By Ed Runyan
Three years ago, before the Nov. 11, 2012, gunfight involving dozens of gunshots with high-powered weapons left a Warren man dead and two Detroit men in jail on murder charges, law enforcement was on the trail of another Detroit crime connection.
A confidential informant told an agent with the Trumbull Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force in October 2009 that drug dealing was taking place at a carwash in the southern part of the city.
The informant said Frederick Johnson and his girlfriend, Brandi Watson, who lived nearby on Wallace Street Southeast, were selling cocaine and heroin, court documents released Monday say.
The carwash closed a short time later, but a car- repair shop opened not far away, and the drug dealing moved to that location, the informant said.
Eventually, Watson told the informant she and Johnson were headed to Detroit to bring back cocaine and heroin. TAG, a narcotics unit, was ready Jan. 15, 2010, when they returned.
The officers, all undercover, followed a vehicle containing Watson as passenger until the driver became suspicious and fled at high speeds through the city.
Drugs were thrown out the window, and Watson and the driver fled on foot. Watson was found several hours later, and Johnson was apprehended after that on the basis that police believed Johnson was the driver of the car.
Because prosecutors said Watson and Johnson had possession of $120,000 in heroin, their charges were elevated by a charge naming each of them as a “major drug offender.” Both were convicted on the drug charges in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court in March 2011.
Johnson, then 40, received a 32-year prison term. Watson, then 27, got 15 years.
Officials at the time said they were among the longest drug sentences in the county’s history.
Johnson also had served prison time starting in March 1998 on federal cocaine-distribution and conspiracy charges stemming from drug dealing he and 27 other defendants had done in Flint, Mich., when Johnson was 26 years old.
Johnson was released from prison in 2007 after serving most of a 121/2-year prison sentence. He told his probation officer in October 2007 he would be living on Ferndale Avenue Southwest in Warren.
Details about the investigation that resulted in the conviction of Watson and Johnson were included in an appeals-court ruling released Monday. The ruling affirmed Watson’s 2011 conviction and sentence.
The appeals-court ruling also noted that Watson told police not long after her arrest in January 2010 that she and Johnson had dealt in cocaine and heroin for about a year, and that they had gone to Michigan “a number of times” to purchase the drugs.
In court, Watson denied telling police about previous trips to Michigan and denied selling drugs.
Lt. Jeff Orr, commander of TAG, said Detroit is the most common entry point for illegal drugs in the county and that the increase in heroin use in the county has brought additional Detroit-area criminals to Trumbull in recent years.
On Nov. 11, 2012, Marco Dukes, 32, of Warren, was killed on the back porch of an apartment house on Elm Road Northeast between High and East Market streets, near several popular restaurants and a church that was conducting Sunday services.
Police described the 40 or more gunshots involved in the killing as a “gunbattle” among several men.
Dale Hatch, 25, and Derrick Peete, 22, who both have criminal records out of Detroit, were charged with murder in the killing, which officials have said they believe was linked to drugs.
Peete was convicted in 2010 in 3rd Judicial Circuit Court in Detroit of delivery or manufacture of cocaine and was placed on two years’ probation.
Hatch’s 2008 Detroit conviction was for receiving stolen property.