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United States v. Bratcher

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

April 8, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
MELVIN BRATCHER, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Joy Flowers Conti Chief United States District Judge

On February 27, 2014, defendant Melvin Bratcher (“defendant”) filed a motion for release on bail with conditions. (ECF No. 23.) After a de novo review of the proceedings before the magistrate judge, as well as a review of the pleadings in this case, the pretrial services report prepared by the pretrial services officer, the arguments of counsel, and the hearing held on March 20, 2014, this court denied defendant’s motion and ordered that defendant be detained without bond pending trial. This memorandum opinion sets forth the reasons for the court’s decision, which were detailed on the record.

I. Background

A. Procedural History

On February 11, 2014, a grand jury returned a three-count indictment at criminal action number 14-28 charging defendant with possession with intent to distribute twenty-eight grams or more or more of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine base, in the form commonly known as crack, a Scheduled II controlled substance (count one), possession with intent to distribute a quantity of a mixture and substance containing a detectable amount of heroin, a Scheduled I controlled substance (count two), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime (count three). (ECF Nos. 13, 14.) The offense at count one of the indictment carries a statutory minimum term of imprisonment of not less than five years and a statutory maximum term of imprisonment of forty years. (ECF No. 14 at 5.) The offense at count two of the indictment carries a statutory maximum term of imprisonment of twenty years. (Id.) The offense at count three of the indictment carries a statutory minimum term of imprisonment of not less than five years, which shall concurrently run to any sentence imposed at counts one or two of the indictment. (Id. at 6.)

A detention hearing was held on January 24, 2014. At the hearing, the magistrate judge determined by clear and convincing evidence that defendant posed a risk of flight and danger to the community and entered an order of detention for defendant pending trial. (ECF No. 11.) After defendant moved to revoke the order of detention, this court held a de novo hearing on March 20, 2014. After reviewing the transcript of the January 23, 2014 detention hearing, and taking into consideration the arguments presented by the parties at the March 20, 2014 hearing, the court denied defendant’s request for bond.

B. Factual Background

At the detention hearing before the magistrate judge on January 24, 2014, the government presented the testimony of Mark Dana (“Dana”), a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the “FBI”). (H.T. 1/24/14 (ECF No. 25) at 5.) Defendant presented the testimony of Clarissa Helen Bratcher (“defendant’s great-aunt”), defendant’s great-aunt. (Id. at 21.) Based upon these sources and the pretrial services report, the following factual background was developed.

The FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (the “DEA”) conducted a long-term investigation involving wiretaps and resulting in a series of arrests, which led them to investigate and subsequently arrest defendant. (H.T. 1/24/14 (ECF No. 25) at 5.) A person arrested in connection with the long-term investigation told the FBI he or she could contact defendant and obtain a gun or drugs from him. (Id. at 12.) By reason of defendant’s connection to the long-term investigation, the FBI obtained a search warrant for 7309 Schley Street in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania (“defendant’s residence”), which was known to be defendant’s residence. (Id.) The search warrant for defendant’s residence was signed by a magistrate judge on January 15, 2014, and executed on January 21, 2014. (Id.)

Prior to executing the warrant on January 21, 2014, the FBI conducted surveillance on defendant’s residence. (H.T. 1/24/14 (ECF No. 25) at 5-6.) The FBI observed defendant driving away from his residence in a Chevrolet Tahoe. (Id. at 6.) Defendant was stopped by law enforcement while driving the Chevrolet Tahoe a short distance from his residence. (Id.) Law enforcement detained defendant, searched him, and recovered approximately $2, 700 from his person. (Id.)

Soon after defendant was stopped in the Chevrolet Tahoe, the FBI executed the search warrant on his residence. (H.T. 1/24/14 (ECF No. 25) at 6.) The FBI found a woman and small child inside the residence. (Id.) The FBI recovered four firearms in defendant’s residence, none of which were licensed to defendant, and all of which were manufactured outside Pennsylvania. (Id.) Two of the firearms were found in a bedroom; one firearm was found on the floor in the dining room; and one firearm was found inside a pocket of a coat that was hanging inside the residence. (Id.)

The FBI also found during the execution of the search warrant:

- Indicia of residence for defendant in the home;
- Twenty bricks of heroin, containing fifty individual doses of heroin each, which were found inside and around a dog food bag on the kitchen floor;
- Fifty-seven grams of crack cocaine recovered from the pocket of a men’s coat hanging in the stairwell of the residence;
- Digital scales; and
- Empty stamp bags, which are consistent with heroin distribution.

(H.T. 1/24/14 (ECF No. 25) at 6-7.) FBI agents spoke with the woman and defendant about the items recovered from the residence. (H.T. 1/24/14 (ECF No. 25) at 7.) The woman and defendant indicated that the items did not belong to the woman. (Id.)

After the search of defendant’s residence, FBI agents obtained a search warrant for all vehicles associated with and registered to defendant that were at his residence, i.e., a 2003 Chevrolet Tahoe, a 2003 Mercedes Benz, and a 2002 Cadillac Escalade. (H.T. 1/24/14 (ECF No. 25) at 7; Pretrial Services Report at 2.) FBI agents found two hidden compartments inside the Chevrolet Tahoe. (Id.) FBI agents recovered a fifth firearm from one of the hidden compartments inside the Chevrolet Tahoe and eleven additional grams of crack cocaine from the second hidden compartment inside the Chevrolet Tahoe. (Id.)

Dana performed surveillance as part of the long-term investigation that lead to defendant’s arrest. (H.T. 1/24/14 (ECF No. 25) at 12.) Dana did not personally conduct the stop on the Chevrolet Tahoe or perform the search of defendant, his residence, or vehicles. (Id. at 9.) Dana is a member of the FBI group that conducted those searches and works alongside of the agents who were present at the execution of the search warrant for defendant’s residence. (Id. at 10-11.) Prior to testifying at the hearing on January 23, 2014, Dana spoke with his co-agents and read reports and affidavits submitted in support of defendant’s arrest. (Id. at 11.)

Dana received information from the Pittsburgh Police Department’s Intelligence Unit (the “Intelligence Unit”) that defendant is believed to be a member of the Sin City Disciples Motorcycle Club (the “Sin City Disciples”), which is believed by the Intelligence Unit to be an outlaw motorcycle club that engages in illegal activities. (H.T. 1/24/14 (ECF No. 25) at 19.) Dana was informed by the Intelligence Unit that defendant has been photographed wearing paraphernalia of the organization, and the Intelligence Unit received other information indicating defendant is a member of the Sin City Disciples. (Id.) Dana did not receive any documentation from the Intelligence ...


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