United States v. Johnson, 030218 FED6, 16-1517

Docket Nº:16-1517, 16-1538
Opinion Judge:JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. EVAN JOHNSON and RAMIAH JEFFERSON, Defendants-Appellants.
Judge Panel:BEFORE: GUY, GIBBONS, and COOK, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:March 02, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

EVAN JOHNSON and RAMIAH JEFFERSON, Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 16-1517, 16-1538

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 2, 2018

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PUBLICATION

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN

BEFORE: GUY, GIBBONS, and COOK, Circuit Judges.

JULIA SMITH GIBBONS, Circuit Judge.

After a month-long jury trial, Evan Johnson and Ramiah Jefferson were convicted of RICO conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). In a special verdict, the jury also found that each had agreed and intended that at least one other conspirator would commit a racketeering act of robbery, enabling the district court to increase their sentences beyond the twenty-year statutory maximum. Both were sentenced to 300 months in prison for the RICO conspiracy charge and 60 months in prison for the firearms charge, to be served consecutively. They each raise several issues on appeal, none of which have merit. Therefore, we affirm their convictions and sentences.

I.

A.

Jefferson and Johnson's convictions arose out of their membership and participation in the Bounty Hunter Bloods gang, a Detroit gang associated with the original Bounty Hunters from Los Angeles, California. From roughly 25 initial members in 2004, the gang grew to around 500 members by 2010 and became one of the largest gangs in Detroit. Its colors were red, green, and tan. Members could be initiated in one of three ways. First, a potential member could undergo a "blood-in, " where he or she would be required to hold a red bandanna and fight another member (or members) without dropping the bandanna. Alternatively, someone could get "blessed in, " meaning that a high-ranking member (often a relative) could bring him or her into the gang without the new member having to endure a beating. Finally, females could also get "sexed in" by having intercourse with high-ranking members. Upon initiation, new members received literature containing the gang's by-laws and other information.

The Bounty Hunters had a hierarchical structure. Entry-level members were called "soldiers." The next rank was "head soldier, " followed by lieutenant, head lieutenant, third capo, second capo, first capo, and young gangster/general ("YG"). At the top of the hierarchy were "original gangsters, " or "OGs." YGs and OGs were responsible for calling meetings and directing criminal activity, and lower-ranking members were expected to follow higher-ranking members' orders. All Bounty Hunters were required to support other members in fights and criminal activity. Members who committed infractions, such as failing to know the by-laws, attend meetings, or take orders from higher-ups, were "violated"-beaten, shot, or stabbed.

Members could move up in rank, as well as show their loyalty to the Bounty Hunters, by "putting in work." "Putting in work" included: "tagging" places with Bounty Hunter graffiti; committing robberies, home invasions, carjackings, and drive-by shootings; and fighting with rival gangs. When members generated money from their "work, " they were expected to give some of it "to the pot." This "pot money"-essentially gang members' dues-was used to buy drugs and guns (also called "burners"), as well as to support Bounty Hunters who were incarcerated. Pot money was collected at meetings, which the gang held around once a month. In addition to meetings, members communicated with each other via cell phones and social media, often posting about their roles in the gang and discussing drug trafficking or firearms.

The Bounty Hunters shared guns, often storing them in other members' homes and commonly purchasing guns from each other. One Bounty Hunter testified that he could get a firearm from someone in the gang "whenever [he] wanted . . . ." DE 489, Trial Tr., Page ID 5937. The guns were usually stored at the homes of lower-ranking members because the gang believed the police were less likely to search such members' homes. Members frequently used these guns when they "put in work" committing robberies, carjackings, home invasions, or shootings.

Finally, Bounty Hunter members had "Blood names, " or nicknames. Some members "earned" their names, while other members' nicknames were simply bestowed upon them when they joined. Johnson was known as "Unkle Murda, " "Ev, " or "Big Ev." Jefferson was known as "Nightmare, " "Rio, " or "B-Dubb Deuce."

B.

The final superseding indictment alleged seventy-three overt acts taken by various Bounty Hunters in furtherance of the conspiracy. At trial, the government produced extensive evidence of these overt acts, but this opinion will only discuss the crimes pertinent to the issues raised by the appellants.

In its case, the government focused particularly on two separate murders-the murder of Marquise Robinson and the murder of Courtney Meeks. Robinson's murder stemmed from a rival gang's assault on Bounty Hunter David Gay at a bus stop. Robinson had been present during the attack and, although he did not participate, he failed to intervene. Unable to locate the rival gang that actually perpetrated the attack, Gay and another Bounty Hunter member, Jayjuan Watts, selected Robinson as the target for their revenge. On February 4, 2009, Gay and Watts called Robinson and lured him to a house under the pretense of buying marijuana from him. Although Gay was supposed to be the one to pull the trigger, he hesitated, and Watts shot and killed Robinson.

Meeks's murder occurred on February 26, 2014, arising out of a carjacking in the parking lot of the CVS where Meeks worked as a security guard. Rineta Woodward was in the CVS parking lot in a car with her cousin's six-year-old son. Someone approached the car door on Woodward's side and opened it, holding a gun; he ordered her to get out of the car and she fled into the CVS with the child. As Woodward was running into the CVS, Meeks ran past her out of the store in an apparent attempt to stop or apprehend the perpetrators. Soon after Meeks ran outside, however, he was shot and killed. Jamare Rucker, a Bounty Hunter, and Jeremy Jackson were subsequently arrested and charged with Meeks's homicide.

In addition to testimony about the foregoing homicides, the government produced abundant evidence of other violent crimes committed by Bounty Hunter members. To name but a few examples: Two Bounty Hunters broke into Anthony Donald's home in Oak Park, beat him with a pistol, and robbed him. Larry Bachelor was robbed at gunpoint by two men, one of whom was Bounty Hunter Antonio Anthony. Jack Baum was carjacked at gunpoint, and at least one of the perpetrators was Jamar McHenry, a Bounty Hunter. And former Bounty Hunter Drakkar Cunningham testified that he participated in a drive-by shooting of rival gang members.

C.

The government also presented evidence of the defendant-appellants' leadership roles within the gang. Both Jefferson and Johnson were founding members of the Detroit Bounty Hunters. Cunningham testified that both appellants achieved the rank of YG while he was a member of the gang, and that he saw Jefferson get promoted to OG status in late 2008 or early 2009. Watts confirmed that Jefferson later became the leader of the Detroit Bounty Hunters. Johnson also identified himself on Facebook in certain messages as "YG" or "OYG."

Due to their leadership positions, both Jefferson and Johnson were somewhat difficult to track. Lower-ranking members had to follow a "chain of command" in order to gain an audience with Jefferson. DE 485, Trial Tr., Page ID 5271-72. Antwuan Council, a confidential informant and government witness, testified that Jefferson was "like a ghost in the neighborhood, " although Council sometimes saw Jefferson at parties. Id. at 5232. Watts saw Jefferson and Johnson at certain meetings, but testified that their attendance was "rare" because "they're supposed to be staying out of sight unless there was a mandatory meeting or something that's serious." Id. at 5284-86. Staying out of the "limelight" enabled them to evade police attention. Id. at 5286.

Despite their concerns with evading the police, however, Jefferson and Johnson were by no means invisible. Watts testified that Jefferson was present at Watts's blood-in. Cunningham testified that he saw Jefferson two to three times per week and would often discuss Bounty Hunter business with him. Cunningham only saw Johnson in person about five times, but he communicated with him over social media. Marcus Harvey, another former Bounty Hunter, testified that both Jefferson and Johnson directed lower-ranking members. Harvey further testified that he was present at a meeting led by Johnson, Jefferson, and...

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