YSL Trial: Defense attorney’s laptop seized in court

Search warrant alleges his client browsed Instagram during proceedings
Eric Johnson, an attorney for Christian Eppinger, speaks at a hearing for the YSL case in Atlanta on Thursday, December 22, 2022.   (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Eric Johnson, an attorney for Christian Eppinger, speaks at a hearing for the YSL case in Atlanta on Thursday, December 22, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

A laptop belonging to a defense attorney in Atlanta’s high-profile gang case was seized in the middle of court proceedings Wednesday by a group of Fulton County deputies.

Attorney Eric Johnson, who represents one of the nine remaining defendants in the sprawling “Young Slime Life” trial, was handed what appeared to be a search warrant as his computer was snatched from his client.

The search warrant alleges his client, Christian Eppinger, had been spotted covertly browsing Instagram during court proceedings. The warrant claims Eppinger used a separate browser window to access the social media site, and that he tried to conceal the computer screen whenever deputies were nearby.

Christian Eppinger, a defendant in YSL/Young Thug trial appears in court for jury selection at Fulton County Courthouse on Wednesday, January 4, 2023.  (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

“Investigators began to take notice but couldn’t see exactly what he was doing as it appeared he was attempting conceal whatever window he had open in the courtroom,” the affidavit said.

A number of defendants have been allowed to use their attorneys’ computers and tablets since jury selection began early this year, with some choosing to wear headphones during court proceedings.

During jury selection on May 19, a sergeant used his cellphone to take a picture of Eppinger’s laptop screen, according to the warrant. It alleges Eppinger was in the messenger section of Instagram while seated in the seventh-floor jury assembly room.

“I am requesting this search warrant in order to go through the laptop’s internet browsing data, cookies and all social media accounts ... the deputy wrote in the affidavit. “I fear for the safety of the courtroom if Mr. Eppinger is speaking with other co-defendants or any other YSL gang members that are not in custody.”

The affidavit goes on to suggest that Eppinger could be communicating about the route taken to and from the courthouse each day or arranging the sale of drugs. But the confiscation of Johnson’s computer presumably gives authorities access to what could be privileged attorney-client documents.

Wednesday’s laptop seizure was the latest in a series of bizarre incidents that have plagued the trial since jury selection began in January. There have been numerous instances of contraband being brought to and from court, and a defense attorney was arrested earlier this year for allegedly having his prescription medication outside its original container.

In April, according to the warrant, defendant Tenquarious Mender was caught coming back to the Fulton jail with nearly an ounce of marijuana, 79 grams of MDMA, 12 grams of the prescription painkiller Percocet and 1.8 grams of morphine pills. Mender, whose case has since been severed from the trial, also had cigarettes and “a large amount of loose-leaf tobacco,” an affidavit alleges.

Eppinger faces 15 counts in the sprawling gang case and is accused of shooting an Atlanta police officer six times during his 2022 arrest. Since then, he’s been linked to a jailhouse stabbing and he picked up two more felony charges for allegedly threatening sheriff’s office staff.

Prosecutors allege rapper Young Thug is the co-founder and leader of Young Slime Life, which they say is a southwest Atlanta gang responsible for much of Atlanta’s crime. Attorneys for Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, argue their client is innocent and say YSL is simply the name of the award-winning musician’s record label.