Aug 19, 2020
AG William Barr Press Conference Transcript August 19: Operation Legend
AG William Barr held a press conference in Kansas City on August 19 to discuss Operation Legend. He said 1485 arrests have been made so far under the mission. Read the transcript of the briefing speech here.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
You guys can move down just a bit here so that … You stand there. Keep moving. You can be right behind whoever speaks. Maybe a little bit further. Move a little bit just so you don’t get hid in there.
Tim Garrison: (01:48)
Well, good morning. My name is Tim Garrison and I am the United States Attorney for the Western district of Missouri. Last month, the Department of Justice announced an unprecedented surge of criminal investigators from the FBI, the DEA, the ATF, and the United States Marshall Service to support, not supplant, but support, the Kansas City Police Department in response to an unprecedented surge in violent crime in this city. With the enthusiastic support of his grieving parents, the operation was named in honor of four year old Legend Taliferro, who was senselessly killed as he slept in his family’s apartment. His parents want Legend’s legacy to be a reduction in the violent crime plaguing cities across our country and we are honored to have them with us today.
Tim Garrison: (02:39)
Operation Legend is working. In just four weeks. It’s resulted in the arrest of 18 homicide suspects and the seizure of over 70 illegal firearms. In June, Kansas City had more than three killings every four days. Since our announcement on July the eighth, that rate has been reduced to fewer than three killings every five days. Our clearance rate, that is the rate of homicides that are solved and referred to a prosecutor, has increased from 34% on June 1st to 45% today. There is much to be done, but to use the parlance of our day, we are flattening the curve.
Tim Garrison: (03:22)
But this is not about numbers. This is about people. People like Legend, who survived heart surgery as an infant, only to be killed by a criminal. His life mattered. It’s about people like eight year old Brian Bartlett, who was killed in his sleep last August. His life mattered. I know what it means to be the victim of gun violence. When I was five years old, I saw my mother shot in a robbery attempt. Violent crime is terrifying. It destroys people and it destroys communities and it has to stop. We must have the rule of law. We are grateful here in Kansas City to have these additional resources and we are gratified to see Operation Legend expand to other cities, represented by my colleagues behind me here. It’s now my privilege to introduce the Attorney General of the United States, the honorable Bill Barr, to talk about the impact Operation Legend is having across the country. Attorney General.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (04:28)
Thanks. Thank you. Thank you, Tim. And good morning, everyone. I’m pleased to be here in Kansas city this morning to give you an update on Project Legend, Operation Legend, one of the most significant law enforcement operations in the Department of Justice. I’d like to thank Chief Smith, the Chief of the Kansas City Police Department for his superbly leadership. And for hosting me today. We launched Operation Legend in Kansas City and one of the key factors in that decision was that we were working with a superb police department and outstanding police leadership. Three weeks ago, we’ve substantially expanded Operation Legend, and we’re now underway in nine us cities. As Tim mentioned, the operation is named for Legend Taliferro, a four year old boy who was shot while he was asleep in his apartment. For us, Legend is a symbol of the many hundreds of innocent lives that have been taken in the recent upsurge of crime in many of our urban areas.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (05:53)
His life mattered and the lives of all of those victims matter. His name should be remembered and his senseless death, like those of all the other innocent victims in this recent surge should be unacceptable to all Americans. Through Operation Legend, the federal government has dispatched to these nine cities, more than a thousand additional agents to work shoulder to shoulder with our state and local partners. And when I say shoulder to shoulder, I mean, literally. I just had the pleasure of visiting the Kansas City Police Department and meeting the homicide squads, the four homicide squads and the two assault squads and visiting with them, the Kansas City police detectives on those squads, but embedded with those squads are FBI agents, DEA agents, and ATF agents, working literally shoulder to shoulder with them to crack these cases.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (07:02)
