United States v. Johnson

Docket NumberCRIMINAL ACTION 98-71-1 (BAH),98-71-6 (BAH)
Decision Date27 June 2023
CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)

BERYL A. HOWELL, U.S. District Court Judge

Petitioners Thomas Fields and Bernard Johnson are co-defendants convicted in 1999 on dozens of charges-40 for Fields and 16 for Johnson-arising from violent kidnapping, rape, attempted murder, conspiracy to participate in a Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO), and various drug- and gun-related misdeeds stretching across years of their involvement in the same gang throughout the 1990s. After their convictions at a three-month jury trial, Fields was sentenced to imprisonment for life plus 105 years, and Johnson to 49 years and four months. They both now seek to vacate their sentences via motions, under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.

In one set of motions, Fields and Johnson each challenge their convictions for using and carrying a firearm during a “crime of violence,” under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). Both defendants challenge their two § 924(c) convictions, in Counts 37 and 38, for use of a firearm in connection with two separate instances of violence, namely kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201, and Maryland assault with intent to murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(3) (a)(5). Johnson Supp. Mot. to Vacate (“Johnson Supp Mot.”) at 1, ECF No. 481; Fields Supp. Mot. to Vacate Based on Johnson and Davis (“Fields Supp. Johnson/Davis Mot.”) at 1, 5 ECF No. 482. In addition, Fields also challenges his four other § 924(c) convictions, in Counts 34, 40, 43, and 44, which are predicated on four separate instances of D.C. assault with intent to kill while armed in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(3), (a)(5). Id.

In a second § 2255 motion, Fields seeks vacatur of his two life sentences without parole, imposed for his convictions for RICO conspiracy to commit armed kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (Count 3), and kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a) (Count 12). Fields Supp. Mot. to Vacate Based on Graham and Miller (“Fields Supp. Graham/Miller Mot.”) at 1, 5, ECF No. 483.

Defendants are correct that one of their predicate offenses-namely, kidnapping, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)-no longer qualifies as a “crime of violence” to support their § 924(c) convictions under the intervening Supreme Court decisions in Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015), and United States v. Davis, 139 S.Ct. 2319 (2019), and so their convictions and sentences on Count 37 must be vacated. Their remaining challenges fail: all the other § 924(c) convictions at issue are predicated on offenses that still qualify as crimes of violence, and Fields's life sentences, imposed for crimes he committed at age 22, remain valid despite the Supreme Court's intervening decisions regarding the treatment of juvenile defendants.


Summarized below is factual background regarding petitioners' offense conduct pertinent to resolution of their instant collateral challenges, drawn largely from defendants' original sentencing and resentencing in 1999 and 2001, respectively, followed by an overview of the procedural history.

A. Factual Background

Beginning in the 1980s, Thomas Fields, then a teenager known to his associates as “Woozie,” joined a group known as the L Street Crew,” selling crack cocaine under the leadership of Fields's cousin, Donnell Burroughs, in Southwest D.C. Fields Presentence Investigation Report (“Fields PSR”) ¶ 43.[1] After Burroughs was shot and killed in 1990, Fields took over the leadership role himself, supplying his associates with crack cocaine and other drugs to sell throughout Southwest D.C. Id. ¶¶ 43-49. At that point, Fields's cousin and, ultimately, his co-defendant, Bernard Johnson, known as “Tadpole,” joined the gang. Id. ¶ 44. Meanwhile, tensions grew between the L Street Crew and a rival drug gang, later known as the K Street Crew,” run by Vincent “Vito” Hill. Id. ¶¶ 50-55. Fields believed the K Street Crew was behind Burroughs's murder, leading to several shootings and other acts of retaliatory violence that reached a fever pitch in the mid-1990s, as set out below. Id.

1.Shooting of Vito Hill

In July of 1996, following the murder at Fields's suggestion of one of Hill's close associates, the L Street Crew conferred on how to avoid retaliation from Hill's gang. Id. ¶¶ 56- 58. Fields instructed that killing Hill should be their next move, as a peremptory strike to leave the rival gang incapacitated and without a leader. Id. ¶ 58. Plans for Fields and his associates to kill Hill themselves were quickly abandoned, as the group reasoned that Hill would not allow them, as known enemies, to get close enough to him to carry out the execution. Id. ¶ 59. Fields ultimately decided to pay Eric Gordon, an acquaintance of one of the L Street Crew members and someone whom Hill did not already know, to commit the murder on his instructions. Id. ¶¶ 60, 62.

