‘Real evil of straw purchases’ revealed in Delaware firearms cases

Attorney General Kathy Jennings (at microphone) says straw purchases are a prevalent menace. (State of Delaware)

Attorney General Kathy Jennings (at microphone) says straw purchases are a prevalent menace. (State of Delaware)

When Dover police detectives arrived at the scene of 19-year-old Dazhmier Brooks’s murder last April, they found a Ruger semi-automatic pistol.

Their investigation found that the gun was bought by a Dover woman named Paige Morris, who later confessed to police that she purchased it for her boyfriend Riley Braswell, a three-time convicted felon, court records show.

Braswell was later charged with first-degree murder and is awaiting trial

His case illustrates what Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings says is a pervasive and deadly problem statewide: illegal straw purchases of firearms for criminals and gang members who are prohibited from buying them on their own.

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Jennings announced this week that Morris and four other people have been charged with engaging in straw purchases involving more than 60 guns. Besides the gun allegedly used in the Dover slaying, one firearm was used in a recent New Castle County suicide, another seized from a convicted felon and two recovered during a raid on a New York gang, authorities say.

But most of the weapons are still on the street and unaccounted for, Jennings said during a news conference in Sussex County, where most of the purchases occurred.

“Straw purchases look at first blush on the surface like a fairly minor act that in and of itself does not result in death or violence,’’ Jennings said while flanked by police, prosecutors and the head of the Baltimore office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents.

“But these stories tell the true story because when someone purchases a gun knowing they are giving it to an individual prohibited from possessing that gun, they’re giving an instrument of death to another person, and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Jennings said law enforcement’s goal is not just to catch people after they make straw purchases, but to stop them before they occur.

“We have to get at these straw purchases before they get into the hands of people that are hell bent on killing other human beings,’’ she said. “This is the beginning. It is not the end of dealing with the real evil of straw purchases in our state.”

Jennings outlined 91 felony counts for crimes allegedly committed between January and October 2021. Most were for straw purchases, formally known as “engaging in a firearms transaction for another.” Others were for providing false information such as a fake address or claiming the buyer isn’t a drug user, when filling out on federal forms required before a firearm can be bought.

Andre Miller of the ATF emphasized that the problem is nationwide, not just in Delaware.. “Even one gun in the hands of someone prohibited from having it or someone with criminal intentions is too many,’’ Miller said.

The suspects and the allegations, outlined by Jennings and in court records obtained by WHYY News:

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  • Paige Morris is accused of buying the Ruger pistol used in the murder for Braswell and a 9mm pistol for another friend, Riley Williams. Prosecutors say the trio arrived in the same car at the gun shop and both men looked at the weapons, then left. She entered 15 minutes later and bought them.
  • Keyon Eley, an admitted member of the Piru 700 Blood gang, is accused of buying 38 guns from five different shops. Police in Baltimore, Dover, and West Chester, Pa., recovered three of them and Eley surrendered two but 33 weapons have not been located.
  • Malik Jarvis is accused of making false statements when buying 15 guns. One was used in a January 2021 suicide and two were found in New York during a raid against a street gang. Twelve of the guns have not been located.
  • Karen Morris (no relation to Paige Morris) and her boyfriend Shane Willey are accused of buying eight firearms, including six in two days. She admitted she bought them for her heroin supplier, who gave her $1,730 in cash for the purchases. One gun was later seized from a convicted felon, but seven others have not been found.

Jennings said the dozens of illegally purchased guns that are still on the street from those cases “can still do untold harm.”

The attorney general also noted that while almost all the current charges are for crimes allegedly committed in Sussex County, the problem is statewide. Wilmington, located in New Castle County, had a record 39 homicides in 2021.

“What this tells us is that straw purchasing is a major means of firearms getting into the hands of violent people who intend to kill others, who intend to rob others and who intend to commit firearm crimes, drug trafficking, et cetera,’’ Jennings said.

If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.

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