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United States v. Coleman

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 23, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Ronald T. Coleman, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued September 24,2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 16-CR-723 - Charles R. Norgle, Judge.

          Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and Easterbrook and Brennan, Circuit Judges.

          WOOD, Chief Judge.

         Ronald Coleman is a former Chicago police officer who turned to crime. In June 2014, he was as­signed to a federal drug investigation task force, which was about to execute numerous search and arrest warrants. Shortly before the operations were set to begin, Coleman tel­ephoned one of the targets-a high school acquaintance-to warn him about the raid. That call led to a single charge of obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2), and the end of Coleman's law-enforcement career when a jury convicted him. Coleman now argues that he is entitled to a new trial for two primary reasons: evidentiary errors, and the government's use of allegedly perjured testimony. He also urges that the district court committed procedural and sub­stantive errors when selecting his sentence. Because we find no prejudicial error in any of the district court's rulings, we affirm both the conviction and the sentence.

         I

         Coleman is a lifelong Chicagoan who grew up to become an officer with the Chicago Police Department. In high school, he met cousins Dewan Davis and LaRon Conway. Though Coleman was not close with either of these men after high school, he maintained a casual friendship with them.

         In 2014, Coleman served on the team conducting a federal drug investigation dubbed Operation Five Leaf Clover ("the Operation"). In time, the Operation began to focus on several people whom Coleman knew, including Davis. Although Da­vis was never a target of the Operation, he was identified as an associate of a heroin supplier named Rodney Bedenfield. In June 2014 the Operation was preparing to execute approx­imately 10 search warrants and numerous arrest warrants. But things went awry when, shortly before the bust, the tar­gets learned about it.

         Conway testified that while he was at work on June 9, 2014, he received a call from an unknown woman who told him to call Coleman. This call does not appear in Conway's personal phone records. Conway testified that when he fol­lowed the woman's instructions and called Coleman, Coleman warned him about the impending searches and told him to pass the message along to Davis. (Coleman admits that this call took place, but he told the jury that it was about set­ting up a Father's Day picnic.) Conway did what he was told and warned Davis about the looming raid. Unbeknownst to Coleman, however, the task force knew that something was amiss. The Operation had wiretapped numerous phones as part of its investigation, and so when Davis predictably called Bedenfield, officers heard the two men say that someone "on the task force" had given them a warning call. Davis testified that he understood this person to be Coleman.

         After Coleman's warning, Bedenfield moved contraband to a house that the Operation had not known about before. Because they had intercepted the warning, however, officers were monitoring Bedenfield when this move occurred. The Operation then obtained a search warrant for the new house and recovered the contraband placed there.

         Based on the warning call, the grand jury indicted Cole­man on one count of obstruction of justice. On August 10, 2017, a jury convicted him on that charge. The district court later denied his motion for a new trial and sentenced him to 60 months' imprisonment. On appeal, Coleman raises four objections-two related to the conviction, and two to the sen­tence.

         II

         A

         Coleman first complains that the government improperly elicited testimony from Conway to the effect that he lied in his initial interviews with law-enforcement agents because he feared retaliation from the Chicago Police Department. Although he objected to this testimony at trial, the ground for that objection was relevance. Fed. R. Evid. 401. On appeal, he has gone ...


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