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Loose Pistol

Suspect in gun thefts a troubled man

Patrick Sullivan - July 23rd, 2012  

It didn’t take long for police to make an arrest after someone broke into a shooting range in May and made off with five semiautomatic handguns.

Break-ins that involve stolen handguns tend to get a lot of police attention, and this one was no exception.

“We always want to get them back,” said Capt. Dave Meachum, head of the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office’s detective bureau. “Handguns that have been stolen don’t surface in good areas.”

It took just hours for police to find the man they believe broke into Shooters Indoor Gun and Archery Range in Grawn and to put him behind bars.

In the arrest, police found a man with an extensive criminal record who has repeatedly faced domestic violence and other charges and, according to court files and police reports, has repeatedly threatened to attack police officers.


On a video from a security surveillance camera, a large man can be seen crawling into the shooting range on his hands and knees over broken glass, police said.

He stands up and goes over to a glass display case and takes out a claw hammer and starts striking the glass top, over and over again, for about a minute, until it shatters.

From the case he takes five handguns and puts them into a backpack.

About 25 minutes later, the same man, dressed in an orange cap, gray long-sleeve shirt, and dark track pants with white stripes along the side, returns to the store, crawling in again through the broken window through the bottom of the entry door.

This time, for some reason, an alarm sounds. It’s not known why the alarm goes off at this time and didn’t go off earlier. Meachum said it is not unheard of for alarms to sometimes fail because of some glitch.

“It appears the subject was startled by something, presumably an audible alarm, and abruptly turns around and runs out of the store through the same broken glass,” a deputy wrote in a police report.


Investigators were soon able to zero in on a suspect. That second trip by the thief into the store tripped the alarm at 12:04 a.m. on May 16 and police soon arrived, followed by the store owner, who gave investigators access to surveillance footage of the break-in.

Investigators could tell right away they were looking for a suspect with a distinctive look. The first deputy to look at the tape determined the suspect was “large in stature.”

That deputy later told a detective she also thought she might know the identity of the suspect from past contact she’d had with him in some drug cases she had worked on. The identifying feature was the suspect’s somewhat limped walk, according to police reports.

By 12:55, the deputies had broadcast a message over their radios to be on the lookout for a large man in an orange cap, gray shirt, and striped track pants. The suspect was possibly armed and dangerous.


Despite getting lucky once by breaking into the gun range without tripping the alarm, and then getting lucky again by getting away from the scene just minutes before police arrived when an alarm did go off, the suspect was willing to push his luck a third time that night, that is if police have found the right guy.

The way it is described in police reports, the suspect almost fell into their laps just hours after the crime.

Police pulled over a 1999 tan GMC conversion van on South Airport Road near Logan’s Landing at 1:40 a.m. after a deputy said he saw the driver attempt to make a turn from the wrong lane, according to police reports.

When Deputy Joe Bares ran the driver’s name, Brandyn Johnson, 34, of TC, through LIEN, a law enforcement database, he arrested Johnson for a bond violation. Johnson was on bond for a domestic violence charge.

Bares noted in his report that once he got a good look at Johnson, he thought he looked a lot like the guy wanted for the gun range break-in.

What stood out was Johnson’s enormous size -- he is six feet six inches tall and weighs around 290 pounds.

Bares said Johnson became threatening as he was placed under arrest and that he attempted to kick out the rear window of the patrol car. He told Bares he would “break your f*cking jaw,” and that he was going to “get a flak jacket and a 100 round drum clip and start mowing you f*cking pigs down.”

Inside Johnson’s van, deputies found a shard of broken glass, an orange stocking cap, a gray shirt, and an old claw hammer, but no guns.


Johnson was first interviewed at the jail at 2:49 a.m.

He said he had nothing to do with the gun range break-in and that he was trying to call a girlfriend when he got pulled over.

He said he didn’t need to do breakins because he had made $2,600 that day through his dock installation business and would make $20,000 that month and also received disability checks from the state.

Dep. Samantha Maxwell, the deputy who had first responded to the crime scene and watched the surveillance video, wrote in her report that although the interview ended peacefully, it got hostile at times.

“I noted Johnson’s demeanor was somewhat sluggish and he appeared to have difficulty keeping his eyes open and concentrating,” she wrote. “However, after several minutes of speaking he became very alert and almost aggressive.”

Maxwell noted Johnson’s right hand was swollen and scratched and he had cuts on his knees.

Johnson dismissed those questions, saying he got those injuries while installing docks.

But further questions about how he looked so much like the person who Maxwell saw in surveillance footage apparently got to the suspect.

“Johnson began to rant about how he was being harassed by the police in this area and began making statements to the (effect) that if this was a real town, people would get dealt with,” Maxwell wrote.