Here in Kansas City, for example, there were 185 additional agents from the FBI, DEA ATF, and the US Marshalls. Also, to support this operation, we’ve allocated $78.5 million in grants and other funds made available to our state and local partners. These grants, for example, go to support additional police positions. In some states, we have used them to hire more prosecutors and we have also used these funds to bring to bear some improved technology to help us solve these crimes, particularly in the area of firearms crimes. We saw one result of those efforts last week when Kansas City police arrested the suspected murderer of Legend. The arrest was the product of very hard work by the Kansas City [inaudible 00:08:06] and was supported by critical assist [inaudible 00:08:07] FBI. This will not bring Legend back, but it will make his case an example of how we can come together to take violent criminals off the street and to make our communities safer.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (08:29)
Legend’s mother and father are here and when I met her in Washington, I promised that Legend’s death would not be in vain and he will inspire us to greater efforts to make Kansas City safe. And [inaudible 00:08:53]. She also strongly supported expanding our efforts beyond Kansas City so that other communities around the country can be made safer. I’m here today with not only Tim, the US Attorney here in Kansas City, but the Deputy Director of the FBI, David Bowditch, who was instrumental in launching Operation Legend. The other US Attorneys from Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Memphis, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and Albuquerque. They’re deeply committed to this operation and we have some encouraging early results.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (09:35)
To start, I’d like to put things in a bit of context. The most basic duty of government is to provide for the safety of the community. In 1991 and 1992, first time I was Attorney General, violent crime rate that year was at an all time high in the United States. It’s never been higher. And for the three decades leading up to that year…
Attorney General Bill Barr: (10:03)
And for the three decades leading up to that year, violent crime had tripled in the United States. At that time, we made the decision in the federal government to dramatically increase our role to focus on combating violent crime and we launched a series of initiatives focused on drugs, drug organizations, gangs, and gun offenders. We also expanded our close collaboration with state and local law enforcement and built up task forces to go after these violent offenders and predators, and over the next 25 years, the crime has steadily fallen and it’s now half of the level it was in 1991 and 1992.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (10:54)
That’s a lot of lives that have been saved. Now in 2015 and ’16, it went up a little bit, but I’m happy that at least during the last three years of this administration, it again is on a downward trajectory, except for this year, 2020. While we haven’t finished the year yet and we haven’t looked at all the nationwide numbers reported yet, this could be a bad year for violent crime and arrest a trend that as I say has been going on for almost 30 years. This spike may have a lot of reasons behind it. I think some of it may be the pent-up aggression prompted by state and local quarantine orders. I definitely a lot of it is due to the premature release of dangerous criminals by the courts and by prosecutors and I think it also is related to the efforts that we’ve recently seen to demonize police and to defund their work.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (12:04)
Operation Legend is the heart of the federal government’s response to this upturn in violent crime. It’s mission is to save lives, solve crimes, and take violent offenders off the streets before they can claim more victims. Rather than demonizing and defunding our police, we are supporting and strengthening our law enforcement partners at the state and local level. So far, federal state task forces involved in Operation Legend have made almost 1,500 arrests. I think it’s 1,485 to be precise. Many of those arrests are for violent state crimes including 90 homicides, like LeGend’s murderer. That’s more than 90 suspected killers who might still be on the streets without Operation LeGend, and in many cities, as I said, the operation is just getting started.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (13:12)
Now we make decision as we go along in consultation and jointly with our state partners as to whether it makes more sense to pursue a case through the state prosecution system or through the federal system and so prisoners are charged in both under this operation. Of those arrested, we have charged more than 200 for federal crimes and that includes more than 100 charged for federal gun crimes, 21 of which have been here in Kansas City. Now bringing federal charges is helpful because in many states, it is very hard now today to keep violent criminals in pretrial detention. They’re just let right out on the street again but in the federal system, we have a better ability to hold on to violent offenders, keep them in custody pending disposition of their case. This is critical for community policing.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (14:14)
