Rare ridealong: Feds break up gangs, serve 5 search warrants in Detroit

When federal agents smash their way into gang activity, they do it early in the morning, and it comes after months of planning.

Elite agents put in hours of work and research out of the ATF's special operations division on loan to Detroit. 

Roll call started at 4:15 a.m. at an undisclosed location. Jessica Dupnack and photojournalist Todd Brangan were privy to the investigations - after months of planning. 

The coordinated dance with other agencies was the simultaneous serving of five search warrants across Detroit as they work to dismantle gang activity.

The affiliates of the Omerta Boys and Purple Heart are specifically accused of gun crimes. Among them is 23-year-old Trevon Mathis – who got out of prison in 2021 for assault with intent to do great bodily harm and gun charges.

Special Agent in Charge Paul Vanderplow said Mathis is once again in the gun game – and hiding in plain site. According to Vanderplow, Mathis has been posting photos of himself with guns on Instagram and even using the word "trigger" in his handle, all while taunting in a screenshot of a video, rapping to the camera "the feds are coming."

Well, they did.

"As we pull up here, it will be very, noise discipline will be adhered to. It will be relatively quiet. You will see getting 25 individuals up to a door, how quiet they can be," Vanderplow said.

After approaching the house in silence, a flashbang announces the presence of federal agents about to raid a home.

During our ridealong, the team in unison heads to the house off Prevost near Margareta on Detroit’s west side. Each agent was carrying about $30,000 worth of equipment to keep them safe – and the suspects too. The approach was stealthy - and almost silent. Until the flashbang.

"Some of these warrants they warrant the level of violence that these individuals have demonstrated. We bring the proper tools to mitigate risk," Vanderplow said. "Numerous individuals who have been terrorizing the area. Numerous firearms violations, a number of narcotics violations, fraud issues."

Vanderplow says guns were found in plain site inside the house. Then three men were brought out including their suspect Mathis – wearing only his boxers. 

Later agents would get them out of the cold, and inside for questioning.

"I preach to numerous videos to yourself and others – if you’re going to do this kind of stuff, I have a crew that will find you, and we are going to come after you," Vanderplow said.

Mathis will stand before a judge in federal court on charges. But the bigger picture for Vanderplow is that the people who live here are a little safer now.

"The end result of us coming in here, ridding this neighborhood of this so now the citizens and the neighbors around here can enjoy their homes," he said.

The arrest was also a milestone. After nearly 27 years of service, Vanderplow is retiring.

"We're dads, we're moms. We have people that, you know, we care about people, that’s why we do this not because we like knocking in doors at 6 in the morning," he said.