knowing exactly where they are.

“Speaking about restorative justice, and ensuring that people are going to be restored back into our society, I submit to you that I want them to live long enough to be restored,” Villaroel said.

Officers have also told WAVE Troubleshooters off record, that some judges are refusing to sign search warrants for fear of public scrutiny, adding to their frustration. The Chief is finding herself trying to keep officers motivated.

“You cannot give up doing your job and doing it the right way because if you can take off the streets one individual who’s committing a violent crime, even if they make it back out within a couple of hours or a few days, maybe we prevented them from committing another crime just in that amount of time.”

Watch WAVE News on Thursday as we speak to the Special Agent in Charge of the Louisville ATF Field Office and legislators about their approaches and ideas to stop gun violence. Mayor Craig Greenberg also lays out how he thinks Frankfort can help.