We hear a lot of talk from people about how important community policing is and it is and good police departments have that, but the essential ingredient for it is that the community feels safe when they’re dealing with the police and they’re providing information to the police. What typically happens is that where there is no pretrial detention and people in the community feel that the criminals are going to be right back out on the street within hours, they’re extremely hesitant to work closely with the police, so this is a very important tool. It’s a tool that the states need but during this period with such a high murder rate, we’re stepping forward so that we can help keep some of these offenders off the streets.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (15:03)
It’s also important because … In far too many states, the sentences are too lenient and do not incapacitate these violent criminals long enough and do not provide a deterrent and do not encourage them to cooperate once they’re captured and in the federal system, we have very strong sentences for violent crimes and that helps us get further information from these offenders and criminals know that. They know that the federal system means business and we’re putting them out of business of violence in our cities.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (15:43)
Our work is just getting started. Well let me just pause and say there have been a number of photographs of guns appearing on this screen and one of the important developments of Legend has been the seizure of hundreds and hundreds of firearms in our Legend cities. Here in Kansas City, I think we’re … 78 firearms have been seized and as you can tell these are not pop guns. A lot of these are high-powered AR-15 type guns with huge magazines, drum magazines so getting them off the street is saving lives and we are using very sophisticated ballistic investigation technology to pursue more than 500 leads to solve more gun crimes. So our work is just getting started. There is no more important mission for the Department of Justice than keeping our community safe and through this operation, we’re going to continue working with our state and local partners to do just that. So now, I’d like to ask Chief Smith and LeGend’s mother Charron if they would like to say a few words and I’ll start with you, Chief Smith.
Rick Smith: (17:16)
Thank you Mr. Attorney General. Rick smith, Kansas City, Missouri police chief. This morning as we were going through some things with the attorney general, one thing became noticeable as we walked to our cases is that we wouldn’t have solved the cases as timely as we had and we wouldn’t have had suspects in custody without federal partnerships. When I turned to the attorney general, I said this is absolutely making a difference and I hope the message that’s sent to our community is that this difference makes, that these arrests make a difference, and it will make a difference on our violent crime rate overall in Kansas City. When we started this operation, I said it’s not about the agents that came here, it’s about the violence that’s occurring and what we want to do is for the violence to subside. So thank you very much to all the partners who have helped us.
Charron Powell: (18:08)
Hello, I’m Charron Powell, LeGend’s mother. I just want to say thank you for everyone that had a helping hand into solving my son’s case and I also want to thank the community because I know for a fact we had a lot of tips and help from the community so I truly appreciate the help that we had but I want to express that the community, we have to help each other with the other cases that they’re working on to help solve. If you have any information, any tips, I think just go ahead and give them a call so we can help solve other murders like my son because I know we have had a lot of children that was murdered in our city and as a community we have to come together to help solve the rest of these murders because this is just the beginning.
Charron Powell: (18:57)
Yes I [inaudible 00:18:58] get justice for my son but I also want to make sure I help everyone out that I can so we can get justice for you guys also, and like I said I want to thank every single person that had a helping hand into solving my son’s case. The blood, the sweat, the tears, I appreciate it. I thank you and my family, we all thank you. It has helped to lift a slight weight off of us. No, we don’t have our son back, but at the same time, we have a light weight lifted off of us and I appreciate everyone and I thank you.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (19:31)
Thank you Charron. So with that, I’m glad to take some questions.
