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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Virginia

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Unites States Attorney’s Office Announces Arrest of Two Tied to Recent Roanoke Violence, including Eastern Avenue Shootings

Roanoke, VIRGINIA – Aaron Lee Woods of Roanoke, whose Eastern Avenue home was alleged to have been something like a “fast food operation for marijuana,” was arrested on a federal criminal complaint last week and charged with crimes related to federal drug trafficking and firearms offenses. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen made the announcement today as part of the Western District of Virginia’s ongoing Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative to reduce drug and violent crime. In a separate criminal complaint, U.S. Attorney Cullen announced the arrest of Tyrik Dausha Merchant on one count of being a convicted felon illegally in possession of a firearm.

“These arrests underscore the commitment of federal law enforcement to address drug trafficking and rising levels of violence in Roanoke,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today.  “We are working closely with our partners at the police department and expect additional federal arrests in the near future.”

As alleged in the criminal complaint, Woods and others not named in court documents were involved in a conspiracy since at least 2017 to distribute large quantities of marijuana in the Roanoke Valley.  Woods operated at times from a residence on Eastern Avenue leased in his name.  On a typical day, witnesses described a steady stream of marijuana purchases at the house during the afternoon and evening hours.  A dozen or more individuals, on average, would stop in to purchase marijuana from large vacuum sealed bags Woods kept on the coffee table in the living room while others played video games and socialized.  Witnesses told law enforcement that firearms were frequently in view in the residence, on tables or leaning against the wall during periods of peak distribution.

The complaint alleges that the distribution activity culminated in a shooting death on July 10, 2018 at the Eastern Avenue address. According to witnesses, three prospective marijuana purchasers who left the residence empty-handed earlier in the day returned to the residence around 9:45 p.m.  According to witnesses, something like a brick came through the front glass window, at which point two-way gunfire ensued.  Woods, and others, began shooting from inside and in front of the residence.  During the course of the shootout, one individual was shot in the head and neck and killed during an apparent attempt to flee the scene. Woods and others fled his Eastern Avenue residence following the shooting.

According to a separate complaint, on or about September 14, 2019, Merchant was at the 7-11 convenience store located at 3602 Williamson Rd., N.W. in the City of Roanoke. Witnesses and surveillance cameras showed Merchant approach a vehicle in the 7-11 parking lot, draw a pistol, and fire at the driver of that vehicle from a distance of no greater than four feet away.  The driver of the vehicle returned fire, hitting Merchant several times. A Roanoke City Police officer was able to recover Merchant’s pistol from the parking lot where Merchant dropped it.  Merchant had previously been convicted of a felony, and so was prohibited from possessing a firearm when these events occurred.

The investigation of these cases was conducted by the Roanoke City Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearm, and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Roanoke County Police Department, the Virginia State Police, the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, and members of the area’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force [HIDTA]. Assistant United States Attorneys Kari Munro and Andrew Bassford will prosecute the cases for the United States.

These cases were brought as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

A criminal complaint is only a charge and not evidence of guilt.  The defendants are entitled to a fair trial with the burden on the government to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Violent Crime
Updated September 26, 2019