Firearms seized by ATF and South Carolina law enforcement last year during a “major drug and guns crackdown,” which resulted in 20 arrests, including Bryan Wilson. (Photo courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of South Carolina.)
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Wednesday, December 13, 2023, began just like any other workday for Bryan Montiea Wilson, a 33-year-old resident of West Columbia, South Carolina, who had never been in trouble with the law.

At 6 a.m., Wilson began his shift at Harsco Rails on West Technology Drive, where he worked as a material processor for the railroad equipment manufacturer. A couple hours later, Wilson’s supervisor found him on the facility floor and told him to report to the main office. Inside were two men and a woman, all wearing civilian clothes. They told Wilson they were ATF agents and that they had a warrant for his arrest. They never showed him a badge.

Wilson was handcuffed and searched. He did not resist and complied fully with their demands.

He told the agents he was diabetic, so they allowed his supervisor to retrieve a Pop-Tart, fruit juice and blood-sugar monitor from his locker. Wilson was walked out of Harsco in handcuffs.

All of his coworkers witnessed his arrest. In the parking lot, Wilson saw two more agents searching his car.

On the way to the federal courthouse, the agents allowed Wilson to call his brother, who notified his parents of his arrest. At the courthouse, Wilson was booked, fingerprinted and photographed.

He was searched a second time; all of his personal property was seized, and he was locked in a holding cell by himself.

Eventually, a Federal Public Defender was allowed in and showed Wilson a copy of an indictment, which charged him with five counts of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and three counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.

Wilson faced up to 115 years in a federal penitentiary and more than $17 million in fines. The indictment also sought to forfeit unspecified personal property and money. Wilson had never been arrested in his life. He repeatedly told his lawyer he was innocent and that there had to be some sort of mistake.

Wilson was ushered into a courtroom and arraigned before a U.S. Magistrate Judge, who read the charges off of the indictment. An agent falsely testified that the ATF had Wilson under surveillance for the past 13 months. The agent listed several dates when Wilson allegedly sold drugs to undercover ATF agents. He claimed they had Wilson on tape committing the crimes, and that other codefendants had been arrested as well.

Wilson pleaded not guilty. The judge was willing to schedule a bond, but prosecutors wanted Wilson held for several days instead. After the hearing, Wilson continued to tell his lawyer that there had been a mistake. His family, who were present during the arraignment, said the same thing.

False Reports

According to court documents, from November 2022 to March 2023 West Columbia Police Officers Calvin Brown and David Thompson – who were assigned to an ATF task force and supposedly working under ATF supervision – “conducted a series of gun and drug purchases from (among others) someone they identified as Mr. Wilson.”

According to the officers’ reports, the person that the officers bought guns and drugs from and surveilled was listed as “WILSON, BRYAN MONTIEA” or “BRYAN WILSON.” Their reports even listed Wilson’s actual home address. They described him as a black male, 33 years old, five feet, 10-inches tall, with black hair and brown eyes – a description that matches Wilson and a host of other West Columbia residents.

Their reports document numerous undercover purchases of crack cocaine, methamphetamine and numerous firearms from someone they falsely believed was Wilson.

On March 15, 2023, the officers wrote “A CONTROLLED PURCHASE FOR 2 FIREARMS FOR THE PRICE OF $1,900 AND 29 GRAMS OF METHAMPHETAMINE FOR THE PRICE OF $280 FROM THE SUSPECT IDENTIFIED AS BRYAN WILSON WAS CONDUCTED THROUGH THE USE OF CONFIDENTILA (sic) INFORMANTS AND UNDERCOVER OFFICERS.”

On December 5, 2023 – eight days before Wilson’s arrest – a federal grand jury issued an eight-count indictment, alleging Wilson committed the following federal crimes:

 Count One: Possessing and distributing crack cocaine on November 10, 2022, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C).

 Count Two: Possessing and distributing five grams or more of methamphetamine (i.e., “meth”) and crack cocaine on November 18, 2022, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) and (b)(1)(C).

 Count Three: Possessing and distributing crack cocaine on December 8, 2022, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C).

