Tracking the Guns in West Michigan

Posted at 1:14 PM, Nov 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-09 13:14:44-05

WEST MICHIGAN – Madhi Hayes was a former athlete at Wyoming Lee High School. He went on to serve his country as an army reservist.

On December 20, 2012, his life ended tragically. Someone shot him in the head.

In a court hearing, an investigator said a shell casing found at the scene matched casings found following two other crimes earlier in the week. That includes an armed robbery on December 14th, and the unsolved murder of Eve’vanna Galloway. Galloway was Hayes’ ex-girlfriend. She was killed just 5 days before him (December 15th).

Lieutenant Patrick Merrill can not and will not speak about either open case, but he’s very familiar with gun tracing.

“It’s invigorating when you encounter a firearm and get a hit like that cause it’s the opening salvo in your investigation to dig into something deep. Cause now you’ve got the hook,” Merrill said.

Detectives believe Hayes’ brother, Royale Runyon, pulled the trigger in all three crimes. In May, police chief Kevin Belk said that Runyon is a likely suspect in the Galloway killing. However, no one has been charged.

Testimony during a preliminary examintion revealed Hayes offered to help his brother pay court fines. Investigators believe Runyon killed Hayes over money. A friend who was subpoenaed to testify admitted to holding the gun for Runyon after the murder.

How he allegedly got the gun hasn’t been revealed. However, like many weapons recovered by Grand Rapids police, it made its way to guarded facility.

“This is our weapons storage area, and this is where a lot of our weapons get in checked into,” Merrill said.

“Every single one of these guns has a story associated with it. Some of them were previously stolen. Some of them were bought legitimately and people did something illegal while they possessed them,” he said.

About 400 to 500 guns are locked away during trials and open investigations. To explore a firearms’ background, local law enforcement works with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Local agencies file a trace request.

“Firearms tracing is so important, often times in solving investigations. We can lead us to the life of a firearm,” Donald Dawkins, a special agent with the ATF said.

From the manufacturer, to the licensed dealer, to a detailed list of previous owners, Dawkins said the gun database is a valuable tool, but it’s only as good as the information put into it. The bureau takes that information and publishes a yearly report on ‘crime guns’ recovered in Michigan.

“Pistols are number one,” Dawkins said.

“9 millimeters, revolvers and rifles. Those are the top 3,” he explained.

In 2012, the ATF reports that more than 4,000 illegally possessed guns were recovered and traced in Michigan.

“Most of the firearms here in the western side of the state are stolen,” Dawkins said.

The ATF reported that Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky are the top three states where illegal guns are smuggled to Michigan. Merrill said most guns used to commit a crime in Kent County are stolen from a home or business within the county. Other guns are smuggled from neighboring communities.

“So yes, we do encounter stolen guns from Holland, we do encounter stolen guns from Muskegon, stolen guns from Detroit a few here and there,” Merrill explained.

Joseph Sweet and Ronald Cook both face ten years in prison for stealing 32 handguns and rifles over the summer. They’re convicted of breaking into stores in Ottawa and Muskegon County. Cook blew his cover on surveillance video. An investigation revealed that the pair planned to trade the guns for cash and heroin. Guns recovered in a federal case like this one end up with the ATF.

“We keep the gun until everything is adjudicated, [until] all the appeals have been exhausted. The whole nine, and then the gun is ultimately destroyed,” Dawkins said.

Both Dawkins and Merrill said their agencies have very high conviction rates for suspects tied to gun-related crimes. Fingerprint and DNA technology has improved the conviction rate compared to ten years ago.

After a case ends, those guns are melted down so they don’t end up back on the streets in the wrong hands. The goal is to prevent innocent people like Madhi Hayes and Eve’vanna Galloway from becoming a victim. Runyon’s murder trial (for Hayes’ killing) starts in January. Again, no one has been charged with Galloway’s murder.