Criminal Justice News

Monday, June 30, 2014

22 Indicted in Multi-State Heroin Distribution Conspiracy



Adulterated Substances Contributed to at Least 2 Deaths and Multiple Overdoses

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - June 27, 2014 – A federal grand jury in Nashville, Tenn. returned a 23-count indictment on June 25, 2014, charging 22 individuals with various offenses relating to a conspiracy to distribute large amounts of heroin and fentanyl in the Middle Tennessee area, Northern Alabama and St. Louis, Missouri, announced David Rivera, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. Much of the heroin had been adulterated or replaced with fentanyl and caused or contributed to the death of at least two persons in Alabama and was responsible for multiple non-fatal overdoses.

Joining Rivera at a morning news conference were Chief Steve Anderson of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, Jack Webb, Assistant Special Agent- in- Charge of the ATF, Nashville Field Division and Michael Stanfill, Asst. Special Agent- in- Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration for Tennessee.

Local, state and federal agents, yesterday, began arresting those named in the indictment and as of this morning, 21 suspects were in custody.

“The resurgence of heroin as the drug of choice is wreaking havoc in our communities across the nation and causing untold overdoses and deaths,” said U.S. Attorney David Rivera. “I commend our law enforcement partners for their untiring efforts in bringing this case and interrupting the flow of such dangerous substances to our neighborhoods. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will vigorously prosecute this case and seek appropriate sentences for the conduct of those charged.”

According to the indictment, the year-long investigation identified Jamal Cooper of Antioch, Tenn. as one of the leaders and supervisors of the heroin distribution conspiracy and who was responsible for obtaining large quantities of heroin from multiple sources, including Lonald Ector of San Bernardino, Calif. and Robert Gonzales of Fontana, Calif. Various residences and properties in Nashville and Antioch, Tennessee, Florence, Alabama, and Sheffield, Alabama were used by the defendants to store heroin and cash generated from the sale and distribution of heroin, and from which to distribute heroin and fentanyl to the Middle Tennessee area, Northern Alabama and St. Louis Missouri.

The indictment alleges that members of the conspiracy used cutting agents, to dilute the heroin to increase their profits and distributed fentanyl, which they purported to be heroin, which caused or contributed to two deaths in Alabama and numerous non-fatal overdoses in Alabama and Nashville.

According to the facts set forth in the indictment, the defendants remained undeterred after learning of the deaths and overdoses and continued to distribute the heroin and fentanyl.

The indictment also alleges that four of the defendants conspired to use firearms against individuals whom they believed were attempting to rob other members of the conspiracy of money and drugs and one person was in fact shot in Nashville on April 4, 2014.

“These heroin-related overdoses and deaths are absolutely unacceptable,” Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson said. “Arrests like those announced today show that violent criminal activity associated with the illegal drug trade will not be tolerated by law enforcement and our partners in prosecutors’ offices at the state and federal level.”

“This focused investigation will have a lasting impact on reducing firearms related violence and taking drugs off the streets of the Nashville Metro area,” said ATF Special Agent–in–Charge Jeff Fulton. “Additionally, these arrests demonstrate ATF and our partners’ continued dedication to identify, target, and investigate violent criminals who lessen the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

“The prescription pill epidemic in the U.S. continues to produce a rapidly expanding base of new heroin users with no regard to race, gender, age, or economic background,” said Michael Stanfill, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge of the DEA in Tennessee. “Our federal, state, and local partners will aggressively pursue those drug trafficking organizations that are attempting to capitalize on this new demand for heroin. This investigation is another example of law enforcement agencies working together and utilizing their combined resources to decimate a violent drug organization and improve the quality of life for people in Tennessee and Alabama.”

The indictment charges the following individuals with conspiring to distribute and possession with intent to distribute heroin and/or fentanyl:

Jamal Cooper, aka Jamal Jordan, aka J, aka Mal, 37, of Antioch, Tennessee;

Lonald Ector, aka J.R., 46, of San Bernardino, California;

Robert Gonzales, 29, of Fontana, California;

D’Ron Robinson, aka St. Louis, 25, of Jackson, Tennessee;

Karon Key Jordan, 34, of Gallatin, Tennessee;

Jasmond Foster, aka Jazz, 26, of Sheffield, Alabama;

William Earl Foster, Jr., aka Buck, 25, of Florence, Alabama;

Donquez Groves, aka Lewis Palmer, aka Little Donnie, 31, of Nashville, Tennessee;

Wilton Bailey, aka Willy Will, 38, of Nashville, Tennessee;

Clifford Woods, aka Wimpy, 55, of Gallatin, Tennessee;

Tommy E. Smith, 37, of Nashville, Tennessee;