 Count Four: Using and carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking crime on December 8, 2022, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i).

 Count Five: Possessing and distributing five grams or more of meth and crack cocaine on January 17, 2023, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B) and (b)(1)(C).

 Count Six: Using and carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking crime on January 17, 2023, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i).

 Count Seven: Possessing and distributing five grams or more of meth on March 13, 2023, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B).

 Count Eight: Using and carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking crime on March 13, 2023, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i).

There was just one problem: Bryan Montiea Wilson never sold guns or drugs to ATF agents, their informants or anyone else. ATF got the wrong man.

Release

Wilson’s Federal Public Defender is the real hero in this case. After the arraignment, he persuaded prosecutors to keep Wilson at the courthouse long enough for him to investigate Wilson’s claims of innocence.

No documentation exists about the process or how this happened, but eventually the ATF somehow realized they got the wrong man. Prosecutors quickly moved to dismiss the case, but they offered no written explanation as to why they wanted the charges dropped.

“Further review of the case reveals that the interests of justice would best be served by a dismissal of the pending charges as opposed to further prosecution. Based on the foregoing, the Government respectfully requests that the Court dismiss the pending charges against defendant Bryan Montiea Wilson,” the prosecution’s motion to dismiss states.

Assistant U.S. Attorney E. Elizabeth Major, the prosecutor who signed the motion to dismiss, did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Wilson was released from federal custody around 4:20 p.m., and he walked out of the courthouse a free but damaged man. All of the charges were dismissed with prejudice at the prosecutors’ request.

No one told him how the ATF had made such a horrible mistake.

Civil Suit(s)

Earlier this month, Wilson filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the two West Columbia Police Officers who falsely alleged he sold them guns and drugs while they were working as task force officers for the ATF.

His lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount of actual, consequential and punitive damages, alleges the officers committed a false arrest, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, and that their misconduct led to wrongful indictment/malicious prosecution, which violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

“Defendants initiated a criminal proceeding against Plaintiff without probable cause – i.e., without a reasonable belief that Plaintiff, in fact, committed federal drug trafficking and gun crimes,” the lawsuit claims. “As a direct and proximate result of Defendants’ conduct, Plaintiff was indicted, arrested, searched, detained, and humiliated and is entitled to recover damages, present and prospective, including for lost wages, mental anguish, distress, shock, loss of reputation, the violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, and other expenses.”

Wilson’s suit details the harm his false arrest has caused.

He needed to take several days off work. Nowadays, he rarely leaves his house. He suffers migraines. and his coworkers spread rumors about his arrest and his release. One falsely claims he flipped on a codefendant, which is the kind of rumor that can get him killed. Others claim he was arrested for rape and even murder.

According to his lawsuit, Wilson worries his teenage daughter may learn what the ATF did to him. His mother, this suit claims, “now calls her son while he is at work to check on his,wellbeing.”

“Mr. Wilson is a father, brother, and son, and a law-abiding citizen who works for an honest living,” the lawsuit states. “He has never trafficked drugs. He is a lawful gun owner. He has no criminal record.”

A second civil rights lawsuit against the ATF is extremely likely.

Veronica Hill, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina said she cannot comment about the case because Wilson has filed an administrative claim against the government – a prelude to a civil suit.

“When you want to file a (civil) complaint against a federal agency, you have to file an administrative claim first,” she said. “If it is not resolved within six months, or not resolved to the satisfaction of the claimant, a lawsuit can then be filed.”

Corey Ray, spokesperson for ATF’s Charlotte Field Division, which oversaw the investigation, did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Guns on the Table

Neither prosecutors nor the ATF allowed Wilson’s false arrest to dampen their enthusiasm for what they described in a press release as an “advanced, intelligence-based, multi-faceted law enforcement operation.”

“In June of 2022, in response to rising violent crime in the West Columbia area, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Columbia launched an advanced, intelligence-based, multi-faceted law enforcement operation. The purpose of the operation was to target criminal entities and groups in the area, specifically those engaged in the illegal use, sale, and possession of firearms and narcotics. ATF established a controlled buy location, and ATF undercover agents and confidential informants began conducting controlled purchases of firearms and narcotics from criminal targets in the area, while local agencies conducted crime suppression operations,” the release states.

According to the press release, 210 firearms were seized and 20 people were arrested, including “members of the Bloods, Crips, and Gangster Disciple street gangs.” Neither Wilson nor his false arrest were mentioned in the press release.

Takeaways

Were it not for the heads-up play of a Federal Public Defender, Wilson would likely still be in jail alongside 20 alleged gang members. It is not known if ATF agents were ever able to track down the suspect whom they mistook for Wilson, who actually sold them drugs and guns.

We will never know all of the allegations that the ATF made against Wilson or the details. Their federal complaint was quickly sealed and is no longer available to the public. However, the allegations Wilson’s attorney included in his civil suit are eerily similar to the allegations ATF made about Bryan Malinowski, the 53-year-old Arkansas airport executive whom ATF agents shot and killed in his home March 19.

The ATF also claimed they had made several undercover firearm purchases from Malinowski. They said they surveilled Malinowski for months, too. Malinowski will never be able to refute these allegations or file a civil suit.

Civil rights violations by the ATF have skyrocketed since the Biden-Harris administration weaponized the agency as part of its war on law-abiding gun owners. One can only wonder whether federal judges will take judicial notice of these injustices and start asking a few more questions before they sign off on any future request from the ATF, to ensure the agents don’t shoot another innocent homeowner or make another false arrest.

Article courtesy of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project. This project wouldn’t be possible without the support of gun owners. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to support pro-gun stories like this.

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57 COMMENTS

  1. Im anti-sue happy. But i hope he gets their pants, shirt, and everything else these d-bags have in his civil suit.

  2. Small town cops WORK for the ATF JBTs? Good idea Chief.

    WTF does ATF have to do with drug investigations. I’m pretty sure DEA is over funded and still in operation.

    • Well like in Chiraq “he was guilty of something”. “He looks” like one of them them thar drug dealer’s. Lazy,stupid,evil,corrupt ATF. Take your pick.

    • The problem is most people think the DEA is there about drugs in a way to protect citizens. Ollie North had DEA buds that helped him funnel drugs for cash. The purpose of the DEA is to control drugs so those not paying their share are the ones prosecuted. Don’t get confused.

    • This is where all the states need to enact a law that forbids state and local police agencies from working with the ATF, and fines them if they do. Separately they need automatic dismissal of any state or local employee who recieves any compensation from ATF and sets a ten year term that they can not be hired from their last paycheck from ATF.

      Cut the ATF off from being able to corrupt the locals and you will limit the damage they can do.

    • It’s not uncommon for local law enforcement to liaise with federal law enforcement. At least this one actually involved guns. A couple of counties over from me there was a big case with a sting setup for hiring a hitman. It was literally some lady trying to hire someone to kill her husband. I’m still not sure how the ATF wound up running that investigation.

  3. Wayne may be gone, but his infamous line about the ATF being jack booted thugs lives on.

    I hope qualified immunity goes out the window for people making statements. They likely messed this guys life up.

    • Remember that qualified immunity is just that–qualified. It doesn’t excuse perjury or lack of probable cause. It will be raised of course, and the undercovers will probably testify that the bad guy gave a false name so they didn’t know they had the wrong guy.

  4. “the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Columbia launched an advanced, intelligence-based, multi-faceted law enforcement operation”

    As this statement applies the ATF, it sounds suspiciously like an oxymoron.

  5. Let’s say the lawsuits amount to $25,000,000.00. That’s not going to put the atf out of business because they have money to burn. The thought of arresting an innocent person like the nazi ss arrested Jews is no sweat off the atf. Money is not an issue, the lives of the innocent are not an issue so what’s there to stop them? It’s certainly not Morality.

    • Debbie W.,

      Friendly suggestion: start an education campaign with the ATF and educate them on the history of racism and genocide. That is sure to change the hearts and minds of the evil people in the agency who despise “others”.

