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United States v. Choate

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

April 6, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Christopher Choate, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING 4/2/18 ORDER SETTING CONDITIONS OF RELEASE AND DETAINING DEFENDANT PENDING TRIAL

          Sean F. Cox United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the Government's appeal of Magistrate Judge Mona K. Majzoub's release order. The parties appeared before the Court for a hearing on April 3 and April 5, 2018. For the reasons below, the Court finds that there is no condition or combination of conditions that will reasonably assure Defendant's appearance and assure the safety of the community. Thus, the Court orders that Defendant shall be detained pending trial.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant Christopher Choate has been charged in a criminal complaint with one count of felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Doc. # 1). The complaint states that on February 3, 2018, Ecorse Police Department received a call about a man with a gun at a bar. The suspect was described as a white male with a beard and a red hat. The suspect had been involved in a fight inside the bar and, when he was removed, he allegedly fired a gunshot outside.

         When the officers arrived, they observed Defendant, who matched the description provided, walking in the parking lot with a white female. The officers approached the two and ordered them to the ground. As they detained Defendant, the officers discovered a handgun holster on the ground underneath him. They then retraced Defendant's steps through the parking lot and discovered a loaded handgun with an obliterated serial number resting beneath a vehicle. Near the rear of the bar, the officers also discovered a spent bullet casing matching the bullets in the chamber of the recovered handgun.

         For this incident, Defendant was initially charged in state court with carrying a concealed weapon and reckless discharge of a firearm. But these charges were eventually dismissed without prejudice by the prosecutor on February 20, 2018, the date set for the preliminary examination, because some witnesses were not present.

         One month later, a criminal complaint relating to this same conduct was issued in federal court. Based on the complaint, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford issued a warrant for Defendant's arrest (Doc. # 2). After his arrest, Defendant was temporarily detained and a detention hearing was set for April 2, 2018 before Magistrate Judge Majzoub. Pretrial services recommended that Defendant be detained pending trial.

         At the hearing before Magistrate Judge Majzoub, and during the hearings before this Court, the Government has proceeded largely by proffer. It also introduced an exhibit, which the Court has marked as Exhibit 1, containing photographs and messages from a Facebook page belonging to Defendant. The facts, as demonstrated by this exhibit and the Government's proffer, are as follows.

         Defendant is a felon, with a prior state conviction for unlawful driving away. Although he was initially sentenced to probation for that conviction, he ultimately spent four years in prison for the offense after his probation was revoked. He is also a known member and leader of a subgroup of the violent street gang called the Latin Counts. His membership is evidenced by his Facebook page, which contains numerous messages referring to his gang affiliation and his apparent involvement in shootings. Pictures from this page also depict several firearms and ammunition. And on one occasion, Defendant attempted to initiate a purchase of a firearm via Facebook from an unknown seller.

         Defendant's involvement with firearms does not stop there. On several occasions within the past year, police officers have encountered Defendant in the presence of firearms. In both June and August of 2017, Defendant was the driver of a vehicle in which a firearm was recovered during a traffic stop. Both times, Defendant's wife claimed the firearms as her own. More recently, during a traffic stop on March 28, 2018, police recovered a firearm from the backseat of Defendant's vehicle. This particular firearm appears to be identical to one that Defendant can be seen holding in a video posted to Facebook.

         In addition, after the March 28 stop, officers arrested Defendant on the federal criminal complaint and obtained a search warrant for his residence. In his bedroom, the officers found 26 rounds of 9mm ammunition, which corresponded to the firearm that they had just recovered during the traffic stop. The officers also recovered 18 rounds of .40 caliber ammunition, which corresponded to the firearm recovered during Defendant's arrest in February. Finally, the officers also discovered 3.8 grams of a substance appearing to be cocaine.

         Also noteworthy is Defendant's conduct in the weeks prior to his arrest. During this time, Defendant was allegedly involved in two separate violent incidents. On March 14, 2018, a shooting occurred at the home of Bryan Susawitz, a purported enemy of the Latin Counts. Indeed, according to one of Defendant's Facebook posts, one year prior Susawitz and others “jumped” Defendant and hit him with a metal pole, although it is unclear whether this event motivated the shooting. In any event, during the shooting, bullets struck Susawitz's home and a nearby car. Afterwards, witnesses observed three white males, including Defendant, running away from the scene.

         Less than a week later, on March 19, Defendant was allegedly involved in an assault during a robbery in Ecorse. Defendant, along with his wife and others, beat, punched, and kicked a woman for about an hour. Once they finished, they took money from her and left. Defendant was then arrested on the federal complaint only nine days later.

         This Court emphasizes that Magistrate Judge Majzoub did not have all of the above information at her disposal during the initial detention hearing. At that time, the Government's proffer did not include information about the search of Defendant's residence or either of the two violent incidents in March. This information was instead included in the Government's proffer before this Court. The Government's exhibit also ...


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