Fresno County Jail shooting suspect appears in court
District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp sent a message Thursday at the first court appearance of a parolee accused of the attempted murder of two correctional officers: Anyone thinking of shooting at law enforcement “will have the wrath of the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office coming down on them.”
Thong Vang stood silently in a bright yellow jail jumpsuit as defense attorney Roberto Dulce and Smittcamp agreed to delay his arraignment in Superior Court to Sept. 15.
Vang, 37, is accused of shooting officer Juanita Davila in the face and officer Toamalama Scanlan in the head Saturday morning in the crowded lobby of the downtown Fresno jail at M and Fresno streets.
The two officers remain in critical condition at Community Regional Medical Center.
After Thursday’s brief hearing, Smittcamp told reporters she is confident of the case against Vang.
“It’s a great case. The witnesses inside the jail have all given statements,” Smittcamp said. “There’s a lot of eyewitnesses to exactly what happened.”
In prosecuting Vang, Smittcamp said she wanted to send a “big message to anybody in this community or in this city or in the state who think it’s OK to shoot at anyone in law enforcement.”
“If they think that is an appropriate way to behave, they will have the full wrath of the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office coming down on them. Because it’s completely unacceptable behavior,” Smittcamp said.
“We are going to do everything we can to see that Mr. Vang is prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” she said.
In addition to two counts of attempted murder, Vang is also is charged in Superior Court with being a felon in possession of a gun. If convicted, he faces 110 years to life in prison.
Vang is being held without bail in Fresno County Jail. He also is on an immigration hold.
Inmates typically wear red jail jumpsuits to court. A yellow jumpsuit means that the inmate is at risk or unruly toward other inmates and sheriff’s staff and correctional officers.
In this case, Vang is likely being held “in administrative segregation” and housed in his own cell for his protection, Smittcamp said.
Dulce, a 19-year veteran of the Public Defender’s Office, asked for the delay in the arraignment so the office can determine whether it has a conflict in representing Vang. A conflict could occur if any witnesses to the shooting had been represented by the Public Defender’s Office in the past, he said.
Dulce said he just received the investigative reports about the shooting, but has knowledge of the case from the media. “From what I read, this is not a who-done-it. It’s why?”
He also said he spoke to Vang briefly in court, telling him to trust him. He said Vang was cordial and agreed to let him defend him.
Because the shooting of the two officers has garnered national media attention, it could be a candidate for a change of venue.
Dulce said he is keeping his options open but believes he can get a fair trial in Fresno County.
Smittcamp said her office will oppose a change of venue.
“As far as we are concerned, this case belongs in Fresno County,” said Smittcamp, who plans to assign the case to one of her veteran homicide prosecutors. “He (Vang) committed the crime here, and we’re ready to prosecute him.”
How shooting happened
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 back in the 1990s.
Sheriff Margaret 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, 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.
In reporting the Saturday incident, The Bee initially said a gunbattle between Vang and officers lasted 40 seconds. On Thursday, sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti clarified that with a detailed description of what happened in the lobby of the main jail:
At 8:30 am, Vang entered the lobby, which was filled with about 15 visitors, including small children. Vang paced back and forth for several minutes before walking up to a correctional officer working at the desk and telling the officer he wanted to be arrested. Vang then got close to a metal detector that leads to a secure area of the jail, so the desk officer asked for assistance from fellow officers to escort Vang out of the lobby.
Davila walked out of the records area and asked Vang to leave. Vang refused to listen to Davila and got into a struggle with her. Additional officers were called in from secured areas of the jail. During their response, Vang pulled a handgun out of his clothing and fired a shot that broke the glass window on the records area hallway door. Vang then fired another bullet, which struck Davila in the face.
Additional radio calls were made that shots had been fired in the lobby. A responding correctional officer deployed his Taser on Vang, but it was ineffective in getting him to surrender. Correctional officer Scanlan then approached and fired his Taser at Vang. Simultaneously, Vang fired his gun and struck Scanlan in his head. A lieutenant, responding from upstairs with his handgun, confronted Vang 40 seconds after the initial gunfire. The lieutenant correctional officer and Vang exchanged gun shots, but neither were struck. Using his hands, Vang cleared the glass to the broken window of the records door and jumped through the opening to take cover in a hallway.
Responding sheriff’s deputies and Fresno police officers staged outside the jail and created a plan to enter the lobby. Once deputies (a patrol sergeant and patrol lieutenant) saw an officer down in the lobby, they made the decision to enter and conduct a rescue operation. Deputies entered the jail lobby and were followed by police officers. As they held Vang at gunpoint and ordered him to drop his weapon, the patrol sergeant and lieutenant began to drag Scanalan and Davila outside to ambulances waiting on the street.
Meantime, Vang conveyed to officers he was giving up and wanted to be arrested. Deputies took Vang into custody, and he was transported to the hospital for minor scrapes and cuts. .
After the shooting, Mims said Vang told sheriff’s detectives that he wanted to be arrested because he feared someone was following. Vang was treated for minor cuts after the shooting and a sample of his blood was taken to determine whether he was on drugs, the sheriff said.
Neither Davila nor Scanlan were armed, per the sheriff’s policy.
In response to the shooting, the sheriff ordered armed officers to be stationed in the lobbies of the main jail and at the north and south jail annexes. Mims also said she has made a request to county officials to install bullet-resistant glass at the front desk inside the three lobbies.
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.
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. As of Thursday morning, the gofundme.com account has raised more than $17,350.
On Sunday, a vigil will be held at 6 p.m. for Davila at the southwest corner of Sanger High School at Bethel and Annadale avenues. Davila is a Sanger High graduate.
In talking with reporters Thursday, Smittcamp said the shooting also has touched several inmates at the jail, who have have sent notes of support to Davila and Scanlan that quote the Bible, hand-drawn get-well cards and even cash contributions from their inmate accounts. The inmates’ get-well cards are displayed in the two officers’ hospital 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.
“Even inmates have tremendous respect for these correctional officers because they cared for them,” Smittcamp said.
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
The Central California Blood Center has set up a special account for donors who wish to give blood on behalf of the two officers. Donors can give blood at any of the blood center’s four locations or at mobile drives. Locations of donor centers and mobile drives can be found at www.donateblood.org.