      I eagerly look forward to showering you with accolades after you transform the ATF into a kinder and gentler justice organization.

      • I think they would do better to attend POST and work as police officers before they are given a badge and gun. They teach that kind of stuff.

        • Their agents have shorter training even with their tac team addon than basic and AIT for army MP’s I am sure they are qualified.

      • The problem isn’t racism in ATF. The guy they killed in Little Rock was a middle aged, white, businessman. It is power. They are agents of the government, they don’t serve the people, they serve the administration and therefore are not accountable. Just like Obama weaponized the IRS and the IRS was successfully sued, doesn’t mean a thing. The election was over and kept them for getting any votes and the lawsuit isn’t coming out of his pocket. In fact you have to do a lengthy search to find where there was suit.

        • The BATFE is determined to be the LE Big Dog on the street and eclipse the FBI. Their scope, power, and reach has grown exponentially since they transitioned from Excise Tax Enforcers to Federal Super Cops with the passage of the unconstitutional Omnibus Gun Control Act of 1968. These boys are dangerous people and now with rule making powers unrestrained, they are becoming a new Congress inventing laws without ever standing for election.

  6. He will be made a “good faith offer” to be “left alone until next time” if he drops everything.

  7. O
    M
    G

    That can’t be the real Debbie W …where are the hurled epithets?
    It is actually both readable AND comprehendible.

    ….what have you done to the Real Debbie, and please, please, please – keep her !!!

    • unicorn whisper,

      Look for Debbie W. to come unglued when she responds to my response under her comment above.

    • unicorn whisperer,

      I predict Debbie W.’s forthcoming furious response:
      a) she will claim her superiority to me/us
      b) she will imply that I/we am/are “others”
      c) she will then implicitly condone hateful and demeaning treatment of me/us

      Her response will be delicious irony because that is the EXACT mindset and treatment which is part-and-parcel of discrimination, racism, and genocide–the very things that Debbie claims to despise.

  8. Time keeps on slipping.
    I do not know about the rest of yah’s but it seems like owing a gunm is becoming a life threatening Right.
    So this is how it starts.

  9. I’m surprised the ATF led task force arrested him at work. Much harder to manufacture a situation where they can shoot him.

  10. …”Let’s say the lawsuits amount to $25,000,000.00. That’s not going to put the atf out of business because they have money to burn.”.

    Isn’t ‘their money’ actually OUR money?

  11. Even though the charges are dropped he’ll go thru hell trying to get his next firearm background ck okd. Will take alot of effort and finding the right FBI office and finding somebody to talk to that can help etc. Ask me how i know. Hes on the “no” list now, charges dropped or not.

  12. “According to court documents, from November 2022 to March 2023 West Columbia Police Officers Calvin Brown and David Thompson – who were assigned to an ATF task force and supposedly working under ATF supervision”.

    A BATFE Supervisory Agent (GS-14) reviewed the reports and evidence submissions by off’s (Task Force Officers) Calvin Brown and David Thompson, this is going to be a problem for the BATFE and US Department of Justice. There will be a civil settlement, a trial would be too much exposure of shenanigans.

  13. if trump wins
    he should create a new federal holiday:
    “us citizens who are victims of the us federal government remembrance day”

  14. The lawsuit against the local morons MIGHT have legs, probably not but possibly.
    The lawsuit against the Feds is dead before it’s even filed. The Feds simply REFUSE
    to accept liability for their constant major screw ups and can rely on the FEDERAL courts
    to cover their incompetent asses. We MUST end forever the concept of immunity for
    public employees…ALL of them, including judges and prosecutors. Till that happens
    they have zero incentive to actually DO THEIR JOBS CORRECTLY and honestly.

  15. Um, if you boil all this down, it sounds like “man is wrongly arrested and quickly released.”

    Wrongful arrests are, well, wrong, and should always be investigated, but what kind of standard are we after? “Never arresting the wrong man” is, in the real world, an unobtainable standard. We don’t live in a perfect world.

