Aug. 29—COLUMBUS — The results from a four-day multi-agency operation to curb violent crime in Columbus were announced at a recent press conference, with dozens of repeat violent offenders and gang members taken into custody, along with firearms and drugs.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Peter D. Leary joined with Muscogee County Sheriff Greg Countryman and Columbus Police Chief Freddie Blackmon to announce the results of "Operation Washout River City," a Department of Justice Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative.
Conducted by the U.S. Marshals Service-Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, FBI, ATF, DEA, GBI, Georgia Department of Community Supervision, Georgia State Patrol, Organized Crime and Gang Unit-Atlanta, Muscogee County Sheriff's Office and Columbus Police Department, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Georgia, more than 50 investigators executed search warrants resulting in 57 arrests between Aug. 9-12, clearing a total of 128 active warrants. The individuals taken into custody as part of the operation are gang members and/or repeat violent offenders, with criminal state charges including homicide, kidnapping, rape, possession of illegal firearms and aggravated assault, among others.
During the operation, law enforcement seized 27 firearms and 1.885 kilograms of illegal drugs, including methamphetamine and cocaine. These cases are currently under federal investigation, and no federal charges have been filed at this time.
"Reducing violent crime in Columbus and in every city across the Middle District of Georgia is the highest priority; there is nothing more important that the safety of our citizens," Leary said. "The U.S. Attorney's Office will continue to direct our federal resources toward the most significant drivers of violent crime in each community, working directly with community stakeholders to strategically identify the most pressing criminal issues and take action."
"The violent crime initiative held between Aug. 9-12 certainly disrupted criminal activity in the Columbus area for that week, but I hope that the impact of the operation is to deter crime for many weeks to come," U.S. Marshal John Cary Bittick said. "Columbus is a beautiful city, and the people who live and work here deserve a community that they can be proud to call home. I am committed to working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to support Project Safe Neighborhoods, and I will support any initiative that targets violent crime in the Middle District of Georgia."
"Law enforcement operations such as this promote inter-agency cooperation and networking, act as force multipliers, extend our reach beyond the borders of Muscogee County and enhance the overall effectiveness of our daily operations," Muscogee County Sheriff Greg Countryman said. "This particular operation gave the ability to remove violent offenders from our community and bring those responsible for their respective crimes before the courts, so that victims and family members can see justice served by the courts on their behalf.
"Although we recognize that we cannot arrest our way out of current circumstances, we also recognize that we cannot sit idly by and allow for lawlessness to maintain a foothold within Muscogee County either. Those that contribute to the demise of neighborhoods by engaging in violence and illicit activity can count on similar visits during future operations of this sort".
"Operation Washout River City was utilized to target gang members and other violent criminal offenders," Columbus Police Chief Freddie Blackmon said. "In order to maintain a safe city, we will continue to target gang members and those who commit violent criminal offenses. This behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated."
In addition, Operation Washout River City is a response to The Department of Justice's Comprehensive Violent Crime Reduction Strategy announced on May 26, 2021. The comprehensive strategy supports local communities in preventing, investigating and prosecuting gun violence and other violent crime — and requires U.S. Attorneys' offices to work with federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement, as well as the communities they serve, to address the most significant drivers of violence in their districts.
Criminal charges are merely allegations and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.