Federal agents and city police were gratified when they took down the violent Northview Heights Crips in 2010 with an indictment that ultimately yielded 26 guilty pleas and subsequent lengthy prison terms.
But they also felt they missed one target -- Akeem Caldwell, 27.
Trial began Wednesday for Caldwell in U.S. District Court, where he is charged with possession of a gun by a convicted felon, a crime that could put him in prison for at least five years under tough federal sentencing guidelines for repeat gun offenders.
Caldwell -- identified by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as a member of the Crips -- has already been in prison for the same offense. He pleaded guilty in 2006 to that charge and was sentenced to 37 months.
City police say they caught him with a gun again in January.
Detective Mark Adametz of the vice unit testified Wednesday that he and two other detectives were patrolling Northview Heights late on Jan. 24 when Caldwell and a juvenile approached their unmarked car from behind. Detective Adametz said one of his partners, Judd Emery, saw Caldwell pull a gun from his waistband.
Detective Adametz said he drew his own gun and crouched in the back seat, aiming at Caldwell through the back window, while Detective Emery and another detective jumped out and ordered Caldwell to drop his weapon. He did, and police handcuffed him and recovered the gun.
Caldwell has told police the gun wasn't his.
Caldwell was arrested that night on a state charge of possession of an illegal gun. But many such charges are now being adopted federally, here and across the country, to give violent felons maximum time in the federal system instead of a light sentence, or sometimes no sentence, in the state system. ATF agents arranged to have him arrested at his preliminary hearing in April on a federal warrant.
ATF Agent Maurice Ferentino said he had presented evidence against Caldwell as part of the 2010 indictment of the Crips brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, one of the largest drug prosecutions here in recent years, but that the U.S. attorney's office declined to prosecute.
Gun prosecutions used to be handled by the district attorney's office, but the cases were often dismissed at the magistrate's level or dropped as part of plea bargains.
Under Project Safe Neighborhoods, a Justice Department initiative started in 2001, such cases are now prosecuted federally, where the penalties are much stiffer.
Since the project began here under former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, several hundred felons from the Pittsburgh region have gone to prison.
Torsten Ove: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1510.