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Wilson v. U.S. Department of Justice

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 18, 2017

DAVID WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The pro se plaintiff, David Wilson, who is incarcerated, filed this civil case, alleging that the defendants, the United States Department of Justice (the “Department”) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (the “Bureau”), violated the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2012), by failing “to release [to him] the requested information pertaining to his requests under the FOIA.” Complaint (“Compl.”) at 1. Currently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (“Defs.' Mot.”). After carefully considering the parties' submissions, [1] the Court concludes for the reasons set forth below that it must grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts Regarding the Plaintiff's Conviction

         “In November 2007, a jury convicted [the plaintiff] of aiding and abetting the August 17, 1998[] first-degree double murder of Sabrina Bradley and Ronnie Middleton.” Defs.' Mem. at 1. During his trial, the government introduced evidence that the plaintiff was “a member of a [District of Columbia] gang called [the] Congress Park Crew [and] was particularly close with an associate named Maurice Doleman, whom he regarded as a brother.” Id.; see also Pl.'s Opp'n at 3. Doleman allegedly “robbed the girlfriend of one of the [rival] gang's members, ” and “[i]n retaliation, the boyfriend paid Ronnie Middleton and another member of the [rival] gang to kill . . . Doleman, which . . . they did.” Defs.' Mem. at 1; see also Pl.'s Opp'n at 3-4.

         As further support of the plaintiff's involvement in the murders, the government also presented evidence that, on August 17, 1998, the plaintiff “was driving with two other Congress Park members-Antonio Roberson and Antoine Draine-when they came upon . . . Middleton sitting in a Ford Bronco.” Defs.' Mem. at 1-2; see also Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. The plaintiff, with his passengers, then drove to his house, “retrieved a .9mm Glock handgun, ” “drove back to . . . [the location where] Middleton [had been observed], ” and “Roberson opened fire on the Bronco.” Defs.' Mem. at 2; see also Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. Sabrina Bradley, Middleton's girlfriend, and “a gentleman nicknamed Teeny Man” were in the Bronco with Middleton. Defs.' Mem. at 2. Bradley and Middleton were struck by the bullets fired by Roberson, and they later “died of their gunshot wounds” at a hospital; “Teeny Man managed to escape through a window and fled.” Id.; see also Pl.'s Opp'n at 4.

         “Four witnesses . . . testified at trial about [the plaintiff's] role in the murders.” Defs.' Mem. at 2. One of the witnesses, Bobby Capies, who was also a member of the Congress Park gang, testified that the plaintiff “described to him the events recounted above.” Id. In light of this and other evidence, the jury found the plaintiff guilty. See id. The plaintiff appealed his conviction and sentence, alleging that the prosecution did not disclose a report summarizing a police interview with Capies in violation Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). See Id. Despite another member of this Court's post-conviction agreement that the summary report should have been disclosed by the government, the plaintiff's demand for a new trial was denied and that ruling was affirmed by the District of Columbia Circuit. See id. at 2-3; see also United States v. Bell, 795 F.3d 88 (D.C. Cir. 2015).

         The plaintiff nonetheless remains convinced that the government did not disclose to him all exculpatory evidence that would have altered the outcome of his trial. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 7. Specifically, the plaintiff asserts that the Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) and the Bureau conducted a controlled operation on June 14, 1999, whereby they enlisted a confidential informant to record a conversation with Antonio Roberson. See id. at 4-6. Detective Michael Will's written report of the operation indicated that the informant was able to record Roberson confessing to the murders. See id. According to the plaintiff, the tape recording, which was never disclosed to him, “unequivocally exonerates him of having any involvement with the murders.” Id. at 6.

         B. Facts Regarding the Plaintiff's FOIA Request

         On April 21, 2015, the plaintiff sent the Bureau a “FOIA request seeking a copy of [the] tape recording and transcript of a conversation between [the] alleged confidential informant and Antonio Robinson.” Defs.' Facts ¶ 3; see also Boucher Decl., Exhibit (“Ex.”) A (FOIA Request dated April 21, 2015); Pl.'s Opp'n at 8.[2] Having failed to receive a response to his FOIA request from the Bureau, on June 8, 2015, the plaintiff sent a letter to the Bureau, notifying the agency of its failure to timely respond to his FOIA request. See Defs.' Facts ¶ 4; see also Boucher Decl., Ex. B (letter from the plaintiff to the Bureau dated June 8, 2015). Additionally, on that same day, the plaintiff resubmitted his April 21, 2015 FOIA request, attaching to it a Certification of Identity for Antonio D. Roberson and an obituary for Roberson. See Boucher Decl., Ex. D (resubmission of April 21, 2015 FOIA Request); see also Defs.' Facts ¶ 6; Pl.'s Opp'n at 9. On June 19, 2015, the Bureau responded to the plaintiff's original April 21, 2015 FOIA request, advising the plaintiff that, because his original FOIA request sought “information relating to a third party, ” it “refus[ed] to confirm or deny the existence of responsive records pursuant to Exemptions 6 and 7(C) of the FOIA” without the third party's “consent[ or] proof of death, an official acknowledgment of an investigation of [the third party, ] or an overriding public interest.” Boucher Decl., Ex. C (letter from the Bureau to the plaintiff dated June 19, 2015) at 1; see also Defs.' Facts ¶ 5; Pl.'s Opp'n at 9.

