Two Fresno County correctional officers remained in critical condition Tuesday – one more serious than the other – following a shooting Saturday in the lobby of the downtown Fresno main jail.
Thong Vang, 37, a parolee, is being held in the Fresno County Jail without bail on charges of attempted murder, taking a gun into the jail, and being a felon in possession of a gun. He also has an immigration hold because he is a refugee from Laos.
The District Attorney’s Office plans to file a criminal complaint against him Wednesday in Superior Court. If convicted, Vang faces life in prison.
At a news conference Tuesday, Sheriff Margaret Mims released new details about the shooting, praising a lieutenant and a sergeant for making the decision to rescue the two wounded officers – Juanita Davila and Toamalama Scanlan. Once the two officers were shot, Mims said, the lieutenant engaged in a gunbattle with Vang inside the lobby for 40 seconds before Vang surrendered. About 15 people, including three or four children, were in the lobby when Vang started the gunfight, the sheriff said.
In addition, Mims said Vang told sheriff’s detectives after the shooting that he wanted to be arrested because he feared someone was following him. Before he shot the two officers, the sheriff said, he was on his cellphone to someone. But the phone was never recovered after the shooting. “Someone took it,” Mims said, saying investigators need it because it contains crucial evidence.
Doctors remain hopeful that Scanlan will make a full recovery, but we all know nothing is certain.
Sheriff Margaret Mims
The sheriff said Davila, who was shot in the face, is getting better at Community Regional Medical Center and communicating by writing notes. Scanlan, who was shot in the head, has finally managed to move his limbs at the direction of medical staff. “Doctors remain hopeful that Scanlan will make a full recovery, but we all know nothing is certain,” Mims told reporters.
Vang suffered minor injuries after he allegedly shot out a window of the lobby’s records department and then climbed through it. At the hospital, medical staff took a blood sample to determine whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or both.
In calling the news conference, Mims expressed frustration, saying Vang has a long criminal history and was once subject to deportation. After he completed a prison sentence for rape in 2014, U.S. immigration officials held him in custody for three months and tried to get him deported. They called Laotian authorities, who never sought Vang’s return. By law, Vang had to be freed, the sheriff said.
Before the shooting, Vang parked his car on N Street and went to the Fresno Police Department. Because the door to the lobby was closed, he headed to the lobby of the main jail at Fresno and M streets about 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Vang entered, went directly to the front of the line and asked an officer to arrest him, Mims said. When the officer told him to go to the end of the line, Vang began to show signs of bizarre behavior by pacing back and forth next to a metal detector that leads to a secure area of the jail. That’s when the officer behind the desk asked for help.
Davila, who was unarmed, approached Vang first. Vang pulled out a gun and shot her, the sheriff said. An officer then used a stun gun on Vang, but it didn’t stop him. That’s when Scanlan used his stun gun on Vang, who continued to struggle. During the fight, Vang shot Scanlan, the sheriff said.
Mims declined to identify the lieutenant and sergeant who rescued Davila and Scanlan but described them as heroes for putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the two wounded officers and the public.
Scanlan played for the Fresno State Bulldogs in 1996 and is a volunteer line coach for Fresno Christian High School.
Davila, a mother and grandmother, worked at the jail for 18 years. Scanlan, a father of six, had 10 years of experience in Fresno County and previously worked in youth corrections for seven years.
Neither officer was armed, as has been the practice, the sheriff said.
To help the injured officers and their families, a gofundme.com account has been established. So far, it has raised more than $10,000. In addition, sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers have set up a command station at Lot 4 of the hospital near Terry’s House at Fresno and R streets to accept donations of food and money.
Sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers have set up a command station at Lot 4 of the hospital near Terry’s House at Fresno and R streets to accept donations of food and money.
There are three jails in downtown Fresno – the main jail and the north and south annexes. Since the shooting, the sheriff said, armed officers will be stationed in the lobbies of each.
Mims said Saturday’s shooting was the first in the department’s 160-year history and that changes for the jail lobby are on the horizon. She said a request has been made to install bullet-resistant glass at the clerk’s desk in the lobbies. She also said there have been inquires about arming correctional officers.
Though most are not armed, some have passed the training course and may carry a weapon while on the job, Mims said. But some correctional officers don’t want to be armed, she said. The plan is to work with union officials who represent correctional officers to figure out the best course of action, the sheriff said.
At the news conference, Mims was flanked by Davila’s family, including her two daughters, Crystal and Brittany Davila. The daughters thanked the people who rescued their mother and Scanlan and expressed gratitude to the community for donations and prayers. They said their mother is doing fine, communicating with them by notes. They also said they want the people who witnessed the shooting to have peace of mind and peace in their hearts.
Afterward, the focus of the news conference returned to Vang.
Mims said Vang was released from prison in 2014 after serving 16 years for raping three children, ages 12 to 14. Since his release, Vang’s only run-in with law enforcement, according to court records, was a ticket he received in July 2015 for exceeding the limit in catching striped bass. He was ordered to pay a $100 fine.
Mims described Vang as a model parolee who was in touch with his parole officer and had a job. Because of his bizarre behavior on Saturday, Mims said she didn’t know if Vang was mentally ill. She also said Vang never told his parole officer that he feared someone was following him.
Vang’s rape case dates to 1998 from a Mongolian Boys Society sex-slave ring at a local Motel 6. The original case had 16 defendants. Vang, then 20, pleaded guilty in 2000 to one count of forcible rape. He originally faced six counts of rape in concert with others, six counts of forcible rape and a count of false imprisonment, court records indicate.
In a plea deal, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison in September 1998 after he pleaded guilty to similar charges in an earlier phase of the gang-rape investigation into the sex-slave ring that victimized Asian-American girls.
“He was one of three shot callers in the gang,” Fresno defense attorney Marina Gonzales Sorlie said Tuesday.
Gonzales Sorlie defended Vang in the Motel 6 rape case. Known as “Bubbles,” Vang faced a long prison term if he hadn’t accepted the plea agreement, Gonzales Sorlie said.
The lawyer then recounted a story about Vang in prison. He had sent her a letter, saying he shouldn’t have listened to her and taken the plea deal. “He thought all the other defendants were going to get off,” Gonzales Sorlie said. But when a majority of the defendants were convicted and later sentenced to long prison terms, Gonzales Sorlie said she clipped out the newspaper article and sent it to Vang.
She said Vang never wrote back.
How to help
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said the Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association is handling donations intended for Scanlan’s and Davila’s families.
▪ Checks can be made payable to the FDSA (write “Injured officers fund” in the memo field) and mailed to: FDSA, 1360 Van Ness Ave., Fresno, CA 93721.
▪ Donations of other items may be brought to FDSA headquarters. For questions or to arrange a drop-off time, call Eric Schmidt at 559-281-8784.
A GoFundMe account has been established to assist the two officers and their families: https://www.gofundme.com/injuredofficerfund