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United States v. Davis

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 1, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
STEPHON JAMAL DAVIS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN D. BATES, United States District Judge.

         Before this Court are five defendants' appeals of Magistrate Judge Meriweather's pretrial detention determinations in this multi defendant drug conspiracy case. The Court considers each defendant's appeal individually, but given the nature of the charges, the Court presents its findings of fact and statement of reasons with respect to each defendant in a single memorandum opinion. For the reasons below, the Court finds that, based on the facts presented to the Court at this time, each of the five defendants-Stephon Jamal Davis, Larry Key, Ronald Mathews, Darren Piles, and Reginald Maurice Sutton-shall be detained without bail pending trial, affirming Magistrate Judge Meriweather's initial determinations.

         BACKGROUND & FINDINGS

         On September 4, 2019, the government charged eight defendants with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base, or "crack" cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C). Indictment [ECF No. 1] at 1. The indictment also charges Davis and Key with offense conduct involving 280 grams or more of cocaine base in violation of § 841(b)(1)(A)(iii); Mathews and Piles with offense conduct involving 28 grams or more of cocaine base in violation of § 841(b)(1)(B)(iii); and Sutton with offense conduct involving a detectable amount of cocaine base in violation of § 841(b)(1)(C). Indictment at 2.

         At the hearing and in the briefs before this Court, the government proceeded by way of proffer. Based on that proffer, the Court finds that in July 2018, law enforcement began investigating Larry Key and Stephon Davis for drug trafficking. Gov't's Mem. for Pretrial Detention Re Davis [ECF No. 12] at 3.[1] The investigation included the authorized interception of wire communications to and from Key's phone and to and from Davis's phone. Id. at 4. During the interceptions, there were 94 pertinent calls between Key and Davis, and Key met with Davis to obtain narcotics from him on approximately 35 occasions, obtaining up to an ounce of crack cocaine at a time. Id. at 15. In the recorded communications, Key and Davis use coded language to make the drug transactions. Id. at 15-17.

         The FBI also made eight controlled purchases of narcotics in its investigation, two of which involved Davis. Id. at 4. The telephone conversations setting up the narcotics transactions were recorded, the cooperating witness was equipped with audio recording equipment, and law enforcement agents observed the cooperating witness conduct the drug transactions. Id. In two of the controlled purchases, Davis sold narcotics to the cooperating witness through Key, id. at 5-8, and on multiple occasions, Key directly sold narcotics to the cooperating witness, Gov't's Mem. for Pretrial Detention Re Key [ECF No. 33] at 11.

         The government further proffers that Mathews operated a stash house at Davis's direction. Gov't's Mem. for Pretrial Detention Re Davis at 10. There were 142 pertinent communications between Davis and Mathews during the wiretap. Id. In these communications, Davis frequently called Mathews to tell him to fill various drug orders. Id. at 10-15. For example, in an intercept on May 21, 2019, Davis received a call from a James Hamlin asking to get "maybe something like two grams from you." Id at 10-11. Davis directs Hamlin to "[g]o to the building" and asks him "How much you got?" Id. at 11. Hamlin responds, "I got like 140." Id. Davis tells him "Alright, I'll do something right quick" and then immediately calls Mathews, saying "Hey cuz, put a 1-8 together out of my bag." Id. Mathews replies, "Ok." Id. Davis later clarifies "Yeah 1-8, he's gonna give you 140. He's always, just play it off. Just crunch it up or something, make it look like a lot." Id The government explains that because Hamlin only had $140, Davis directed Mathews to give Hamlin only 1.8 grams of cocaine base.

         The intercepts also include many conversations between Davis and Piles, in which the defendants use coded language to conduct drug transactions. The government proffers that Davis supplied Piles with 3.5 grams of cocaine base every few days. Id at 9. For example, in an intercept on May 22, 2019, Piles tells Davis, "I'm about to pull up." Id Davis asks, "Hey what you was trying to do, same old same old?" Id at 9-10. Piles replies "I got 1-5," which, according to the government, means that Piles is trying to purchase $150 worth of crack cocaine. Id Davis says "Alright." Id. The very next day, Piles calls Davis. Id. Davis again asks "What you trying to do?" and Piles replies "I got 2," which the government interprets as Piles trying to obtain $200 worth of crack cocaine. Id At the hearing held on September 19, 2019, the government further proffered that such a pattern of purchases is consistent with purchasing drugs for distribution-not personal use. Some of the transactions between Davis and Piles are also corroborated by surveillance. See Id. at 9.

         Finally, the intercepts captured at least two instances where Sutton purchased approximately half an ounce of cocaine base from Davis. Id at 18-19. For example, on August 15, 2019, Sutton texted Davis, "Brother. 650 for 14g." Id at 18. Davis responded, "Can't," to which Sutton replied, "I don't want no trouble man whatever you say it is." Id Later that day, Sutton called Davis telling him he was outside, and Davis said "Come in." Id The government proffers that the quantities purchased by Sutton are consistent only with mid-level narcotics distribution. Gov't's Mem. for Pretrial Detention Re Sutton at 3 [ECF No. 13] at 10.[2]

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A magistrate judge's detention order is subj ect to de novo review by the district court. See United States v. Taylor, 289 F.Supp.3d 55, 63 (D.D.C. 2018); United States v. Hunt 240 F.Supp.3d 128, 132-33 (D.D.C. 2017) (citing cases). The court shall order that a defendant be detained prior to trial if the court finds, after conducting a hearing, that "no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of any other person and the community." 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e). The government bears the burden of proving "by clear and convincing evidence that no conditions of release can reasonably assure the safety of the community or any person. United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 750 (1987). Detention need only be supported by a "preponderance of the evidence" if the justification for pretrial detention is the risk of flight. United States v. Simpkins, 826 F.2d 94, 96 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

         If the court finds there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed a drug offense in violation of the Controlled Substances Act for which a maximum penalty of ten years imprisonment or more is prescribed, the court must presume, subject to rebuttal by the defendant, that no combination of conditions upon the defendant's release would reasonably assure the safety of the community and the appearance of the defendant as required. 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(3)(A). For purposes of making that determination, "[a] grand jury indictment, by itself, establishes probable cause to believe that a defendant committed the crime with which he is charged." United States v. Stone, 608 F.3d 939, 945 (6th Cir. 2010); see also United States v. Smith, 79 F.3d 1208, 1210 (D.C. Cir. 1996) ("[T]he indictment alone would have been enough to raise the rebuttable presumption that no condition would reasonably assure the safety of the community."). Once triggered, "the presumption operate[s] at a minimum to impose a burden of production on the defendant to offer some credible evidence contrary to the statutory presumption." United States v. Alatishe, 768 F.2d 364, 371 (D.C. Cir. 1985).

         In determining whether any release conditions can reasonably assure the appearance of the defendant as required and the safety of the community, the court considers: (1) "the nature and circumstances of the offense charged, including whether the offense is a crime of violence . . . or involves . . . a controlled substance"; (2) "the weight of the evidence against the person"; (3) various personal information including character, employment, and criminal history; and (4) "the nature and seriousness of the ...


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