They wanted tougher penalties for gang crimes. The bill failed, but they won’t give up.

Tony Lawrence, district attorney of Jackson, George and Greene counties
Tony Lawrence, district attorney of Jackson, George and Greene counties

The Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators honored State Sen. Brice Wiggins and District Attorney Tony Lawrence for their efforts to fight street gangs.

Wiggins, of Pascagoula, had co-authored SB 2027 with Sen. Gray Tollison of Oxford. The bill died in committee, but raised awareness of gang activity throughout the state.

Lawrence helped them draft the bill. Lawrence prosecutes felonies at the state level in Jackson, George and Greene counties, where numerous gang-related crimes have been uncovered in recent years.

MAGI officials awarded Wiggins and Lawrence with a plaque in recognition of efforts during a training conference for gang investigators this week in Gulfport.

Lawrence and Wiggins plan to obtain the support of the Legislature for their gang bill in 2018, they said in a press release.

Gang investigators “are on the front lines fighting for our children against these gangs,” Wiggins said in a news release. “To have them honor us with this award is special.

“Unfortunately, our bill died last year in the House because of one representative who raised a technicality,” Wiggins said.

“In 2018, DA Tony Lawrence, the Mississippi Prosecutors Association, the men and women of MAGI, and myself will not rest until it passes.”

The bill called for longer prison terms and higher fines for crimes committed as part of gang activities. It also specified criteria already being used to identify gang members and called for a tougher penalties for gang activities behind bars.

Crimes committed by gang members continue to make headlines in South Mississippi. The region’s most high-profile case was the 2015 killing of 17-year-old transgender teen Mercedes Williamson by Latin Kings gang member Josh Vallum.

The Vallum case was the nation’s first-ever federal hate crime prosecution involving the killing of a transgender person.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews