Man accused of buying gun used to kill Detroit officer will stay in jail, judge rules

Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

Detroit — The man accused of buying the gun that would later be used to kill a Detroit police officer will stay in jail ahead of his trial, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Sheldon Avery Thomas is accused of "straw purchasing," or claiming a gun he was buying was for himself when it was intended for someone else who could not purchase it. Prosecutors allege that Thomas bought the gun not for himself but for Ehmani Davis, who officials say used the gun three weeks ago to kill Detroit Police Officer Loren Courts.

The federal charge is punishable by a maximum of $250,000 and 10 years in prison.

A photo of Sheldon Thomas carrying a Drago pistol he'd just purchased, which federal authorities say he illegally sold to another man.

U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain said Tuesday that he didn't see any reason to change a magistrate judge's initial decision to detain Thomas before trial after a hearing in which a defense attorney argued that Thomas could instead live at home.

While the judge acknowledged that Thomas appeared to have a family willing to support him, Drain said the history and nature of the crime and the seriousness of the danger posed indicated that he should stay in jail.

Thomas' attorney, Leon Parker, had suggested that some sort of house arrest might be more appropriate, given that Thomas has a child on the way and that his small vide game-related business is the primary source of income for his family. While Thomas has been held, that business had been "flailing," Parker said.

Drain said he considered that, but given the length of a trial, he decided against it.

"There are many reasons a person may leave their home during home confinement for different things, such as to see their attorney or go to a doctor," Drain said. "That does provide some access for the defendant to get more guns."

Prosecutors allege Thomas bought the pistol — which comes with a high-capacity 30-round magazine — from dealer Action Impact in Eastpointe in June and later met Davis in a parking lot to sell it. Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Lanning argued during a previous detention hearing that Thomas has made multiple efforts to supply Davis with a firearm in the past, pointing out an instance from February that was unsuccessful. She also brought up an alleged incident in which Davis stole one of Thomas’ guns.

Lanning made similar arguments Tuesday, laying out a specific timeline for the court that she alleged indicated Thomas had repeatedly served as a buyer for Davis and potentially for others. She also brought up an incident in which Thomas shot and killed a girlfriend's mother's boyfriend after the boyfriend had allegedly been attacking Thomas' brother.

"He clearly understands the impact of a gun," Lanning argued.

Drain's decision matches the initial decision of Magistrate Judge Jonathan Grey, who also said Thomas' potential danger to the community was too high.

Police say Davis, 19, opened fire in an ambush on police July 6 through the closed window of his apartment unit above the shuttered Desire Unisex Salon on Joy Road near Marlowe on Detroit's west side. Courts and his partner, Amanda Hudgens, both five-year Detroit police veterans from the 2nd Precinct, were responding to a 911 call reporting that a man was firing shots out the window of the apartment. A bullet struck Courts in the neck as he sat in his police cruiser.

Davis was killed by officers responding to reports of shots fired.

Staff writer Robert Snell contributed to this story.

Twitter: @Hayley__Harding