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United States v. McClellon

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 16, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
LAZELL MCCLELLON, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

          DAVID M. LAWSON United States District Judge

         In the trial of this firearms violations case, Detroit Police Officer Charles Lynem testified that he chased defendant Lazell McClellon into an alley, where Lynem saw McClellon discard a handgun. McClellon eventually stumbled and fell to the ground, where he was apprehended. Lynem told his partner, Officer Adnan Baliji, that McCellon had “tossed the handgun, ” which Baliji recovered from the area that Lynem identified. Based on this (and other) evidence, the jury convicted McClellon of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Because his criminal record qualifies him as an armed career criminal, McClellon now faces a mandatory 15-year minimum sentence.

         However, the day after Lynem testified - and before the jury went to deliberate - the Detroit Police Department suspended Lynem pending an investigation into charges that he made false reports of felony charges for weapon possession. Lynem later was criminally charged for that conduct. The government did not disclose that information. When the defendant discovered it, he moved for a new trial, arguing that the evidence was material, should have been disclosed under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and the undisclosed information undermines confidence in the jury's verdict. The Court agrees.

         I.

         McClellon was charged in a two-count indictment with possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a felony, contrary to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (count one), and possession of a stolen firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(j). On October 30, 2014, after a three-day trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts.

         The parties agree on the basic facts. On the evening of April 9, 2014, three officers of the Detroit Police Department pulled up to a group of around 15 young men whom they saw standing in the middle of Cortland Street, in Detroit, Michigan. The officers got out of their car and approached the group, when one of the young men started to run. Officers Lynem and Balija gave chase, while Officer Brandon Washington stayed at the patrol car. After chasing the fleeing man for some distance, police cornered and arrested in him in an alley. After they secured the suspect in their patrol car, the officers returned to the alley and recovered a Glock Model 34 9mm pistol, serial number ULK074, which, as it turned out, had been stolen from a gun shop in Indiana. The fleeing suspect was defendant Lazell McLellon. During questioning, McLellon admitted to police that he was in Indiana during the time when the gun was stolen. However, when he first was confronted, McClellon identified himself by a fake name, which he later claimed was because he did not want police to find out that he had been out of the state in violation of his parole conditions.

         The credibility of the two officers' account of events during the brief time between when they began the chase and when they arrested the defendant in the alley is the subject of the present motion. The officers testified at trial as follows.

         Lynem testified that he saw one of the men in the group, whom he identified in court as the defendant, “take off running” west down Cortland Street. Lynem chased the man, who turned and ran south up the driveway of the residence at 3301 Cortland. It was around 9:30 p.m. when the officers arrived on the scene, and it was “mostly dark” outside. However, Lynem had his flashlight trained on the defendant while in pursuit, and, when he was within ten or fifteen feet behind, he testified, he saw “a dark-colored handgun tucked in the left side of the waistband” of the defendant's pants. As Lynem continued to give chase, he saw the defendant's “left hand [] continuously grabbing and clutching at his left waistband area such that it appeared that he was securing the weapon that was tucked into his left-side waistband.” The defendant made another turn into an adjoining backyard and ran across a large pile of construction debris. After the defendant traversed the trash pile, Lynem then “observed him draw the firearm from his left side waistband [and] discard the firearm to his left towards the bushes.”

         Officer Balija, Lynem's partner, testified that he also was involved in the pursuit, after he saw the defendant break away and start to run from the group of men in the street. As the defendant started to run, Balija observed that “[h]e looked at my direction and then he immediately clutched at his left waistband area, ” which in Balija's experience “indicated [] that he possibly was armed.” As Balija followed the defendant and Lynem in the foot pursuit up the driveway, he also saw the defendant “gripping at an object underneath his shirt in the left waistband.” Balija testified that it was “pretty dark” outside during the chase. Balija continued to chase the man, and he testified that, after he pulled out his flashlight to illuminate the fleeing suspect, “Once I had him illuminated [] I observed that his shirt had lifted up and revealed a butt of a handgun.” As the defendant ran across the debris pile in the back yard, Balija observed that “he lost his footing and going - he went face down and I observed him pull onto the - onto the butt of the handgun, onto the hand [sic] of the handgun.” Balija lost sight of the fleeing suspect for several moments after he turned from the back yard into an alley.

         When Balija entered the alley, he found the defendant laying face down on the ground, and Lynem preparing to handcuff him. After the defendant was cuffed and removed from the alley, Lynem told Balija that “he tossed the handgun.” The officers saw no one else in the alley when the defendant was brought to ground, or when they returned 20 or 30 seconds later, after securing him in the patrol car, to search for the gun. As soon as Balija went back to the alley from securing the defendant, he “immediately went to the area where, where [Lynem] told [him] that [the defendant] discarded the weapon and [] recovered a Glock Model 34 handgun.”

         On October 30, 2014 - the day after he concluded his testimony in the trial of this case - the Detroit Police Department (DPD) suspended Officer Lynem pending an investigation into charges that he made false reports of felony charges for weapon possession. In October 2015, the Wayne County prosecutor charged Lynem with two counts of false reporting under Michigan Compiled Laws § 750.411a(1)(b), for allegedly false reports made on March 18, 2013 and September 27, 2014. When the defendant's attorney learned of the charges, he asked the government's attorney whether a Giglio check had been done on Officer Lynem before trial. The government responded that in August 2014 government counsel requested Giglio materials on Officers Lynem and Balija from the DPD, and the department replied that there “were no disciplinary issues” for either officer. In April 2016, the government's attorney made another Giglio request and again received the response that “Lynem's disciplinary records were clear.” The government represents that it later learned, however, that “pending internal investigations are confidential and are not disclosed to [the] DPD disciplinary administration.”

         The parties stated that the criminal case against Officer Lynem was set for a jury trial in late May 2016, but no subsequent information was offered, and the record does not indicate whether or how that trial concluded.

         On March 17, 2016, the defendant filed his motion for a new trial under the authority of Brady v. Maryland and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(b)(1).

         The government represents that, on April 6, 2015, the defendant “met with the government to try to reduce his sentence, ” and, during that interview, he “admitted to Agent Hamm that he tossed the gun from Indiana as he ran from the police - but lied about when and how he obtained it.” The defendant contends that the government's attorney advised defense counsel ...


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