         Thereafter, on July 15, 2015, the Bureau received the plaintiff's June 8, 2015 resubmitted FOIA request. See Boucher Decl., Ex. D (resubmission of April 21, 2015 FOIA Request). On August 20, 2015, the Bureau sent the plaintiff a letter acknowledging receipt of his resubmitted FOIA request. See id., Ex. E (letter from the Bureau to the plaintiff dated August 20, 2015); see also Defs.' Facts ¶ 7; Pl.'s Opp'n at 9-10. Then, on August 25, 2015, the plaintiff sent the Bureau a letter indicating that he had not received a response to his June 8, 2015 FOIA request; the Bureau received this letter on September 2, 2015. See Boucher Decl., Ex. F (letter from the plaintiff to the Bureau dated August 25, 2015).

         In response to the plaintiff's June 8, 2015 resubmitted FOIA request, the Bureau “initiated a preliminary search of the Treasury Enforcement Communication System (‘TECS') and N-Force, which are two law enforcement databases that would most likely contain information pertaining to [the p]laintiff.” Defs.' Facts ¶ 10. The Bureau “found no responsive records” as a result of these searches. Id. ¶ 14. The Bureau then “concluded that any criminal investigation associated with [the p]laintiff's criminal case would have originated in the Washington Field Division and deemed it as the component likely to possess responsive records, given the nature and venue of the criminal case referenced in [the p]laintiff's FOIA request.” Id. ¶ 15. Thus, the Bureau “submitted a search request to [its] Washington Field Division on August 20, 2015.” Id. ¶ 16. After receiving no response to his resubmitted request, see id. ¶ 8, on May 31, 2016, the plaintiff filed this action against the defendants, and after receiving notification of the plaintiff's suit, see id. ¶ 9, the Bureau, on July 18, 2016, “again contacted [its] Washington Field Division to determine if they had located any responsive records, ” id. ¶ 17. Subsequently, “the Washington Field Division conducted a search of TECS, N-Force, and its accession and transfer records located in the Washington Field Division and found no responsive records.” Id. ¶ 18. Additionally, the Washington Field Division searched its “accession and transfer records for all cases opened during fiscal years (“FY”) 1998 and 1999.” Id. ¶ 20.[3] “[A] search of the accession and transfer records for FY [19]99 revealed no responsive records, ” but a “search of the FY [19]98 records revealed the existence of the 7th District Assault with Intent to Kill (‘AWIK') file.” Id. ¶ 21.

         “‘AWIK' was a violent-crime initiative engaged in by Special Agents assigned to Group II of the Washington Field Division in FY [19]98 and [19]99. The purpose of the initiative was to assist the [MPD] with solving and reducing violent crimes involving firearms in the District of Columbia.” Id. ¶ 22.[4] Regarding the criminal investigation of the plaintiff, the Bureau stated that

any information, evidence or transcript retained by [the Bureau] regarding assistance provided to [the] MPD on a murder investigation under the AWIK initiative would have [been] documented or stored in the 7th District AWIK file folder, [as] 742207-98-0020, because the murder in question occurred on Congress Place Southeast, Washington, D.C.-within District 7-in FY [19]98.

Id. ¶ 24. However, “[t]he Washington Field Division was unable to locate . . . [the accession or transfer transmittal form submitted to NARA] for the District 7 AWIK file folder corresponding to case number 742207-98-0020.” Id. ¶ 26. The Washington Field Division then “attempted to find a duplicate copy of the transmittal [record] submitted to NARA within the files maintained by [its] Records Management Office.” Id. ¶ 27. Unable to find a duplicate copy, see id. ¶ 29, the Bureau “sought an opinion from NARA regarding whether the District 7 AWIK file could be retrieved with the case number but without the NARA transmittal form, ” id. ¶ 30. NARA responded that its staff was “unable to locate the requested records” based on the information provided and requested additional information to locate the requested material. Id. ¶ 31. Unable to provide NARA with any additional information, see id., the Bureau concluded that it had conducted a reasonable search to locate the requested materials, satisfying its search obligation under the FOIA, and now moves for summary judgment.

         II. ...


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