Speaker 2: (19:39)
Attorney General Barr, the majority of homicides in Kansas City and nationwide stem from arguments. So can you elaborate on any federal efforts to address the root causes of crime and specific variables related to crime in an effort to reduce violent crime longterm?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (19:58)
Well there have been efforts addressed to trying to figure out what the root cause is of –
Attorney General Bill Barr: (20:03)
… address trying to figure out what the root causes of violent crime are and to address them, and they’ve been going on for 70, 80 years.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (20:11)
The Department of Justice, the enforcement agencies, our primary responsibility is to deal with crime. The social conditions that contribute to crime, the fact that people argue with each other and so forth, is really something that other agencies should be focused on. Now, the police have been called upon recently to do more and more work in areas where other professions and other agencies have let the ball drop. So increasingly, police have to deal with mental illness, homelessness, drug addiction, and they have been taking on that burden to some extent.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (20:51)
But in terms of broad questions about people’s argumentativeness and social conditions that may contribute to crime, the government has been working on that and spending trillions and trillions of dollars over the years on that. And one point I’ve always made is none of this money spent, none of the educational efforts, none of the vocational efforts or recreational activities can bear fruit in an atmosphere where there’s blood flowing on the street.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (21:28)
One of the things that’s always concerned me is it’s always been presented, or usually presented as a dichotomy, which is, let’s attack the root causes versus those who are actually committing crimes. And it can’t be a dichotomy, because none of the efforts to rehabilitate communities can bear fruit in an atmosphere of bloodshed. So the first step, in my view, is to provide safety, safety to the community, and that’s the job of law enforcement.
Speaker 3: (22:03)
Attorney General, you mentioned 1485, that’s the number of arrests that have been made under Operation Legend-
Attorney General Bill Barr: (22:09)
Speaker 3: (22:09)
So far. How many of those who were arrested remain in custody today?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (22:22)
I’m not sure. Where’s Justin?
Right here, sir.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (22:22)
Yeah, Justin, do you know?
We’ll have to get the answer for you. As you know, the marshals have been very active. Let me take this off, sorry.
As you know, the marshals have been very active in making arrests on fugitives, and so our expectation is when somebody is a fugitive and they’re returned on a warrant, we stand a much better chance in our state or federal court of having that person detained. But we don’t have an exact number for you at the moment. We can work on getting that for you.
Speaker 3: (22:43)
Is that something you’re tracking?
That’s a very complicated question because there’s so many different courts that are in play, but we’re working on an answer for it. It’s a good question, but we’ll get you an answer.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (22:54)
The one thing I didn’t mention is, in addition to the arrest, we had the marshals apprehending fugitives, and we have apprehended, as part of Operation Legend, over a thousand fugitives. Most of those are on state charges.
Speaker 4: (23:13)
Operation Legend is a federal initiative, but the person that was charged with a homicide for killing Legend was only faced with state charges. You mentioned earlier that the FBI played a role in his apprehension. Can you tell us a little bit why no federal charges against the gentleman who allegedly murdered Legend?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (23:34)
Because as far as I know, there was no federal offense involved in that. Is that correct? Yeah. Federal code has a number of laws that if you break it, it’s a federal offense, and state law otherwise governs. But-
Speaker 4: (23:55)
I guess my question is what was the federal government role in incarcerating him? [inaudible 00:24:03].
Attorney General Bill Barr: (24:02)
Right, so I’m going to ask the deputy director to comment on that, but let me just say generally, what I was trying to describe to you is these are task forces where you have both state and federal officers working cases, and then decisions are made as to whether it’s better to charge it as a state case or a federal case. So the federal government will assist state law enforcement as they pursue investigations of state cases, and then sometimes it’s found out during that investigation that there has been a federal violation as well, in which case we sometimes charge that as a federal. But as to the specifics in that case, my understanding is that both the FBI and the U.S. Marshals assisted the Kansas City police. I’m not sure whether Chief Smith or Dave Bowdich would address that. Yeah.
Rick Smith: (24:57)
Well, good question, first off. I think it’s important to understand as the attorney general mentioned earlier, we work side by side. And when I say we, I’m talking Department of Justice components, to include the ATF, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals and the FBI. We work side by side with state and local detectives across the country in all the major cities and many of the smaller cities. Not going to get into specifics of this particular case, because it is now going to be adjudicated. What I will say is it’s very common for us to, all of us, to conduct surveillances, search warrants, interviews, social media exploitation, general court process, and general investigative techniques, as part of our task forces that are both joint and federal task forces.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (25:45)
Chief, did you want to add something? Yes.
Speaker 5: (25:54)
Of the 18 local cases that have been arrested on homicide [inaudible 00:25:54] mentioned earlier, how many of those have been charged at this point?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (25:57)
It’s my understanding that five have been charged.
