Gun pulled at school event

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A dispute at a sixth-grade graduation program may wind up in the hands of federal prosecutors once the case is reviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Mobile.

Linden Police Chief Jeff Laduron said Tuesday his department had forwarded the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office after Felicia Johnson, 33, or 23575 Alabama Highway 69, Sweetwater, and Teletha Bates, 32, of 2693 Pleasant Hill Road in Magnolia, were arrested May 15 at Austin Junior High School.

Johnson was charged with disorderly conduct, and Bates, who drew a .22 caliber pistol in the dispute, was charged with disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment.

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“We have zero tolerance for violence of any kind in our schools,” Laduron said. “Anytime there’s a problem at a school, somebody goes to jail.”

The case was referred to the federal prosecutors under the Alabama ICE Program that clears the way for local law enforcement to refer cases for federal prosecutors. Convictions under ICE, an acronym for “isolating the criminal element,” carry a minimum sentence of five years imprisonment and do not preclude state-level prosecution.

“This is just a preliminary review and I don’t know if they’ll take the case,” Laduron said.

A part of the federal Project Safe Neighborhood, the ICE program is a comprehensive national initiative to reduce gun violence, according to the Department of Justice.

Partnering on the federal side with the U.S Attorney are the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Essentially, the program allows for the federal prosecution of gun crimes and for state prosecution as well. Tougher federal gun statutes provide local law enforcement agencies an alternative sentencing.

“The penalties under federal law are probably more severe,” Laduron said.

Federal prosecutors say the benefits to local law enforcement include no parole of convicts in the federal system, stricter gun laws and laws that apply to convicted criminals caught with guns, moving cases to trial more quickly and that individuals charged under the federal statutes can also be charged in state courts.

“I don’t have any sympathy for problems in schools,” Laduron said. “We just don’t mess around with it.”