Sheteeka Bryant, 34, of Nashville, Tennessee;

Eric Williams, aka E, 38, of Nashville, Tennessee;

Robert Foxx, aka D-Tay, aka Johnny, 28, of Nashville, Tennessee;

Darnell Finnels, aka Ski, aka Skeezy, 24, of Nashville, Tennessee;

Shawna Caroline Foster, 36, of Florence, Alabama;

Jerry Ray Cochran, aka J Ray, 40, of Florence, Alabama;

William Kimbrough III, aka Trey, 37, of Tuscumbia, Alabama;

Wallace Earl Coffey, aka Nephew, aka Beck, 27, of Sheffield, Alabama;

Wallace Beckwith, aka Duke, 47, of Florence, Alabama; and

Thomas Barnett, aka Ham, aka Hambone, 27, of Florence, Alabama.

The indictment also charges the following:

Knowingly conspiring to possess and discharge a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime:

Robert Noel, aka Kamp Trey, 22, of Nashville, Tennessee; Jamal Cooper, Eric Williams and Darnell Finnels.

Knowingly possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime: Jamal Cooper.

Knowingly possessing and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime: Darnell Finnels. Knowingly possessing and intentionally distributing fentanyl; Jamal Cooper. Knowingly possessing and intentionally distributing heroin: Jamal Cooper-3 additional counts; Eric Williams-6 additional counts; Robert Foxx- 6 additional counts; and Donquez Groves-1 additional count. Conspiring to distribute fentanyl resulting in the death of another person: Jamal Cooper, William Earl Foster, Shawna Caroline Foster and Jerry Ray Cochran. If convicted, all defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to life in prison. Those charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl resulting in the death of another person face a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years to life in prison. This case was investigated by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department’s Specialized Investigations Division; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the 20th Judicial District Drug Task Force; the Lauderdale County, Alabama Drug Task Force; the Colbert County, Alabama Drug Task Force and the Florence, Alabama Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthias Onderak. An indictment is merely an accusation and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Louisiana Man Exonerated After Serving Nearly 17 Years for an Attempted Rape that DNA Evidence Shows He Didn’t Commit



Testing on saliva from victim’s clothing matches to a young man who lived near the scene of the crime and is serving time for a felony in Mississippi

Contacts:             Paul Cates, 212-364-5346, pcates@innocenceproject.org          
                                Jené O’Keefe Trigg, 504-943-1902, jeneot@ip-no.org 

(NEW ORLEANS– June 25, 2014) — Nathan Brown walked out of the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center today after a Jefferson Parish judge overturned his 1997 attempted aggravated rape conviction based on new DNA evidence proving his innocence and pointing to another man who lived near where the assault occurred and is currently incarcerated on a felony in Mississippi. The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office joined the Innocence Project in requesting that the conviction be overturned.  Brown, who always maintained his innocence, wrongly served nearly 17 years for the crime due to a cross-racial misidentification and an inadequate defense lawyer whom he met the first day of trial. 

“Mr. Brown is another victim of an unduly suggestive police show-up procedure,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law in New York.  “There are best practices to minimize the risk of misidentification from a one-on-one show-up, and we’re hopeful that this case will inspire law enforcement in Louisiana to adopt the procedures recommended by the International Associations of the Chiefs of Police.” 

Brown, who is black, was 23-years-old when he was charged with the August 1997 attempted rape of a white woman that occurred in the courtyard of the apartment complex where they both lived. After returning from a night out with friends, the victim was tackled to the ground from behind while walking to her apartment. The assailant bit her neck, ripped her dress open and took her purse before the victim was able to fend him off by striking him with her high heels, which she was carrying.  The victim saw him flee on a bike shortly before reporting the incident to a police officer who had been called by neighbors who heard her screams.   

According to the victim’s description, the assailant was a black man of average build who was wearing black shorts and no shirt. She also said the man had a very strong body odor. Although the victim believed her attacker lived outside of the apartment complex and initially told police she saw him riding away on a bike, a security guard for the complex directed police to Brown. When police knocked on Brown’s door just minutes after the crime, he was in his bedroom wearing pajamas, rocking his young daughter to sleep.

Rather than asking Brown to come to the station house to participate in a line up, the officers conducted a highly suggestive show-up, taking Brown, who was told by the police to “get dressed” and changed out of his pajamas into black shorts, to the victim who was waiting in a patrol car. Brown had no shirt on during the show-up.  The victim was initially sitting in the patrol car and then asked to get out to take a closer look and smell him, at which point she identified him as her assailant. Although Brown did not have strong body odor, but rather smelled of soap, she explained at trial that she believed he must have taken a shower and that meant he was her attacker. 