    Many of the claims in the suit seem exaggerated or out of the ATF’s control: “He needed to take several days off work. Nowadays, he rarely leaves his house. He suffers migraines. and his coworkers spread rumors about his arrest and his release. One falsely claims he flipped on a codefendant, which is the kind of rumor that can get him killed. Others claim he was arrested for rape and even murder.”

    * He chose to take those days off work.
    * He chooses to “rarely leave his house.”
    * Is arrest now medically recognized as a cause of migraines?
    * The ATF has no control over rumor-mongering co-workers.

    • “Quickly released”? Quick would have been the day after the arrest.

      “Many of the claims in the suit seem exaggerated or out of the ATF’s control: ”

      Or his lawyer is laying out the predicate for damages, things that are necessary for civil suit.

      “Never arresting the wrong man” – Strawman and Nirvana fallacy. That’s not the complaint, and no one demands that.

      “Standard,” you ask? How about accountability for egregious and obvious mistakes that should have been found before the arrest warrant was issued? This whole system requires accountability, and that’s a thing that has been already ignored to a very dangerous point. Governments at every level have become detached from moral and civic duties. Accountability is the only way that is repaired.

      • ““Quickly released”? Quick would have been the day after the arrest.”

        He was released the day *of* the arrest. Why would you like for him to have been held longer?

      • ““Never arresting the wrong man” – Strawman and Nirvana fallacy. That’s not the complaint, and no one demands that.”

        On the contrary, the wrongful arrest is central to the claim in the suit:

        “This civil rights action seeks money damages to compensate Mr. Wilson for the indignity of his unlawful indictment, search, seizure, and detention and accountability for the law enforcement officers responsible for gathering and presenting admittedly false information to a federal grand jury, a U.S. District Court, and the public.”

        Wilson isn’t seeking just accountability, he’s seeking to hit the jackpot based on his wrongful arrest. He was in and out in the same day. He was inconvenienced less than some people who draw jury duty.

        • Well, he can thank his lucky stars that he wasn’t dealing with the FBI, those guys will shoot your wife, and the Marshall’s service kills kids and dogs.

        • “On the contrary, the wrongful arrest is central to the claim in the suit:”

          Nope. It’s not seeking an injunction on all future action, something not under relief ( thought it should be.) A “jackpot” isn’t the same as injunctive prohibition on all future investigation and prosecution and you know it.

          “He was released the day *of* the arrest. Why would you like for him to have been held longer?”

          No, I misread the TTAG post, but the prosecutors, despite knowing he was the wrong guy in court sought jail time. Their request for hold was fraudulent and you know it.

  16. Didn’t the two local “detectives” ever wonder why he never went home? They had a name and address and were supposedly watching him. In that many months he never went home.

  17. The biggest point here is that the Constitution does not provide for any federal agencies or employees to execute the laws of the Union. There is one and only one delegation of power to execute the laws of the Union in the ENTIRE Constitution and that is Art 1 Sec 8 Pp 15 where the Framers set the only entity that can legitimately execute the laws of the Union as the MILITIA. Why? As the Framers stated, the Militia are the People and they will not enforce unjust or unconstitutional laws on each other. And that is the answer as to why the feds violate the Constitution through their need to violate the People with unjust and unconstitutional laws.

  18. Well, in defense of the brave ATF agents, they all do look alike….

    For you simpleton Liberals out there, this is a satirical comment against the stupidity of ATF agents everywhere.

  19. For openers, the police officers involved in this criminal fiasco, as well as the federal clowns, aka ATF agents should be fired RDN, which translates to Right Damned Now. Criminal Prosecution thereof should follow immediately. As for all the paper work involved in this phoney arrest every last word should be published with the widest possible distribution. Nothing, not a single word left out. There is absolutely nothing that could possibly justify or excuse the criminal stupidity involved in this case. As for Mr. Wilson’s federal public defender, he deserves the largest possible rewards.

  20. By the way, is one to actually believe that the prosecutors, educated, trained and experienced people seemingly never so much have sniffed the air, for the smell of a bum prosecution was more than pronounced.

    • Oh so true, however I suspect that they won’t be held accountable for what appears a criminal screw up. They might actually be decorated and promoted.

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