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Six men indicted for illegal firearms possession, drugs
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SAVANNAH, GA:  Six defendants are among those facing federal charges including drug trafficking and illegal possession of firearms after separate indictments by a grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia, while recent actions in U.S. District Court include guilty pleas and criminal sentences related to illegal gun possession. 

The indicted cases are being investigated part of Project Safe Neighborhoods in collaboration with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, to reduce violent crime with measures that include targeting convicted felons who illegally carry guns.

“Our aggressive stance toward those who illegally possess firearms is a key part of our effort to reduce violent crime in the Southern District,” said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “Identifying and removing illegally possessed guns from our streets automatically makes our communities safer.”  

In the past four years, more than 755 defendants have been federally charged in the Southern District of Georgia for illegal firearms offenses – most often for possessing a firearm after conviction for a previous felony.

Defendants named in federal indictments from the May 2022 term of the U.S. District Court grand jury include:

  • Davonta Johnson, 31, of Hinesville, Ga., charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine; Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime; and Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person, relating to a prior conviction for domestic violence;
  • Melvin Jamarcus Lanier, 42, of Statesboro, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon; Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Distribute; and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime;
  • Quentin Van Walker, 34, of Dublin, Ga., charged with Distribution of Heroin; Possession of Stolen Firearms; Attempt to Possess with Intent to Distribute Fentanyl; and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking crime;
  • James Wayne Cooper Jr., 37, of Waynesboro, Ga., charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon;
  • Jeffrey J. Haynes, 30, of Savannah, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon; and,
  • Johnathan Nathaniel Heyward, 28, of Savannah, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon.

Criminal indictments contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Additional defendants recently have been adjudicated on federal charges that include illegal firearms possession:

  • Derek Hayes, 51, of Savannah, was sentenced to 120 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession of Stolen Firearms. Savannah Police officers arrested Hayes after finding two pistols in his vehicle during an October 2020 traffic stop, and later determined the pistols had been stolen. Hayes has a 20-year history of arrests and convictions for violent crimes.
  • Lannie Howard Morris III, 38, of Twin City, Ga., was sentenced to 110 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and fined $1,500 after pleading guilty to two counts of Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Morris escaped police after a December 2020 attempted traffic stop and chase, and then was arrested Jan. 26, 2021, by deputies from the Emanual County Sheriff’s Office after another brief chase. Multiple firearms were found in both vehicles after the incidents, along with drugs and other paraphernalia. At the time of his arrest, Morris was on parole from a previous state felony conviction. 
  • Larry Bennett Jr., 25, of Savannah, was sentenced to 44 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Savannah Police officers arrested Bennett in January 2020 when they found him in possession of two pistols during a traffic stop.
  • Asim Simmons Jr., 22, of Savannah, was sentenced to 30 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Savannah Police officers arrested Simmons in January 2021 after a traffic stop when they found him in possession of a loaded pistol. At the time of his arrest, Simmons was on parole from a prior conviction for robbery.
  • Joseph Deon Cuyler, 29, of Wrightsville, Ga., was sentenced to 46 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and fined $1,000 after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. The U.S. Marshals Service and Wrightsville Police arrested Cuyler April 15, 2021, on an outstanding felony warrant and found him in possession of a handgun.
  • Vesenta Cornelius Watson, 46, of Augusta, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm with an Obliterated Serial Number. Watson sped away from an attempted Richmond County Sheriff’s Office traffic stop in November 2021 and threw a duffel bag from the window of his vehicle. After taking Watson into custody, deputies retrieved the bag and found a pistol and illegal drugs inside.   
  • Thomas Kevin Robinson, 41, of Savannah, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Savannah Police responding to a shoplifting call in April 2021 chased Robinson in his vehicle and on foot, and found a pistol that he had dropped while running.   
  • Pernell D. Scott, 33, of Hephzibah, Ga., awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Richmond County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Scott after an October 2019 traffic stop when he was found in possession of a pistol.
  • Akil Shawron Brown, 21, of Savannah, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Receipt of a Firearm by a Person Under Indictment. Savannah Police officers charged Brown, who was out on bond pending adjudication of felony charges on the state level, after learning he was in possession of a pistol while being treated at a Savannah hospital.
  • Michael Jordan Sharp, 30, of Augusta, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Sharp was on parole from a felony conviction on state charges for sale of methamphetamine when Richmond County Sheriff’s deputies and officers from the Georgia Department of Community Supervision found a pistol while searching his residence. 
  • Deon McWhorter, 36, of Brunswick, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Brunswick Police officers found McWhorter asleep at the wheel of his vehicle, which was parked in the roadway, in August 2020; while taking McWhorter into custody, offices found a pistol in his pocket.
  • Shaquille Green, a/k/a “OC,” a/k/a “Scrill Rip Chop,” 28, of Savannah, awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Savannah Police arrested Green in October 2021 after investigating a report of a man brandishing a pistol during a youth football game.
  • Timothy Mario Mitchell, 24, of Savannah, was sentenced to 46 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Savannah Police officers arrested Mitchell in August 2020 after a brief chase when a pistol fell from the waistband of Mitchell’s shorts.   
  • Joe Welcome, 34, of Pooler, Ga., awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. During a September 2020 traffic stop, Savannah Police officers found two bags belonging to Welcome in a vehicle in which he was a passenger. One bag contained a loaded pistol, while the other held ammunition.

Agencies investigating these cases include the ATF, the FBI, the DEA, the Savannah Police Department, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, and the McDuffie County Sheriff’s Office.

The cases are being prosecuted for the United States by Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office Assistant U.S. Attorneys, including Jeremiah L. Johnson, John P. Harper III, and Marcela C. Mateo, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Darron J. Hubbard, with firearms forfeitures coordinated through the Southern District of Georgia U.S. Attorney’s Office Asset Recovery Unit.

Under federal law, it is illegal for an individual to possess a firearm if he or she falls into one of nine prohibited categories including being a felon; illegal alien; or unlawful user of a controlled substance. Further, it is unlawful to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense or violent crime. It is also illegal to purchase – or even to attempt to purchase – firearms if the buyer is a prohibited person or illegally purchasing a firearm on behalf of others. Lying on ATF Form 4473, which is used to lawfully purchase a firearm, also is a federal offense. 

For more information from the ATF on the lawful purchasing of firearms, please see: https://www.atf.gov/qa-category/atf-form-4473.

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