Brown’s mother retained a private lawyer to represent him.  His lawyer met Brown for the first time on the day his trial was set to start.  The trial took place just three months after the crime. At trial, the victim claimed that she recalled seeing a tattoo with the letters “LLE” on the assailant’s chest, but a police officer testified that the victim didn’t mention anything about the tattoo until after the show-up (during which Brown did not have a shirt on exposing a “Michelle” tattoo on his chest). Brown testified in his own defense and told the jury that he was at home caring for his “fussy infant daughter” at the time of the crime.  Despite the fact that four relatives who were at home with Brown that night testified as alibi witnesses, Brown was convicted in less than a day.  He was sentenced to 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole for the crime of attempted aggravated rape.

“Most people would be shocked to learn that an innocent person could be convicted on the basis of so little evidence at a trial lasting less than a day,” said Vanessa Potkin, Brown’s lead counsel at the Innocence Project. “Nathan’s story highlights some of the common failures of our criminal justice system that we would like to think are a thing of the past.  His conviction was the product of a rush to judgment by all involved. He became a suspect because he happened to be one of the only black men living in a mostly white apartment complex.  Once he was brought out of his home in the middle of the night to be identified by the victim, there was almost no other investigation, despite the evidence that he was at home with family when the crime occurred and didn’t have a bike or the purse taken from the victim.  Yet this was enough for a jury to send him away for 25 years. You would think this case occurred in 1937, not 1997.”

Brown has maintained his innocence throughout the past 16 years and contacted the Innocence Project to help prove that he was wrongly convicted. With the consent of the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office, the Innocence Project conducted DNA testing of a stain on the shoulder on the dress the victim was wearing where she was bitten. The stain tested positive for saliva and yielded a full male DNA profile that excluded Brown.  This profile was consistent with male DNA found on three other areas of the dress, including the front where the assailant ripped it open.  The profile was entered into the federal DNA database and there was a match to an offender convicted of a felony in Mississippi, who is a black male and, at the time the crime happened, was a 17-year-old living within blocks of the complex where the victim was attacked. 

“Mr. Brown’s mother paid for an attorney who it appears did almost nothing to prepare for the trial,” said Emily Maw, Director of the Innocence Project New Orleans.  “Unfortunately we have seen that happen far too many times here in Louisiana. Of the 41 people who have been exonerated in Louisiana, more than two thirds had less than effective defense lawyers.”   
Following his release, Brown will be living in a newly renovated apartment run by First 72+, an organization created by formerly incarcerated individuals including Calvin Duncan to assist with the reentry of exonerated individuals.  Duncan will serve as a mentor to Brown as he gets back on his feet.        

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in nearly 75% of the 316 convictions overturned through DNA testing. While eyewitness testimony can be persuasive evidence before a judge or jury, 30 years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification evidence is often unreliable. In case after case (many involving cross-racial identifications, which has been proven to increase the risk of mistaken identification) judges and juries have relied on testimony that could have been more accurate if scientifically proven reforms proven had been implemented.

Requiring that police identification procedures be conducted blindly – meaning that the officer who conducts the procedure is unaware of the identity of the suspect – reduces misidentifications by reducing the chance for the officer to influence the procedure either intentionally or unintentionally. Yet, Louisiana lags behind other states in enacting legislation requiring that police identification procedures be conducted blindly.  Louisiana is also one of the few remaining states that bar expert psychologists from testifying in criminal trials about the voluminous scientific research documenting the unreliability of eyewitnesses. 

Brown was represented by Barry Scheck and Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project and assisted by local counsel Emily Maw of Innocence Project New Orleans. The Innocence Project and Innocence Project New Orleans are independent 501(C)(3) organizations that are affiliated through the Innocence Network. 

A copy of today’s legal filings are available at http://www.innocenceproject.org/docs/PCR_and_Order.pdf

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Twenty-Two Springfield Men Indicted On Federal And State Drug And Firearm Offenses




BOSTON – Twenty-two Springfield men were charged today in federal and state court with either distributing a controlled substance or unlawfully possessing a firearm and ammunition. 

Separate federal indictments alleging the distribution of crack cocaine were returned against Alberto Correa-Martinez, 27, and Stephen Tavernier, 28; Sherad Therrien, 24; David Faust, 26; Richard Freedman, 29; Jayson Green, 35; Aaron Smith, 30; Theo Waldron, 39; Dimitri Major, 36; and one other individual known to law-enforcement.  Therrien was also charged for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.

Luis Oppenheimer, 25, and Jose Vargas, 27, were charged with distributing and possessing with intent to distribute heroin.

If convicted on these charges, all of the above-listed individuals face a maximum of 20 years in prison, six years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. 

