As a Franklin County deputy prosecutor for more than nine years, Brian Hultgrenn knows there are certain types of crimes that can't be tried in state court.
Sometimes that can leave prosecutors feeling powerless when they know an individual should be behind bars, but there is no law on the books to back them.
Now, Hultgrenn has more leverage after being sworn in Thursday as a member of the federal bar and a special assistant U.S. attorney.
Hultgrenn's new role as a special federal prosecutor allows him to take cases that come through Franklin County and, if appropriate, pursue them in federal court, where investigations might benefit from additional resources and stiffer penalties.
Hultgrenn, 35, said he approached his boss, Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant, about six to nine months ago with the idea and Sant "was all for it."
Hultgrenn had to pass an extensive background check. He has prosecuted everything from property crimes to murders, but in the last year has focused more on gang- and firearm-related offenses. He also has taken on some of the cases from the city's new Street Crimes Unit.
"Honestly, I've been prosecuting now for over nine years and even though you're always learning new stuff, at the same time it's good to have new challenges too," Hultgrenn told the Herald after the ceremony in the Richland federal courthouse.
"It allows me to keep my job, which is a great job, but also allows me to prosecute cases in the federal system."
The ceremony was conducted by U.S. District Court Judge Ed Shea, who said Hultgrenn's "experience in the state court system with those kind of very heavy responsibilities is welcome here in federal court."
Shea called Hultgrenn a "seasoned and skillful practitioner" and said he looks forward to working with the prosecutor on a frequent basis.
Hultgrenn was joined at the table by Michael C. Ormsby, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Ekstrom and Sant.
Ekstrom used to be a deputy prosecutor in Franklin and Benton counties, and was deputized in 2006 to help with federal cases before taking the full-time job.
Sant told the court that Hultgrenn is one of his more senior deputies, and his admission to the federal bar for this role will be "a great fit to our community."
Benton County is represented by Deputy Prosecutor Kristin McRoberts, who has served as a special federal prosecutor since December 2011.
Ormsby said there are three other special assistant U.S. attorneys in the district -- two in Spokane County and one on the Colville Reservation.
"For us, this is great because our office has a wonderful relationship with law enforcement in the Tri-Cities," Ormsby said. "And having special assistant U.S. attorneys from the two counties that comprise the Tri-Cities is now one more way for us to work together and to collaborate on the steps we need to take to reduce crime and prosecute the people who need to be prosecuted."
Hultgrenn and his wife, Erin, live in Pasco with their three young children. His family was not at Thursday's ceremony.
However, several prosecutor's office employees came out to support Hultgrenn, along with Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg, Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger and officers from the two departments.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer