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Judge orders up prison for man who fell asleep in a White Castle drive-thru with a gun in his lap

Judge orders up prison for man who fell asleep in a White Castle drive-thru with a gun in his lap

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HAMMOND — An armed Gary man who endangered East Chicago police officers and fast food workers last year is going to prison.

U.S. District Court Judge Philip P. Simon imposed an 57-month sentence Tuesday on 26-year-old Neal Bratcher, also known as Neal Bratcher III.

The judge rejected a request by defense attorney Matthew D. Soliday of the federal defender’s office, that Bratcher should only receive an 18-month sentence.

Bratcher pleaded guilty May 5 to being a felon in possession of a firearm, under an agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office to avoid facing the maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

Ride along with Officer Jimmy Weller as he patrols the region's border of Lake Michigan as part of the Lake County Sheriff's Marine Unit. Video by Connor Burge. 

Court records show employees of a White Castle restaurant in East Chicago called 911 for help in the early morning hours of July 4, 2020.

East Chicago police officers found Bratcher asleep behind the steering wheel of a bullet-riddled car, which was idling in the fast food outlet’s drive-thru window — with a 9 mm handgun in his lap.

Officers gingerly removed the gun — which was loaded — before Bratcher woke up screaming at the sight of police and began resisting.

The government said Bratcher tried to drive his car away after being pepper sprayed and Tazed before an officer finally broke a car window, crawled inside and turned the car off.

Officers dragged Bratcher, still fighting, out of the car.

Officers searched the car and found knotted cellophane bags containing substances that tested positive for the presence of heroin and cocaine in Bratcher’s backpack.

Bratcher told police those were his personal drugs and that he consumed 5 grams of heroin daily.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Caitlin Padula states in a court memo, she wrote earlier, that drug weight is more consistent with dealing, since 5 grams per day is almost certainly a lethal amount.

Investigators found Bratcher has a criminal record dating back to age 13 when he was first adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for possession of a stolen vehicle.

His juvenile record also contains arrests for burglary and a weapon’s violation.

At the time of his arrest last year, he was on parole for an Illinois conviction for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and awaiting trial in Lake Criminal Court in Crown Point on a charge of a separate violation — unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.

The government states Chicago police believed Bratcher was a member of the Gangster Disciple street gang.

Bratcher attributed the wound he had received in the past from a shooting and a machete attack as “being in the wrong place at the wrong time on the streets.”

Padula argued in a memo to the court that, “It is clear that Bratcher has no regard for the law.”


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