After L Street Crew members pointed out his target, Gordon approached Hill under the pretense of wanting to buy marijuana, then pulled out a pistol and shot him in the chest at close range. Id. ¶ 61. The gun jammed after the first shot-leaving Hill wounded but alive-and Gordon was forced to flee before he could finish the job. Id. Gordon met up with Fields, who begrudgingly paid him for the attempted murder, and Gordon then became a regular member of the L Street Crew. Id. ¶ 62.

2.Kidnapping, Gang-rape, and Shooting of K.D.

A month later, on August 25, 1996, in apparent retaliation for Hill's shooting, Gordon and Fields's young brother were shot repeatedly as they stood outside Fields's house. Id. ¶ 63. Fields informed the L Street crew members that K Street Crew member William “Draper” Sweeney was to blame, and that Gordon's girlfriend, K.D., must have given Draper their location. Id. ¶¶ 63-64.

The next day, August 26, 1996, Fields and his crew exacted revenge. Fields had his gang members lure K.D. to his house on the pretense that Fields would take her to the hospital to visit the wounded Gordon. Id. ¶ 65. Upon her arrival, K.D. was forced at gunpoint into an upstairs bedroom, where Fields, Johnson, and several other members of the gang were waiting for her, several armed with additional guns. Id. Over the next several hours, Fields, Johnson, and the others repeatedly raped, beat, and threatened to kill K.D. Id. ¶¶ 65-66. Fields called up other gang members to laugh about the ongoing gang-rape and to invite them to join in; various other men came to the house throughout the day at his invitation. Id. ¶ 66. Eventually, Fields directed that K.D. be placed in the shower so the men could get rid of some of the evidence, and Johnson forced her at gunpoint to clean herself after each series of rapes; Fields also instructed the others to handcuff her as the brutalization continued. Id. ¶ 67. As the day wore on, the men came to a consensus that they would have to kill K.D. Id. ¶ 68. Fields directed Johnson to carry out the murder. Id.

Under cover of night, Johnson and two other crew members forced K.D. into a car and drove her to a deserted road in Maryland. Id. K.D. begged for her life, at which point Johnson forced her out of the car and told her to walk home. Id. After she had taken a few steps, however, she turned around to see Johnson preparing to shoot her. Id. He shot her twice in the head. Id. Left for dead, K.D. managed to survive her wounds and was eventually found alive by law enforcement, severely injured and still handcuffed. Id.

3. Shootings of Anthony Chandler, Melonie Speight, and Sam Carson

The cycle of retaliatory violence between the two gangs continued in the following months. On October 23, 1996, Fields's crew member Joey Simmons was shot to death, in what Fields believed was revenge for Simmons's murder of a K Street Crew member the preceding summer. Id. ¶¶ 56, 69. Fields and his associates identified Sam Carson as Simmons's likely shooter and set out to look for Carson the following day. Id. ¶¶ 69-70.

After some time spent driving around searching for Carson, they spotted another K Street Crew member, Anthony Chandler. Id. ¶¶ 70-71. Although Chandler was not the original target, Fields decided to seize the opportunity to settle another score, since Fields also harbored a grudge against Chandler for the latter's perceived involvement in the kidnapping of an L Street Crew member six years earlier. Id. As Fields pulled the car up to Chandler, he shouted at the other passengers to “Get him!”, while also firing directly at Chandler himself. Id. ¶ 71. In the crossfire, one of Fields's passengers was shot, and Fields was forced to abandon the attack on Chandler to drive the injured passenger to the hospital, while Chandler escaped unscathed. Id.

Several months later, however, Fields and his crew caught up with Chandler again, when they recognized his van driving past them on January 13, 1997. Id. ¶¶ 72-73. Fields pursued, telling his associate to get ready to attack once they caught him. Id. ¶ 73. Once they pulled alongside Chandler's van, Fields yelled at his associate to [h]urry up and shoot,” and the associate fired several rounds into the van. Id. Chandler was wounded, and his pregnant fiancée, Melanie Speight, who was sitting in the passenger seat, was shot through the neck. Id.

Two weeks later, Fields successfully caught up with Carson, as well. He approached a new customer, Dominique “Damo” Gibson, the half-brother of one of his trusted associates, with the offer of a cash payment for killing Carson. Id. ¶ 75. Damo accepted, and under the pretense of buying some marijuana from Carson, shot him...

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