Questions about what kind of penalty loomed for a participant in the city's first violence reduction call-in over his subsequent arrest with a loaded Glock pistol prompted a flurry of statements Tuesday from City Hall and the Chattanooga Police Department.
The potential for heavy sentences is an integral part of the violence reduction initiative.
Yet all indications were that Aveus Bailey, even with his lengthy criminal record, would not face federal penalties on charges of evading arrest, carrying a dangerous weapon with the intent to go armed, tampering with evidence and theft because he was not a felon.
"For him just to get caught with a gun under his seat when his name hasn't come up in anything else lately, it doesn't throw the red flag up," said Lt. Todd Royval, the police department's point man for the Violence Reduction Initiative. "I'm not going to go ask the district attorney to no-bond him or give him a maximum sentence because really he hasn't done anything for me to push that envelope."
Mayor Andy Berke said authorities never planned to go after call-in participants for just having a gun. While he said any form of crime hurts the city, he has to keep his word to the participants of the call-in when he said that certain actions have certain consequences.
"It's about shooting people. If a body drops and your group is identified we will throw the book at you and your whole group," Berke said. "It's not about throwing the book at people who deal drugs or get caught with a gun."
But by 7 p.m., Royval said he made a "big mistake." Bailey indeed is a felon -- in 2010 the then 17-year-old pleaded guilty to a pair of robberies -- and will face federal charges stemming from his arrest on April 10, Royval said.
One of Berke's primary goals is to reduce the number of shootings in Chattanooga, and his Violence Reduction Initiative was rolled out specifically for that purpose.
In High Point, N.C., the city after which Chattanooga has modeled its crime reduction strategy, offenders are told that they will be targeted for any violent infraction, including the possession of guns and bullets. For felons, possession of a single bullet -- it didn't even have to be in a gun -- would cost them more than a decade in federal prison.
The tough stance is tempered with offers of community aid, and in the last decade violence in High Point has plummeted. Residents there say murders and shootings have been curbed because the community knows that police will aggressively prosecute any criminal caught with guns or involved in acts of violence.
Bailey is a gang member who was considered enough of a threat to be invited to the city's first violence reduction call-in.
But absent the realization that he had been convicted of a felony, his possession of a loaded gun in Chattanooga could have resulted in little more than a probation violation. In fact, there's a chance he could still have been allowed to receive help from one of the city's VRI partners in finding a job or finishing his education because that's how the program is intended to work here.
Bailey is the second participant arrested since the March 20 call-in and the first to head to federal court. Meanwhile, some participants have been placed in jobs and reached out for other help.
Police arrested Bailey, 21, on April 10 when they found a gun underneath the passenger seat of a vehicle he was riding in. According to an arrest affidavit included in Bailey's probation violation report, Bailey fled from police on foot after an officer started to search the vehicle he was riding in.
Bailey surrendered to police after attempting to climb a fence.
When asked by an officer why he ran, Bailey said there was a gun underneath the passenger seat of the Ford Expedition where he had been sitting.
Upon leaving the call-in, Bailey told The Times Free Press he liked what he heard from police who told him to stop the violence and planned to do what he was told.
He also said he would tell other members of his Rollin 60 Crips street gang to stop the violence.
But Bailey did not meet with his probation officer following the call-in.
He is being held at the Silverdale detention facility.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at email@example.com or 423-757-6659.
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...