Douglas County’s top prosecutor says law enforcement has seen an increase in the past two years in the number of robberies of suspected drug dealers in Lawrence.
“These crimes are very dangerous. You risk a chance of serious bodily harm and death every time one of these occurs,” District Attorney Charles Branson said.
Branson called it a “dramatic rise” in these types of crimes occurring in the city but said his office has had success in prosecuting the cases that become some of Lawrence’s more high-profile robberies because they often involve people being held at gunpoint and include other physical violence.
Suspects believe they can steal money and drugs, usually from a low-level marijuana dealer, who likely won’t make a report to police to hide his own illegal activity.
“When drugs are involved, there‘s usually either a large quantity of drugs or quantities of money,” said Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib, who previously supervised a countywide drug-investigation unit. “Both things are commodities in the criminal world.”
In several recent cases suspects were caught because the victims did call police — or the suspects were mistaken and robbed people who had nothing to do with dealing drugs.
Prosecutors have been able to convict multiple people in six drug-related robbery cases since May 2010, including:
- Two former Kansas University football players, Vernon Brooks, 24, and Jamal Greene, 23, who received 60 days in jail and two years on probation for holding four Kansas University students, including two women, at gunpoint May 14, 2010, at Tuckaway Apartments, 2600 W. Sixth St. Prosecutors said they thought they could steal drugs and money from a back bedroom.
- Three Lawrence men, Joshua Self, 18, Christopher Self, and Douglas Bittinger, both 20, who received more than three years in prison for using a BB gun to rob two men at The Exchange, 3100 Ousdahl Road, because they thought the men had high-grade marijuana. One victim was knocked unconscious and another victim was also struck.
- Several people in connection with two incidents on back-to-back nights last December at a Louisiana Street apartment. In court documents, prosecutors accuse three Wichita men, who have not yet been convicted, of acting under the recruitment and direction of Michael Hammond, 20, who wanted to rob someone in the building believed to be a drug dealer. But the suspects burst into the wrong apartment on Dec. 2 and held three female KU students at gunpoint.
Hammond eventually pleaded no contest to two conspiracy counts after prosecutors accused him and three friends of trying to take the job into their own hands the next night. Police foiled that attempt.
Branson said most victims in the recent cases are typically younger, college-age people who begin selling drugs on a small scale.
“These cases just run such a high risk of personal injury and bodily harm for these folks — all over supporting their own habit or trying to make a few extra bucks,” he said.
Prosecutors typically have to offer immunity to victims in the case on drug charges related to the robbery incident, although they can prosecute them for anything that occurred before or after, Branson said. Also, the victims might contaminate a crime scene in their efforts to hide certain things, Khatib said.
Prosecutors and police in these cases want to target the robbery suspects because they have the potential to turn deadly.
Kellam D. Jones, 20, of Lawrence, is serving a 14-year sentence for his role in a June 2008 double homicide in the 1300 block of Delaware Street. Jones and his friend, Gage Hauk, 18, of McLouth, had attempted to rob 20-year-old Roland Klundt at his home of drugs and money.
Branson said Klundt had armed himself after a burglary a week earlier, so Klundt shot and killed Hauk who was armed with an air pistol, and Jones then shot and killed Klundt with a semi-automatic rifle.
Khatib said dealers who are robbed should call police because they could be helping another future victim, including themselves.
“Anybody who has the ability to go in and rob someone at gunpoint also has the ability to do something else as well,” he said.
Two men, Timothy Hays and Louis Galloway Jr., were shot in August 2009 while trying to rob a suspected drug dealer at Easy Living Mobile Home Park, 3323 Iowa. Prosecutors charged both Galloway and Hays, who recovered from their injuries, but they had to drop the case later when the robbery victim refused to testify.
Both Galloway and Hays are now serving prison sentences for subsequent crimes. Hays robbed the KU Credit Union, 3400 W. Sixth St., and received a federal prison sentence. Galloway, 21, last week received more than five years in prison for punching and injuring a Lawrence officer during a February car stop.
Branson said his office works to prosecute drug sale and distribution cases apart from these robberies, but prosecutors also work to get the word out about other consequences for dealing drugs.
“They have to understand that if they’re going to participate in illegal drug activity, that it’s inherently dangerous,” he said. “And there is a good likelihood they will be the target of a violent crime.”