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USAO Launches Initiative to Prevent Domestic Violence Homicides and Promote Safety

YAKIMA – Vanessa R. Waldref, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced a new initiative to prevent domestic violence homicides and prevent abusers who have previously been convicted of domestic violence offenses from having access to firearms. U.S. Attorney Waldref and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Ellis have developed the Safe Homes, Safe Community initiative as part of the Project Safe Neighborhood community policing program. In Yakima, the United States Attorney’s Office works in collaboration with the Yakima Police Department (“YPD”), the Yakima County Prosecutor’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”), and community domestic violence survivor support groups to identify potential cases involving individuals with histories of domestic violence who unlawfully possess firearms. 

Early in 2022, U.S. Attorney Waldref and AUSA Ellis began working with the Yakima Police Department domestic violence team to target individuals who were identified as repeat domestic violence abusers in possession of firearms.  Data shows that offenders with a history of domestic violence pose a high risk of homicide to their family members.  Indeed, domestic violence offenders with a gun in the home are five times more likely to kill their partners than other offenders.  This summer, the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women awarded twelve Firearms Technical Assistance Project (“FTAP”) grants designed to help communities implement promising practices to prevent abusers from having access to firearms in domestic violence cases.  The Yakima Police Department receive a $500,000 grant to continue to develop innovative strategies to respond and prevent domestic violence homicides and related gun crimes.

“Domestic violence is a significant source of firearm-related violence in Eastern Washington and in the Yakima Valley. The unlawful possession of firearms by domestic violence abusers is too often deadly for victims of intimate partner violence and lethal for law enforcement officers responding to emergency calls,” said U.S. Attorney Waldref.  “We have also seen a pattern in our cases, that individuals involved in violent crime also have a history of domestic violence or have grown up in homes plagued by violence.  Safe Homes, Safe Community addresses victim safety, law enforcement safety and community safety.”

Several cases have already been charged in Yakima as part of Safe Homes, Safe Community.  The Indictments are the result of the collaborative efforts of the United States Attorney’s Office, ATF, and YPD, who work together as part of the U.S. Attorney’s Project Safe Neighborhoods (“PSN”) initiative.  PSN is a critical piece of the Department of Justice’s crime reduction efforts. The PSN program focuses on prosecuting individuals who most significantly drive violence in our communities. It supports and fosters partnerships between law enforcement, schools, the faith community, and local community leaders, to prevent and deter future criminal conduct. In the Eastern District of Washington, U.S. Attorney Waldref has designated Yakima County for this special community-based crime-fighting program, to focus on reducing gang and gun-related violent crime in the Yakima Valley.

As part of the Safe Homes, Safe Community Initiative, United States Attorney Waldref announced the recent filing of Indictments against the following Defendants:

  1. United States v. Jose Trinidad Dealba: Indicted on October 12, 2022, for felon in possession of a firearm. Dealba is separately charged before the Yakima County Superior Court with, among other felony offenses, assault in the second degree arising from a domestic violence incident and multiple counts of assault in the first degree arising from an altercation with officers from the Yakima Police Department.
     
  2. United States v. Jeremiah Ledesma-Morales: Indicted on July 12, 2022, for felon in possession of a firearm. Ledesma-Morales is separately charged before the Yakima County Superior Court with, among other felony offenses, residential burglary, robbery in the first degree, and assault in the second degree arising from a domestic violence incident.
     
  3. United States v. James Duane Deckard: Indicted on June 22, 2022, for unlawful user of controlled substances and person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence in possession of a firearm and ammunition.

“We’ve seen too many cases in which domestic abusers have acquired and then used firearms to hurt or kill others,” said ATF Seattle Field Division Special Agent in Charge Jonathan T. McPherson. “ATF’s mission includes investigating those who possess and use firearms illegally.  To continue doing this, we’re proud to partner in Safe Homes, Safe Community to make our communities and families safer and keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers.”

“Domestic violence is a scourge in our community,” said YPD Chief Matthew Murray.  “Too many lives have been deeply impacted and even taken. In Yakima, we have redoubled our efforts to reduce domestic violence and have learned a great deal in the process.  Domestic violence may be the single biggest driver of future violent crimes of all types. Amazingly, U.S. Attorney Waldref learned about this effort, got some formidable minds together in her office, and developed a strategy to help.  In my 33 years in law enforcement, I have never seen anything like this cooperative effort.  Some domestic violence suspects now face federal charges, which is another powerful way to protect victims and potential victims.  I sincerely appreciate the incredible relationship and look forward to see the results from these efforts!”

“I commend the important work by the Yakima Police Department and ATF to develop and implement a model to quickly address dangerous domestic violence situations, identify the possession of unlawful firearms and reduce the risk of intimate partner homicide and community violence,” continued Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ellis.  “We will continue to work with our state and federal law enforcement partners to protect public safety and victims of domestic violence.” 

In an emergency, victims of domestic violence should call 911 or contact state or local law enforcement officials, who can respond to these crimes. Individuals in need of non-emergency assistance can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or visit www.TheHotline.org.

These cases were investigated by Yakima Police Department, Zillah Police Department, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  Assistant United States Attorneys Michael J. Ellis is prosecuting these cases on behalf of the United States.  

An indictment is merely an allegation. All Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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