Nagee Jones, 22 and Jason Patterson, 30, were charged in separate indictments for being felons in possession of firearms and ammunition.   If convicted on these charges, Jones and Patterson face a maximum of a lifetime in prison, a lifetime of supervised release, and a $1 million fine. 

Separate Hampden County Superior Court indictments were returned against Christian Paret, 20, and Ricarte Burgos, 35, who were indicted on drug trafficking charges; Paret was also indicted for unlawful possession and sale of firearms and ammunition.  Christopher McCollough, 33, and one other individual known to law-enforcement who is a fugitive, were indicted for distributing narcotics.  The fugitive is additionally charged with being a subsequent offender and habitual offender, which, if convicted, carries a potential penalty of 15 years in state prison.

Luis Reyes, Steve Hollowman, Jermain Davis, and Tarryl Green were all charged in Springfield District Court with distributing illegal narcotics, which, if convicted, carries a potential penalty of 10 years in state prison.

“Today’s arrests are the result of our close collaborations with the Springfield Police, the Massachusetts State Police, and the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office,” said United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.  “We stand united with our local and state partners in this and future public-safety initiatives to ensure Springfield is the safe and vibrant community its citizens deserve.”

United States Attorney Ortiz; Hampden County District Attorney James Orenstein; Vincent B. Lisi, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; Daniel J. Kumor, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Boston Field Division;  Michael Ferguson, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Boston Field Division; Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri; Massachusetts State Police Superintendent Colonel Timothy P. Alben; Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe; and United States Marshal John Gibbons; made the announcement today.

The cases were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Western Massachusetts Gang Task Force; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Task Force; Drug Enforcement Administration; Massachusetts State Police; Springfield Police Department; and Hampden County Sheriff’s Office; in a concerted effort to combat the illegal drug trafficking and violence in Springfield.

The details contained in the indictments are allegations.  The defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Fugitive Task Force Arrests 23 in Heroin and Opiate Sweep



Concord, NH — The U.S. Marshals-NH Joint Fugitive Task Force initiated an operation targeting heroin and opiate dealers and users in New Hampshire for a two-week period in May resulting in the arrests of 23 fugitives.

The warrant sweep, which was dubbed “Operation Dragon Slayer” and headed up by the U.S. Marshals Service in conjunction with Belknap, Hillsborough, and Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office, took place between May 5th and May 23rd, and targeted 40 wanted felons with a history of heroin and opiate sales or use. The focus of the sweep was to locate and find heroin and opiate dealers and users who may pose a risk to New Hampshire communities by committing further crimes to feed their habits or deter the sales of heroin. More arrests are expected within the next few weeks.

U.S. Marshal David Cargill, Jr., said, “Operation Dragon Slayer was a great success and the United States Marshals Service is committed to assisting state, county and local law enforcement in rounding up those involved in this addictive drug problem.” Cargill added, “I would like to thank the citizens of New Hampshire for their continued support in assisting the task force with tips and leads. We will continue to locate and arrest all of those involved in the trafficking of illegal drugs in our communities.”

During this time period a team of 8 deputy U.S. Marshals and Sheriff’s deputies worked days and evenings covering several New Hampshire communities. Those arrested during this effort:

    Matthew Stark 25, of Laconia
    Stephen Brue 30, of Laconia
    Eric Lewis 26, of Gilford
    Alex Nieves 35, of Franklin
    Jacqualyn Oliver 26, of Laconia
    Nicholas Cloutier 25, of Manchester
    Allen Irwin 26, of Manchester
    Brendan Francis 23, of Manchester
    Anna Bourque 26, of Manchester
    Adam Jenna 34, of Franklin
    Gina Mackie 39, of Sandown
    David Major 44, of Derry
    Amanda Lee 21, of Hampstead
    Pauline Gaffney 24, of Derry
    Justin Knowles 35, of Hampton
    Adam Stevens 31, of Nottingham
    James Fernekees 48, of Salem
    Ryan Leclair 29, of Hampton
    Mark Schwarz 40, of Hampton
    Matthew Shea 33, of Somersworth
    Karen Boyland 55, of Sunapee
    Justin Cassidy 23, of Henniker
    Taylor Bacon 18, of Hillsborough

Since the inception of the New Hampshire Joint Fugitive Task Force in 2002, these partnerships have resulted in over 5,523 arrests. These arrests have ranged in seriousness from murder, assault, unregistered sex offenders, probation and parole violations and numerous other serious offenses. Nationally the United States Marshals Service fugitive programs are carried out with local law enforcement in 94 district offices, 85 local fugitive task forces, 7 regional task forces, as well as a growing network of offices in foreign countries.