A Fresno man was charged Wednesday with the attempted murder of two Fresno County correctional officers who were shot Saturday in the downtown Fresno main jail lobby.
It was a crime that prompted some inmates at the jail to show concern for the wounded officers, who sent notes of support that quote the Bible, hand-drawn get-well cards and even cash contributions from their inmate accounts.
Thong Vang, 37, also is charged in Fresno County Superior Court with being a felon in possession of a gun. In addition, the criminal complaint accuses Vang of having been convicted of five “strike priors” under the Three Strikes repeat-offender law.
His arraignment is scheduled for Thursday morning in front of Judge Brian Alvarez. If convicted, Vang faces 110 years to life in prison. He is being held in the Fresno County Jail without bail. He also has an immigration hold.
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Thong will likely be defended by attorney Roberto Dulce, a 19-year veteran of the Public Defender’s Office and one of the few certified criminal specialists in the office.
Dulce said Wednesday that if he is appointed to represent Thong, he will ask to delay the arraignment so the office can do background checks on potential witnesses to the shooting.
If the public defender represented one of the witnesses in the past, it might have to declare a conflict and not represent Vang, Dulce said.
About 15 people, including children, were in the lobby when shots suddenly rang out Saturday. Vang shot officers Juanita Davila and Toamalama Scanlan before they were rescued by a sheriff’s sergeant and a lieutenant, who engaged in a gunfight with Vang for 40 seconds before he surrendered.
On Wednesday, Davila and Scanlan remained hospitalized in critical condition at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno, sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said.
Scanlan has recently shown improvement and can hear and recognize the voices of family members and responds by moving his hands and legs. Davila, who is in critical but stable condition, communicates with her family by writing messages and texting, Botti said.
At a news conference Tuesday, Sheriff Margaret Mims said Vang is a convicted rapist with a long history of violent criminal behavior.
Mims said Vang entered the lobby and asked an officer at the front desk to arrest him. 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 Davila approached him. Vang pulled out a gun and shot Davila in the face. Scanlan was then shot in the head after he used a stun gun on Vang.
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, Mims said.
Neither officer was armed, the sheriff said.
Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said Wednesday the two wounded officers were so well-known that inmates have been sending get-well cards to them.
To help the injured officers and their families, a gofundme.com account has been established and a command center has been established in Lot 4 of the hospital near Terry’s House at Fresno and R streets.
Well-wishes from inmates
Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said Wednesday the wounded officers were so well-known that inmates also have been sending get-well cards. “They have drawn get-well cards and written personal messages inside,” Botti said. “Many have already been delivered to the hospital and are displayed in the officers’ rooms.”
In one get-well card, Scanlan is referred to as “The Rock,” a nickname many inmates and staff members use for him because of his resemblance to the actor Dwayne Johnson.
Since the shooting, the sheriff has ordered armed officers to be stationed in the lobbies of the main jail at Fresno and M streets and at the north and south annexes.
Mims said Vang was released from prison in 2014 after serving 16 years for raping three children ages 12 to 14. After his release, Vang, a refugee from Laos who came to the United States when he was 1 year old, was held in custody for three months while U.S. immigration officials tried to deport him.
Laotian authorities, however, never sought Vang’s return, so by law he was freed in December 2014, Mims said.
Since then, Vang’s only run-in with law enforcement, according to court records, is a ticket he received in July 2015 for exceeding the limit in catching striped bass. He was ordered to pay a $100 fine. Before the shooting, Vang was a model parolee who regularly checked in with his parole officer and had a job, Mims said.
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, his lawyer said at the time.
He had been 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. His attorney at the time, Marina Gonzales Sorlie, said Vang was one of three “shot-callers” in the gang.
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.
An account has been established to assist the officers and their families at gofundme.com/injuredofficerfund