JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi’s fill-in chief federal law enforcement officer for Southern Mississippi stepped onto a battlefield when he took over as Acting U.S. Attorney on January 20 after U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst resigned.
Since then, Jackson has seen a more than 70% spike in homicides over 2020 and Acting U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca says he’s aware of the reality of the crisis.
“No one wants to see violent crime anywhere, especially Jackson; it’s high on our priority list and we’re doing everything we can to fight it right now,” LaMarca said.
While new to this role, LaMarca has been prosecuting organized drug trafficking, financial crimes, and public corruption in the U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2007.
Before that, he was a municipal judge in Clinton.
Despite being on the job less than three months and not knowing how long he’ll stay, LaMarca said he’s trying to keep communication lines open.
“We’re trying our dead-level best to bring all the parties to the table to have meaningful conversations about what we can do in the prosecution of the very bad people and those that are committing the violent crime as well as what we can assist the Jackson police department in investigating state crimes that would be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” he said.
The career prosecutor says his office has gone to JPD in the last two months to discuss investigations.
“We’ve talked with certain commanders and investigators about cases and we hope that will lead to prosecuting some people that need to be prosecuted as well as trying to curb the violence that has afflicted the city,” he said.
Among hot topics, LaMarca said his office has helped police understand what’s required to prosecute a felon in possession of a firearm or what they call a Hobbs Act robbery, for example, the 5 Jackson men sentenced to federal prison for armed robberies.
He adds the state has recently begun a “constructive collaboration” with the Hinds County District Attorney in acquiring cases that federal prosecution can help with.
They are also continuing weekly Project EJECT meetings with Jackson’s Police Department, although LaMarca regrettably admitted JPD has been absent.
“The Jackson Police Department has always been invited but we’ve not had someone from JPD attend those meetings since the new year began,” LaMarca said. “We’re hoping they will come but they are stretched thin. The men and women of JPD are understaffed and they’re being asked to do more with less and have been for many years.”
EJECT is the acronym for Empower Justice Expel Crime Together, a program by local and state leaders that aims to reduce violent crime through prosecution, prevention, re-entry, and awareness; one of many ongoing crime-fighting tools.
And this week, LaMarca said his office is getting trained on how federal law enforcement agencies can help in instances of domestic violence and understanding what’s needed at the local level when someone is convicted of domestic violence or when someone is under a protective order.
U.S. Attorneys must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, so LaMarca couldn’t apply for the job if he wanted to, but he vows to do what he can while he can.
WLBT is awaiting a response from JPD on if and why they missed Project EJECT meetings.