Crimewatch: APD’s Gun Unit expands to keep up with gun crimes - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Crimewatch: APD’s Gun Unit expands to keep up with gun crimes

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Austin Police Department's Gun Unit has expanded to keep up with the growing number of gun crimes. Still, detectives say the workload is overwhelming and prevents them from doing any pro-active operations. It is the unit that sends the bad guys to prison when other units can't.

Just one case in the gun unit warrants hundreds of pages of documentation. This is one federal case. Cases that go to the district attorneys office don't usually look like this. 

Detectives investigate all gun possession cases but focus on convicted felons and those with lengthy criminal histories.

"They have five, six, seven, sometimes more felony convictions in their past," said APD Detective TJ Vineyard.

Detective Vineyard, considers repeat felons a continuing threat to society. He says taking gun cases federal means the bad guys get more prison time. There's also more supervision once felons are released. Taking them off the streets longer, and in turn, preventing future crimes by career criminals.

"There's no better indicator of future behavior than past behavior," Vineyard said.

For example, take the case of Daniel Raul Espinoza. He's seen in this strip club surveillance video carrying a gun. His friend tells him to put it away. Espinoza had just fired off shots outside. Another surveillance camera shows him denying it to club management. He was arrested for unlawful carry of a firearm at a prohibited place or a business that sells alcohol. But because he is a career criminal, his punishment was enhanced to 15 and a half years in the federal pen.

Another example is Anthony Hardemann. Detective Doug Skolaut calls him, Mr. Sam Rayburn, after a street in North Austin.

"It's known for narcotics prostitution, its just a bad area," said Skolaut.

He says Hardemann ran the area but police hadn't had luck getting him. That's until police tied shell casings from shots fired in a case back to Hardemann. He is also a career criminal. So in federal court, he got 17 and a half years.

Gun Unit detectives are also on a task force with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Investigators work hand in hand, taking guns away from prohibitive people. There are several in this group, including, convicted felons, fugitives, illegal immigrants, narcotics users, those convicted of domestic violence, those issued restraining orders for harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child, and those who renounce their U.S. citizenship. But it's the demand for guns from drug cartels in Mexico that will keep investigators busy.

"As the pressure along the border for gun trafficking increases, the people looking for guns will come north, head up I-35, we straddle it. San Antonio, Dallas so the market opens up for those people," said ATF Resident Agent Michael Reyes.

Detective Vineyard came up with the idea of starting a Gun Unit back in the 90's when he was on patrol. He put his ideas in a memo to his superiors. The unit wasn't started until years later. The idea behind it is getting guns off the streets reduces violent crimes.

Detectives say they want to do more now to get guns off the streets but can't.

"These are cases that come from patrol. We know there are other people out there that have the guns but we don't have the resources and manpower to go out and be proactive and seize guns," Skolaut said.

Detective Skolaut offers another reason for the need of proactive operations. He says officers responding to misdemeanor calls, like theft, shouldn't have to expect an armed and dangerous suspect. But that's what happened to his fellow officer Jaime Padron. On April 6, he responded to a shoplifting call at Wal-Mart. Instead of taking a shoplifter into custody, he was gunned down in cold blood.

There are currently five detectives in the firearms unit.

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