SAVANNAH, GA: Twelve defendants face federal felony charges related to illegal firearms possession after their indictments by a grand jury in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.
Those charged include multiple convicted felons, many of them on state probation for previous weapons or drug charges. The cases are investigated under the umbrella of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice initiative targeting illegal firearms, and in coordination with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives (ATF).
“Our office continues to hammer home a message that we will not tolerate illegal firearms possession, particularly by convicted felons, drug traffickers and gang members,” said U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine. “In collaboration with the ATF and other law enforcement partners, we will work to make our communities safer.”
Those named in federal indictments from the November term of the U.S. District Court grand jury include:
- Marcus Joseph Everett, 42, of Augusta, charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine; Possession of Firearms in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime; and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Everett was charged May 8, 2020, after Richmond County Sheriff’s investigators found cocaine, marijuana and two pistols during a search of his apartment.
- Matthew Kyle Brazell, 33, of Grovetown, Ga., charged with Possession of Methamphetamine; Possession of a Firearm by an Illegal Drug User; and Possession of a Firearm by a Prohibited Person, a charge resulting from Brazell’s prior conviction on a crime of domestic violence. Brazell was charged after a traffic stop June 30, 2020, when Grovetown Department of Public Safety officers found drugs and a firearm in his vehicle.
- Joe Lewis Hills, a/k/a “Polo,” a/k/a “David Owens,” 32, and Edward Albert Brown, 28, both of Augusta. Hills is charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine, Heroin, and Marijuana; Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime; and Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, while Brown is charged with Possession of Methamphetamine and Marijuana, and Possession of a Firearm by a Person Under Indictment. Both were arrested July 29, 2019, after Richmond County Sheriff’s investigators searched their vehicle and a hotel room rented to Hills and found drugs, two pistols and an AR-15 rifle.
- Nasir Perez, 18, of Orlando, Fla., charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana; Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime; and Possession of a Firearm by an Illegal Drug User. Georgia State Patrol troopers stopped Perez for driving more than 100 mph at about 2 a.m. July 22, 2020, while northbound on I-95 in Pooler, Ga. While searching Perez’s vehicle, troopers found drugs and drug sales paraphernalia, five pistols, more than 1,000 bullets, more than $3,300 in cash, and a bullet-proof vest.
- Jervario Melton, 28, of Kingsland, Ga., charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Melton was found in possession of a firearm during an Aug. 28, 2020, traffic stop by Port Wentworth police.
- Michael Alvin Jackson, 43, of Savannah, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Jackson was charged Aug. 11, 2019, when a pistol fell from his waistband as he fled from Savannah Police officers.
- Curtavious Bonner, 29, of Thomson, Ga., charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Bonner was charged July 17, 2019, when Thomson Police officers checking on suspicious activity outside a residence found two pistols in Bonner’s vehicle.
- Dequan Beniman, 26, of Savannah, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Savannah Police officers investigating a disturbance at a grocery store arrested Beniman after a brief foot chase and found two pistols in his possession.
- Cameron Wills, 27, of Claxton, Ga., charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Wills was charged June 20, 2020, when Evans County Sheriff’s deputies and Claxton Police officers investigating a domestic disturbance at Wills’ residence heard a gunshot and found him in the yard holding a pistol.
- Tyron Newman, 38, of Savannah, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. He was charged Oct. 30, 2019, by Chatham County Police officers.
- Bryant Young, 25, of Savannah, charged with Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. He was arrested July 16, 2019, by Savannah Police officers responding to a report of a man with a firearm
“Gun violence has negatively impacted the lives of far too many people in the Southern District of Georgia,” said Beau Kolodka, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Division of the ATF. “This type of violence is more likely to happen when guns are in the hands of individuals willing to obtain and/or use them illegally. This inter-agency collaboration and the resulting arrests go a long way to toward addressing gun violence by removing from our streets firearms and those willing to obtain them illegally and potentially use them.”
Criminal indictments contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Two additional defendants have been sentenced to federal prison terms for crimes including illegal firearms possession.
- Raphael Smith, 26, of Savannah, was sentenced to 110 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Smith, a member of the Gangster Disciples criminal street gang who had two pistols in his possession, was arrested Sept. 2, 2019, during a traffic stop by Port Wentworth Police officers, and subsequently charged in regard to a Savannah Police Department investigation several days earlier in which Smith was suspected of firing shots into a man’s residence. At the time of his arrest, Smith was on state probation after his release from a prison sentence on charges of robbery, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
- Devonte Brown, 28, of Augusta, was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison followed by supervised release after pleading guilty to Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon. Brown, a member of the Bolt Drive Alley Boyz criminal street gang, was arrested Dec. 4, 2019, during a traffic stop when Richmond County Sheriff’s deputies found him in possession of a pistol. Brown has multiple prior felony convictions including charges involving drugs and firearms.
- Phillip Dayan Burke, 23, of Savannah, was sentenced to 30 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to Receipt of a Firearm by a Person Under Indictment. Burke was arrested July 24, 2019, when Savannah Police officers found a pistol in his waistband during a traffic stop. Burke at the time was under indictment on state charges for fleeing or attempting to elude police, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, and possession of a weapon in a school zone. Those charges are pending.
These Project Guardian cases also are investigated under the Prosecutor to Prosecutor Program (P3), in which federal and state prosecutors collaborate to determine the most appropriate venue for prosecuting crimes.
In addition to the ATF, agencies investigating the cases include the Georgia Department of Community Supervision; the Georgia State Patrol; the Savannah Police Department; the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office; the Evans County Sheriff’s Office; the Claxton Police Department; the Port Wentworth Police Department; the Grovetown Department of Public Safety; the Pooler Police Department; and the Thomson Police Department.
The cases are being investigated for the United States by Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office Assistant U.S. Attorneys, including Project Guardian Coordinator Henry W. Syms; Alejandro V. Pascual IV; Jennifer G. Solari; Joshua Bearden; Jennifer Stanley; Steven Lee; Jennifer Kirkland; Joseph McCool; John P. Harper III; and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Darron Hubbard.
Under federal law, it is illegal to possess a firearm if you fall into one of nine prohibited categories including being a felon; illegal alien; or unlawful user of a controlled substance. Further, it is unlawful to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense or violent crime. It is also illegal to purchase – or even to attempt to purchase – firearms if the buyer is a prohibited person or illegally purchasing a firearm on behalf of others. Lying on ATF Form 4473, which is used to lawfully purchase a firearm, also is a federal offense.
For more information on the lawful purchasing of firearms, please see: https://www.atf.gov/qa-category/atf-form-4473.