United States District Court, District of Columbia
D. BATES, United States District Judge.
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
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.
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. 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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).
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