Speaker 6: (26:07)
[inaudible 00:26:07] Barr, can you provide any update on the unrest in Portland? When the additional federal resources have brought in there and obviously an update of the man being beaten, crashing in a protest, these kids and traction online, is there any federal investigation at this point or are any DOJ components involved in that? Maybe expand a little on that.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (26:27)
Yeah, it’s my understanding that we now have a suspect in that beating and in terms of federal resources, there hasn’t been any significant change in the federal resources there. I think the FBI has been providing investigative personnel to help pursue some of the investigations.
Speaker 2: (26:55)
Out of the 1500 arrests, how confident are you that you’ll be able to have the evidence to ultimately lead to convictions in these cases?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (27:08)
Well, I’m pretty confident the evidence will be there, but I think one of the problems we have in the criminal justice system now is revolving door justice. And I think too many criminals. To tell you the truth, during my exposure to the law enforcement community, which has goes back over 30 years, there’s one constant which is the police do their job. The police do get the suspect and get the evidence. The system falls apart in the prosecution and trial and sentencing stage. And what’s happening these days in the country is we’re going back to some of the old practices we followed in the ’60s and ’70s where there’s revolving door justice and people are not being held. They’re not being held before trial when they’re dangerous. They’re not being sentenced to prison, even though they’re violent.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (28:07)
So that increasing number of these people have serious criminal history records and they’re out on the street. That’s the problem. I think if you go to most of these big cities that are experiencing an increase in violent crime, and you go to the police departments, they will know who the shooters are. They will know exactly who the shooters are, and there are not that many of them are, relatively speaking, two, 300, that if you took off the streets, you would more than half violent crime. That’s my impression. I’m now aggregate. I’m not necessarily talking just about Kansas City. I’m just talking about all the cities, generally.
Speaker 4: (28:47)
You mentioned 1991 and ’92, Tough of Crime. Well that tough on crime approach led to mass incarceration, mainly black folks and brown folks and Hispanic folks. What does the DOJ want to go back to that?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (29:01)
Well, actually, that’s wrong in this sense. I think the mass incarceration has been thrown around, but I was talking about the incarceration of chronic violent offenders, violent criminals. And I hope no one is suggesting that they shouldn’t be incarcerated. I think what people refer to as mass incarceration really refers to the harsh long sentences for minor drug distribution, or small amounts of drug distribution, which led to a very substantial increase in the prison population. I’m not talking about that now, I’m talking about getting shooters off the street.
Speaker 7: (29:43)
Attorney General Barr, would you suggest who [inaudible 00:29:48] say that Operation Legend and things like this on over reach of the federal government. There are people in Kansas City, including our mayor and one of our Congressmen at one point who were against Operation Legend coming to Kansas City. Can you address those people?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (30:02)
Sure. There’s been a lot-
Speaker 7: (30:03)
Can you address those people?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (30:03)
Sure. There’s been a lot of confusion in the media. Some of it not unintentional, confounding to different aspects of law enforcement. One is dealing with civil unrest: rioting. And the other is the classical, traditional work that law enforcement does: finding criminal suspects and prosecuting them. And what Operation Legend deals with is the latter, and we’ve been doing that in the federal government for decades. As I said, we stepped it up dramatically in the early nineties, but working on violent crime and working with state and local government, that’s what the Department of Justice does. And we’ve done it a long time. And what this is, is ratcheting it up and targeting at the shooters in selected cities where there’s a high homicide or nonfatal shooting rate. I think a lot of that rhetoric came at a time when the, “Narrative,” as the press calls it, was taking shape and Portland that the federal government was overreaching by going into suppress demonstrations. And it was in that environment that I think some people made misinformed comments about this law enforcement initiative.
