Baltimore County Councilman Julian Jones on Friday pressed the state’s attorney in the county to halt an ongoing trend of prosecutors refraining from charging neighborhood gun cases with firearms and carrying charges, including multiple incidents earlier this month.
Jones criticized State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger for what he described as a “very permissive” criminal justice strategy that allows gun crimes to be more difficult to prosecute in a high-crime part of the county. He said the strategy has left some of those in the county’s uppermost-class neighborhoods feel victimized and threatened.
“It sends a very permissive message of not wanting to put people in jail for doing something wrong and making those very communities feel perverted,” Jones said.
Jones has been a vocal critic of the handling of some gun crimes in the past and unsuccessfully proposed legislation last year to bring back the carrying requirement for gun offenses. His council colleagues questioned whether he had launched an initiative as part of a grassroots push but didn’t get to decide on the matter or seek a vote from his colleagues.
Neither Shellenberger nor his chief of staff could be reached for comment Friday.
Jones and Shellenberger have often butted heads over guns and criminal justice reform. Last year, Jones described the state’s attorney as “broken” and said he needed to be “fixed” during an interview with WTOP radio. Shellenberger wrote a New York Times op-ed in 2015, headlined “The Wrong Guys Are in Jail,” arguing against a proposal for mandatory minimums for offenders with multiple gun convictions, saying the city and the county should review recent legislation for failure to address broader incarceration issues and solutions.
In 2016, Shellenberger’s office stopped trying to charge the majority of gun crimes it attempted to prosecute in suburban counties like Howard and Anne Arundel with firearms and carrying. A decision to opt out of charging the crimes came in response to unsuccessful attempts to bring them to trial in high-profile cases, like the 2015 death of a Leesburg man at the hands of Baltimore County police Officer Haron Wint in Howard County.
Jones said the prosecutor’s strategy leaves some of his constituents feeling like their community is under attack.
“I’m worried that there’s real, there’s real people in that communities, and they’re afraid to go about their business,” Jones said.
Shellenberger has resisted the likelihood of real bloodshed in wealthy neighborhoods, like the one Jones represents. He told the Baltimore Sun in June 2016 the murders of three Baltimore County police officers who had been gunned down in 2013 “caught us by surprise.”
Last week, a Virginia lawmaker suggested abolishing gun laws in the suburbs to help those who move to the area take care of their families. Jones called that idea “pie in the sky.”