The man accused of shooting two correctional officers in the lobby of the Fresno County Jail will stand trial on attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon charges after a judge ruled Thursday there was ample evidence to suggest he intended to kill them.
Thong Vang, 37, is accused of shooting and wounding correctional officers Toamalama Scanlan and Juanita Davila on Sept. 3, 2016. Scanlan was shot in the head and Davila in the jaw. Vang also faces one count of being a felon in possession of a weapon.
On Thursday, seven witnesses from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office provided evidence during a preliminary hearing to Superior Court Judge Jonathan Skiles after questions from the prosecutor William Lacy and Vang’s defense attorney Antonio Alvarez. As is typical in a preliminary hearing, Alvarez did not call any witnesses in his client’s defense.
Homicide Detective Jose Diaz said he interviewed Vang in the afternoon after the shooting on Sept. 3. He said Vang told him he felt like he was being followed outside and wanted to get arrested. Vang first went to the Fresno Police Department headquarters but it was closed, Diaz said.
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Vang told Diaz that he had smoked at least two pipes of methamphetamine the night before, according to Thursday’s testimony. Vang thought the jail would shield him from any threats outside, Diaz said.
When Vang entered the jail lobby, he made similar comments about wanting to be put behind bars. Fresno County correctional officer Michael Hamlin, who was in charge of the lobby that morning, was the first to encounter Vang and described the moments that led up to the gunfire.
“(Vang) stated that he wanted to go to jail,” Hamlin said Thursday. He told Vang that he “couldn’t help him with that,” and that he would need to go to the police department.
Hamlin called Davila to the lobby and she also asked Vang to leave. Then Vang fired one shot at a window in the lobby and Davila tried to wrestle the gun away. That’s when she was shot once in the jaw. Diaz said Vang didn’t see her as a threat after he had shot her. But he would then shoot Scanlan in the back of the head after he was struck with a stun gun. A short video of that stun gun deployment was played in court.
Judge Skiles said Thursday that although Vang was charged only with shooting at Scanlan and Davila, he fired at other officers during the incident. That, the judge said, showed that Vang did intend to kill the officers that day.
Vang surrendered that morning to Michael David Porter, an administrative services correctional lieutenant who testified Thursday. Porter responded to the jail lobby about 8:30 a.m. from his second floor office in the jail. Porter said he heard radio communication from two jail sergeants whose tone was “off.”
“It sounded odd to me,” Porter said. “Their voice was different.” Then there was a call for lethal force.
When Porter arrived to the lobby, he saw Scanlan on the ground and thought he was dead because he was not moving. Porter came face to face with Vang. In court, he said he shot at Vang five times, but missed. His aim was always at Vang’s head.
Eventually, Vang said “I surrender, I give up,” Porter said. Vang dropped to his knees and was searched for other weapons. He then told other officers that he had shot two officers and that he wanted to go to jail.
Court records say Vang was once a leader in the Mongolian Boys Society, a Fresno street gang that engaged in a sex-slave ring at a local Motel 6 in the 1990s.
Mims has 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, was 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 has said.