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United States v. Djoko

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

October 1, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTIAN DJOKO, Defendant.

          ORDER

          THE HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR, JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Christian Djoko's motion to review and revoke the detention order of the Honorable Michelle L. Peterson, United States Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No. 58). Having considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court GRANTS the motion and REVOKES the detention order (Dkt. No. 40) for the reasons stated herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         From September 2018 until November 2018, Mr. Djoko and two codefendants allegedly conducted a campaign of harassment against John Doe, a gay man from Cameroon who lives in Seattle. (Dkt. No. 1 at 2-6.) According to the Government, that campaign was multifaceted. (See Dkt. No. 73 at 4-6.) Mr. Djoko purportedly disseminated information about John Doe's sexual orientation-including nude images of John Doe and his husband-to the Cameroonian community. (See Dkt. No. 1 at 3-6.) Mr. Djoko is also accused of providing false information to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in an attempt to have John Doe deported. (See Dkt. Nos. 75-3, 75-4, 75-17.) And on October 21, 2018, Mr. Djoko and codefendant Rodrigue Kamdem allegedly assaulted John Doe. (Dkt. No. 1 at 4.)

         In connection with that alleged assault, the Seattle Police Department arrested Mr. Kamdem on November 3, 2018. (Dkt No. 73 at 6.) Following Mr. Kamdem's arrest, detectives telephonically interviewed Mr. Djoko about the assault on November 7. (Dkt. No. 58-6 at 1.) Two days later, a detective called Mr. Djoko's family and advised them that Mr. Djoko should report to the detective. (Id.) Mr. Djoko complied with the detective's request and reported to the police the next day. (Id.) Mr. Djoko was then charged on November 17 with malicious harassment in violation of Washington Revised Code § 9A.36.080. (Dkt. No. 73 at 6.) He was subsequently released pending trial. (Id.) Over the next nine months, Mr. Djoko made all his required court appearances. (See Dkt. No. 58 at 6.)

         On August 1, 2019, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Djoko and his two codefendants on charges of cyberstalking and conspiracy to commit cyberstalking. (Dkt. No. 1 at 2-6) The next day, the government advised Mr. Djoko's state counsel of the federal charges and informed counsel that Mr. Djoko had until August 9 to self-surrender. (Dkt. No. 58-7 at 1.) Mr. Djoko complied with the government's deadline and self-surrendered on August 8. (Id. at 2.) That same day, state prosecutors dismissed Mr. Djoko's malicious harassment charge. (Dkt. No. 58-6 at 2.)

         After Mr. Djoko self-surrendered, the government moved to have him detained pending trial, claiming that he posed a serious risk of flight and a serious risk of obstruction of justice. (See Dkt. No. 14 at 1.) Pretrial services disagreed with the government's assessment and recommended that Mr. Djoko be released subject to standard and special conditions. (See Dkt. No. 27 at 5-6.) A detention hearing was held on August 16, 2019, before Judge Peterson. (Dkt. No. 58-1.) At the hearing, Judge Peterson found that the case qualified for a hearing because Mr. Djoko posed a serious risk of obstructing justice. (See Id. at 40.) Judge Peterson then weighed the factors for detention under 18 U.S.C. § 3142(g), concluding that no conditions could assure Mr. Djoko's appearance and the community's safety. (See Dkt. No. 40 at 1-2.) Judge Peterson therefore ordered that Mr. Djoko be detained pending trial. (See Id. at 2-3.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         The government has charged Mr. Djoko with committing deplorable acts. (See Dkt. No. 73 at 4-6.) Those acts, if proven true, amount to a systematic campaign to “out” a man's sexual orientation in a way that put that individual in real danger. (See id.) But to qualify for pretrial detention, a person must do more than commit deplorable acts; they must meet the statutory prerequisites set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3142. The government argues that those prerequisites are met because Mr. Djoko poses a serious risk of flight and obstruction of justice, because cyberstalking is a “crime of violence, ” and because no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of Mr. Djoko and the safety of the community. (See Dkt. No. 73 at 1-2.) The Court disagrees. While Mr. Djoko poses a serious risk of obstruction, the special conditions recommended by pretrial services will reasonably assure Mr. Djoko's appearance and the community's safety.

         A. Propriety of a Detention Hearing

          “In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.” United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 755 (1987). To ensure that pretrial detention would continue to be an exception, Congress limited the categories of cases eligible for pretrial detention to those listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f). See United States v. Twine, 344 F.3d 987, 987 (9th Cir. 2003); United States v. LaLonde, 246 F.Supp.2d 873, 875 (S.D. Ohio 2003) (quoting S. Rep. No. 98-225, at 20 (1984)) (“[T]he requisite circumstances for invoking a detention hearing in effect serve to limit the types of cases in which detention may be ordered prior to trial.”). Accordingly, unless the government can show by a preponderance of the evidence that a case falls into one of those categories, a defendant cannot be detained pending trial. See United States v. Villatoro-Ventura, 330 F.Supp.3d 1118, 1124 (N.D. Iowa 2018); United States v. Friedman, 837 F.2d 48, 49 (2d Cir. 1988).

         In this case, the government argues that a detention hearing was appropriate for three reasons. First, the government claims that there is a “serious risk that [Mr. Djoko] will flee.” See § 3142(f)(2)(A); (Dkt. No. 73 at 9-10). Second, the government contends that there is a “serious risk that [Mr. Djoko] will obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice.” See § 3142(f)(2)(B); (Dkt. No. 73 at 9-10). And third, the government argues that cyberstalking is a “crime of violence.” See § 3142(f)(1)(A); (Dkt. No. 73 at 10-12). The Court finds that the government has failed to establish a serious of risk of flight but has established a serious risk of obstruction. As a result, it is unnecessary to for the Court to consider whether cyberstalking is a “crime of violence” or if that term is, as Mr. Djoko claims, unconstitutionally vague. (See Dkt. No. 58 at 12-14.)

         1. Risk of Flight

         The government argues that a detention hearing was appropriate because there is a “serious risk of that [Mr. Djoko] will flee.” See § 3142(f)(2)(A); (Dkt. No. 73 at 9-10.) The Court concludes otherwise.

         To begin with, Mr. Djoko appears to have significant reasons to stay in Western Washington. Mr. Djoko has been in the country on an F1 student visa for the past seven years. (Dkt. No. 58 at 8.) During that time, Mr. Djoko has regularly enrolled in classes. (See Dkt. No. 58-9.) He also plans to enroll for classes this fall should he be ...


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