“Johnson began ranting about how he would take us out, implying that he was going to harm law enforcement. ...He began talking about how he was going to reestablish his gang and this time it was going to be part of the good old boys and the sons of anarchy and that the police in this town needed to watch out.”


Later that day, deputies used a warrant to search Brandyn Johnson’s house in Long Lake Township.

In the top drawer of a dresser in his room, police found five Ruger handguns, according to the report. All of the serial numbers matched the ones that had been stolen from the gun range, police said.

That afternoon, Det. Paul Gomez took a copy of an inventory of what was found to Johnson at the jail.

Johnson, even though he’d ended his last conversation with an officer with a demand to see an attorney -- which meant he had invoked his Fifth Amendment rights -- waived his rights and agreed to speak to Gomez, according to the detective. This is disputed by Johnson’s attorney.

Gomez informed Johnson that his house had been searched and the handguns had been found.

After that, Johnson was deflated, the detective wrote.

“I then explained to Johnson that we know he did it and how he did it, we just don’t know why he did what he did and that the courts would also want to know why he did what he did,” Gomez wrote.

“The suspect Johnson indicated that he wasn’t thinking at the time that he did it and that he wasn’t going to hurt anybody,” Gomez continues in his report.

Gomez asked Johnson why he took the guns and “Johnson indicated that he has been a hunter his whole life and that he was just pure stupid at the time that he did the break-in.”

Later in the conversation, though, Johnson denied that he did the break-in and claimed the guns couldn’t be the ones the police were after.

“Johnson then indicated to me that he never admitted to doing any break-ins and that I would be flipping his story around” if the report were to show that he had confessed.


Johnson’s attorney, Jim Hunt, now wants to get the confession Johnson made to Gomez and the evidence recovered in the search warrants thrown out.

Hunt argues in motions he filed with the 13th Circuit Court that police did not have probable cause to search Johnson’s van or his house and the interview between Gomez and Johnson was improper and a violation of his constitutional rights because he told the detective that he wanted to see his lawyer and Gomez nonetheless persisted in talking to him under the pretense of telling him about what police found in his house.

Hunt argues, in effect, that Johnson was tricked or provoked into making “statements that could be construed as admissions.”

Hunt said he had no comment about the case.

A hearing on the motions is scheduled for July 27 before Judge Thomas Power.

Meanwhile Johnson is in jail in lieu of $2 million bond and faces a charge of breaking an entering, a 10-year felony, and five counts of receiving and concealing stolen firearms, also 10-year felonies.

He is also charged as a three-time habitual offender. He was convicted in 1995 in Grand Traverse County to being an accessory after the fact to a felony and was convicted in 2011 in Grand Rapids on a charge of attempted false report of a felony.

If he is convicted an habitual offender, it would double his maximum sentence to 20 years.


A woman who used to be involved with Johnson, and who is the mother of one of his children, said she thinks Johnson should have been in jail for domestic violence when the gun range break-in occurred.

Johnson had been arrested weeks earlier on a domestic violence charge, but despite an extensive history of domestic violence and other criminal charges, he was released on bond.

That he got busted for breaking into a gun range didn’t surprise Christy Olvier too much, she said, because she knows him as a troubled man who abused drugs and desperately needed help.

“Either Brandyn was going to O.D., or he was going to go to jail,” Olivier said.

Johnson’s most recent criminal charges include four cases of domestic violence filed against him in Grand Traverse County since 2010.

In two of the cases the charges were dismissed. In 2010, Johnson was convicted of domestic violence against Olivier.


The most recent case happened April 26, when Johnson is accused of attempting to attack another woman with whom he has a child.

Olivier was also present, according to police reports, and she saw that Johnson was going to attack the woman and she grabbed his shirt and held him back so the woman could get away.

“Olivier said she could tell by the look on Brandyn’s face he was gonna hurt” the other woman, the sergeant wrote.

Deputies arrested Johnson in a traffic stop a short while later and, according to the file, it was another case when Johnson demonstrated hostility toward police.

“He was VERY angry at officers on the scene,” the officer wrote. “He made numerous threats to harm us all, while stating he knows where we live and will rally his friends to attack law enforcement officers in the area.”

Johnson was charged with second-offense domestic violence and he faces a misdemeanor trial in August.

Olivier said Johnson has good points and she has seen he is capable of being a kind person, but the positives are too often overshadowed by a propensity for violence and attempts to manipulate those around him.

She said she fears for her safety when Johnson eventually gets out of jail, whether that’s in months or years.

She said she doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the criminal justice system because he’s been in trouble so many times and seemingly never had to spend too much time behind bars.

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