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'Street hustler' receives prison time for firearms violation

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HAMMOND — A Gary man with a reputation of being a well-armed “street hustler” is going to prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Judge Philip P. Simon imposed a 92-month prison term Thursday afternoon on 34-year-old Schickell Best.

Best pleaded guilty this summer to illegally possessing a .38-caliber Rohm revolver on an eventful day, April 21, 2020, when prosecutors allege he also stole "drug-buy" money from federal agents and — when arrested — was in possession of two bags of crack cocaine in addition to the revolver.

Best has been prohibited from carrying a firearm because he has twice been convicted of felonies — battery on a police officer and illegally carrying a firearm nine years earlier.

Until last June, Best had been facing no less than seven felony counts carrying penalties with a combined penalty of over 60 years in prison.

Best struck a deal with prosecutors in June and gave up his right to make the government prove all of the charges against him in return for his guilty plea to one firearm violation and dismissal of the remaining six counts.

Riding Shotgun/DNR Conservation Officer Tyler Brock

Defense attorney Paul C. Stracci, who represents Best and was arguing for a sentence of no more than 70 months, conceded in a memo to the court last week that “Best is a street-level hustler who dealt in small quantities of illicit drugs."

Stracci continued: “Mr. Best understands the Court will be concerned that he carried a firearm on multiple occasions as a convicted felon, and that as soon as police seized a firearm, another one appeared."

Stracci argued Best looked upon guns as necessary for personal protection because he grew up with an absent, cocaine-addicted father and in a neighborhood terrorized by street gangs and gun violence.

Stracci said Best’s early contacts with police were usually negative. Authorities imprisoned one of Best’s brothers for drug dealing.

Officers also mistakenly arrested Best over a school fight in which he was wrongly accused of taking part, Stracci said. The attorney said that although the victim tried to exonerate Best, “he had already been handcuffed and carted away in front of all his classmates. The charges were ultimately dismissed, but the damage was done.”

Assistant United States Attorney Caitlin Padula argued in her memo to the court that Best deserved at least 110 months in prison because his adult life amounted to a series of prior convictions for firearms violations, illicit drug possession and battery on law enforcement.

She said Best has been arrested 15 other times, as well, for similar crimes.

She said that includes a dangerous May 26, 2020, encounter with Merrillville officers who stopped Best for speeding through a red light in Merrillville.

She said Best refused to stop his car for a half mile after an officer activated his emergency lights, then was reluctant to get out of his car when the arresting officer smelled marijuana smoke in the vehicle.

An officer Tased Best for arguing and attempting to get back in his car. Police said the electroshock irritated but didn’t incapacitate Best, who simply pulled the Taser prongs out of his chest and squared up into a fighting stance.

Officers then Tased him twice again and still had to wrestle him to the ground and handcuff him to finally end the struggle.

Police then searched his car and found a jar of marijuana and an inoperable handgun inside.

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