Speaker 7: (31:36)
[crosstalk 00:31:36] That question. [inaudible 00:31:40] talked about is the successes of Operation Legend so far. You all are pulling out of Kansas City, as I understand, in September. So what comes after this? How is this operation going to continue to be successful in Kansas City, after that, when 185 people that are here helping pull out?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (32:01)
Well, we’re [inaudible 00:32:03] out of Kansas City in September. I mean, we always will have a strong law enforcement presence here. And it’s really a question of adjusting the levels of additional resources [inaudible 00:32:15] remain committed. And that will be considered as we go along. As long as we’re successful, and taking bad guys off the street, we’ll be here.
Speaker 8: (32:28)
You mentioned a revolving door earlier-
Attorney General Bill Barr: (32:30)
Speaker 8: (32:31)
Of the justice system. As I calculated here, you mentioned 1485, this number of arrests, but only 200 charges in federal crime. That’s about 13.5-
Attorney General Bill Barr: (32:39)
No, but that’s not the revolving door; that’s the decision of where they’re going to be charged.
Speaker 8: (32:44)
[crosstalk 00:32:44] is that, are you implying that the state and local courts are that revolving door letting people out? Of course we’re in the middle of a pandemic; a lot of these criminals who maybe getting arrested, maybe [inaudible 00:02:57], I guess it goes back to my earlier question about [inaudible 00:33:02] able to track if these [inaudible 00:33:05] back on the street-
Attorney General Bill Barr: (33:06)
Yeah, I have an aggregated them. So I can’t give you an overall figure. But when we talked to the US attorneys in the individual jurisdictions, they have a good idea of which cases in the state system are going to be able to stick. And it varies from state to state; I don’t want to comment on the degree of revolving door that exists here. I don’t know if the Chief wants to comment on it, no, but do any of my colleagues, the US attorneys, do you have any observations about this relating to your own state in terms of how many of these things we’re able to, on the state side we can keep… Yeah.
I’ll just say this: on the fugitive warrants, these warrants that are where we’re making arrest on these warrants, these are violent criminal warrants, right? So these are people who are charged with aggravated assault, or homicide, or very serious crimes. Those tend to be cases that are good candidates for bail in any court system when you’re trying to seek detention when you’ve returned a fugitive to a court system where they’re charged with a homicide or an aggravated assault, you’ve got a pretty good argument for detention. Certainly in Ohio that would be the case, which is where I’m from; I’m the US Attorney in Cleveland. Many of these other arrests are fresh state arrests that are made on the same kind of crimes: aggravated assaults, illegal possession of a firearm large-scale drug trafficking, that’s what we’re looking at. So those are cases that on average are going to stand a much better chance at detention. In Ohio, really in many other court systems, you’d have a pretty good shot at the tension, but I can only speak for Ohio. Sir?
Speaker 9: (34:45)
[inaudible 00:04:43]. One more question.
Attorney General Bill Barr: (34:47)
Speaker 4: (34:50)
Chief, [inaudible 00:34:52] of homicides here, [inaudible 00:34:55] the federal government is here to help you, you said they’ve helped you. What did that say about the local police efforts to clear homicide here in the city?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (35:04)
Do you want to take that? Sure.
Rick Smith: (35:06)
Well, first of all, our clearance rate, I think this morning is around 60 some percent. So I think we’re hitting right about the national average, maybe a little bit more. I think what we’re seeing here with our assistance is we’re getting things done, more timely things that would take us more time due to resources and manpower wouldn’t happen as quick. And just forensically, all kinds of things, analysts, staff, other things that are helping us out, make the system and our investigations move so much faster than they would have if we did not have the help.
Speaker 10: (35:37)
[crosstalk 00:35:37] Last question. [inaudible 00:05:39].
Speaker 11: (35:39)
Will Operation Legend include preventative efforts to limit access to firearms to prevent homicides from happening in the first place?
Attorney General Bill Barr: (35:48)
Well, I think in terms of ATF’s efforts, in terms of going after straw purchasers, and other ways that people get access unlawfully to firearms, the answer to that is, “Yes.” Okay?
Speaker 10: (36:00)
Thank you very much, thank you, no more questions.