Ex-Gang Member Freed by Obama Was ‘Executed’ by Masked Men

The president commuted Damarlon Thomas’s 19-year sentence for cocaine and with two months left, gunmen put a hit on him.


Two months after President Obama freed him from prison, two masked gunmen took his life.

Damarlon Thomas was serving time for drug distribution when this president commuted his and 78 others’ sentences in November. Thomas, a former gang member, had served eight years of his 19-year sentence and was released to a federal halfway house in his hometown to serve out the final months before his new release date in March.

But shortly after his arrival, he was shot dead in an “execution”-style hit, police say.

On January 23, Thomas was living at Bannum Place, a federal halfway house in Saginaw, Michigan, where he was transferred sometime after his sentence was commuted in November. At approximately 9:40 p.m., two men wearing masks and carrying assault rifles entered the low-security lockup. They began searching the 24 inmates for their target. One gunman reportedly rounded up the group at gunpoint, while the other pulled Thomas, 31, aside. The masked man shot Thomas multiple times, including once in the head.

“One person watched over a group of them while another subject located the victim and executed him,” Michigan State Police Lt. David Kaiser told the Saginaw News. “They were looking for this person.”

The shooters left the rest of the onlookers unharmed, and fled the lockup without being captured. Police have yet to name any suspects in the slaying. Reached by phone on Tuesday morning, a Bannum Place employee said the facility did not have any new information on the shooting.

“This was a very targeted individual, for whatever reason,” Kaiser told the Saginaw News. “The people that shot this man knew who they were looking for and wanted him deceased.”

Thomas was arrested in 2008 as part of a federal investigation into Saginaw’s Sunny Side Gang called “Operation Sunset.” Thomas was among the former former gang members to enter a guilty plea, admitting to distributing five or more grams of cocaine. For that he was given 19 years behind bars in Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in Lisbon, Ohio.

After his conviction, Thomas unsuccessfully appealed the 19-year sentence as unreasonable for what he said was his minor role as a drug distributor. But Obama appeared to agree with Thomas’s appeal and on November 22, announced that Thomas would be released in four months, instead of after the eight years remaining on his initial sentence.

With four months left to serve on his sentence, Thomas was sent to the halfway house that is intended to help rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for release into society.

He served half of those four months before he was shot dead.

Over his eight years in office, Obama granted a record-breaking 1,715 commutations, many of which went to inmates serving sentences on drug offenses. He was more conservative with pardons, offering just 212, fewer than any recent president with the exceptions of both presidents Bush.