A high-ranking southwest Fresno gang member whose shooting by police sparked protests and threats against officers is now on trial, accused of gunning down a rival on Easter Sunday four years ago as the victim’s girlfriend tried to shield her child.
Defendant Jerel Stanfield, killed 23-year-old William Simpson on March 31, 2013, to promote the Strother Boys street gang, a prosecutor said Thursday in opening statements of the defendant’s trial in Fresno Superior Court. The gun used to kill Simpson was found on Stanfield after he was shot by police, the prosecutor said.
But Fresno defense lawyer Miles Harris told the jury that Stanfield, 28, was with friends, far from the crime scene, when the killing happened.
In defending Stanfield, Harris attacked the Fresno Police Department, saying detectives did a shoddy investigation. He also said that after Simpson was killed, police tracked down Stanfield later that day and shot him several times, including the back of the head while he was running from officers without a gun in his hand.
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And while Stanfield was fighting for his life in the hospital, police interviewed him, Harris said. Medical staff said Stanfield could not talk, but could communicate by giving a thumbs up or thumbs down. Yet, in police reports, detectives wrote as if Stanfield talked to them, Harris said.
“Shameful,” Harris told the jury.
Ballistic tests reveal that a Glock 40-caliber handgun found in Stanfield’s pant leg was used to kill a rival and wound two other people, the prosecutor said.
Prosecutor Christopher Gularte defended the police, saying officers ordered him to show his hands. Instead, Stanfield kept reaching in his waistband, Gularte said.
After Stanfield was shot, police found a handgun in one of the pant legs, Gularte said. Ballistic tests revealed that the Glock 40-caliber semi-automatic was used to kill Simpson and wound two other people, the prosecutor said.
Gularte said Stanfield shot Simpson because Simpson belonged to the rival Dog Pound street gang.
But it was the shooting of Stanfield – not Simpson, the murdered victim – that put the city on edge.
Harris said more than 100 people saw police Sgt. Michael Palomino and Officer Charles Renfro shoot Stanfield without justification. (Records provided by the Fresno Police Department show the shooting was ruled justified.)
The shooting later led to a street protest and threats against officers, and prompted police Chief Jerry Dyer to order extra precautions for police, including putting two officers in patrol vehicles and putting motorcycle officers in cars. The chief also ordered a citywide crackdown on gangs.
Following his arrest, Stanfield filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court, accusing the Fresno Police Department of using excessive force. In court documents, Stanfield contends police planted the gun on him. His civil trial is pending the outcome of his criminal trial in Judge Jonathan Conklin’s courtroom.
In his criminal trial, Stanfield is charged with murdering Simpson, who was shot multiple times in the parking lot of an apartment complex on North Clark Street near Ashlan Avenue, just west of Highway 41. He also is accused of assault for allegedly pointing a gun at Simpson’s pregnant girlfriend, Lajeana Ramsey.
In addition, he faces felony charges of evading police and assaulting police Officer Robert Yeager, who collided with Stanfield’s car during a traffic stop that resulted in Stanfield’s arrest near Strother and Arthur avenues in southwest Fresno near Chandler Airport.
Stanfield also is accused of wounding Hakim Momon and Dwayne Thomas Davis in a drive-by shooting at Shields and Hughes avenues on March 26. Gulate told the jury that ballistic tests show the 40-caliber Glock found on Stanfield during his arrest was the weapon used to wound Momon and Davis in the arms and legs.
Court records say Stanfield has prior convictions for street terrorism and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He is being held without bail in the Fresno County Jail.
During the monthlong criminal trial, jurors will get an inside glimpse into Fresno’s violent world of gangs. Gularte and Harris warned jurors they won’t like Momon, Davis and Stanfield because they are seedy characters.
“It was a dark and rainy night with clouds covering the moon” when Simpson was shot, a police report said, according to Harris.
Simpson, Ramsey and her young son were going to stay with Ramsey’s relatives, but no one answered the door, so they were forced to sleep in Simpson’s white Buick.
It was a dark and rainy night with clouds covering the moon.
A Fresno police report describing the night the victim was killed
Gularte said around 3:10 a.m. Ramsey was awakened by gunfire. She grabbed her child to protect him as Simpson was shot several times. After the shooting, Ramsey called 911 and said the gunman left in a sport-utility vehicle, Gularte told the jury.
Gularte said Ramsey told police that Stanfield shot Simpson. She also said Stanfield pointed a gun at her, the prosecutor said.
Momon also identified Stanfield as the person who shot him and Davis on March 26, Gularte told the jury.
But Harris said Stanfield was with friends at the Kearney Cooley Plaza Apartments in southwest Fresno when Simpson was killed. His friends will testify on his behalf, the lawyer told the jury.
Harris said Ramsey gave conflicting statements to police and initially said she couldn’t identify the shooter because he was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. She also said she didn’t see the shooter because her primary goal was to protect her son, who was in the back seat of Simpson’s car when shots rang out.
Harris said Ramsey identified Stanfield only after she heard that the “word on the street” was that he did it. In making her identification, police showed her a photo of Stanfield – not a photo lineup, Harris said.
Momon and Davis also could not identify the shooter. Momon told police the shooter was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and a beanie; Davis said he was on his cellphone when gunfire erupted, Harris said. But once Momon heard “the word of the street” that it was Stanfield, he identified him as the shooter to police, Harris said.
“Word of the street is dangerous,” Harris told the jury. “You would expect police to have more evidence.”