Two Fresno County correctional officers were in critical condition after they were shot by an ex-convict during a terrifying confrontation inside the downtown Fresno jail lobby Saturday morning.
About 15 people, including some children, were gathered in the lobby to take care of business involving jail inmates when shots suddenly rang out. A few minutes later, the floor was littered with broken glass and bullet casings.
Marcell Davis, 46, was outside waiting for his girlfriend, who was using the public restroom in the lobby when people started running outside. “My main concern was, ‘Is my old lady one of the people getting shot,’ because it sounded like they were shooting everybody,” he said.
Sheriff Margaret Mims held a somber news conference Saturday afternoon. She identified the injured officers as Juanita Davila and Toamalama Scanlan and said both were in surgery at Community Regional Medical Center.
The suspect was identified as Thong Vang, 37, of Fresno, a convicted rapist with a long history of violent criminal behavior. Mims said he entered the lobby just after 8:30 a.m., saying he was there to visit someone.
Vang tried to go to the front of the line but was told to go to the back. He began to show signs of bizarre behavior by pacing back and forth next to a metal detector at the back of the lobby that leads to a secure area of the jail. That’s when Davila approached him, Mims said.
Vang then pulled out a gun and shot as Davila and Scanlan struggled to get him to sit down, Mims said. Both Davila and Scanlan were shot in the head or neck area, she said. The sheriff described Davila as in critical but stable condition and Scanlan as in critical condition.
Scanlan played for the Fresno State Bulldogs in 1996 and reportedly is a lineman coach for Fresno Christian High School. Fresno State tweeted out a message of prayer for Scanlan during the Bulldogs’ game at Nebraska on Saturday evening.
Neither Davila nor Scanlan were armed – as is practice, the sheriff said. 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, she said.
At some point, officers used a stun gun on Vang, but still he did not surrender. Mims said a lieutenant in the correctional office returned fire, and then Vang gave himself up, saying he wanted to be arrested. Mims said Vang was injured, but it wasn’t immediately clear if he had been shot. He was held at gunpoint while emergency workers attended to the two injured officers.
Vang was booked into the jail on charges of attempted murder, being a felon with a handgun, and bringing drugs into a jail. He also was placed on a parole hold.
Mims said Vang was released from prison in 2014 after serving 16 years for raping three children ages 12 to 14.
Witness hid during shooting
Christy Rodriguez, 39, said she had stepped into the jail lobby Saturday morning to use the restroom and was washing up when gunshots rang out.
“That’s when I heard the shots, and I ran in the stall,” Rodriguez said. “And I just couldn’t believe this was happening.”
She said she and another woman with a walker were inside for several minutes as shots continued to be fired.
“This is crazy. This isn’t supposed to happen,” Rodriguez said as she struggled to compose herself as she described what she had seen.
An officer yelled at them to get out of the building.
“There was a lady that needed help coming out, and I was holding the door open for her because she had a walker,” she said. “And I’m trying to help her get out of the restroom, too.”
She didn’t see much in the chaos, but she said emergency medical technicians were working on one of the victims nearby.
“Stay with me. Stay with me,” a technician told one of the victims.
Both Davis and Rodriguez guessed that there were about 20 bullets fired during the confrontation.
Davis described a hectic scene where correctional officers dragged Davila and Scanlan out of the building to waiting ambulances to save time and their lives.
“It was ugly; it was ugly; it was wrong; it was ugly,” said Davis, trying to describe the chaos. He said there was a woman in a wheelchair who couldn’t do anything but watch.
Shooting prompts lockdown
Within minutes of the shooting, the heart of downtown Fresno was locked down with police tape around the entire city block surrounding the jail. Both Fresno police and sheriff’s vehicles surrounded the area, keeping it secure while the investigation unfolded.
A Fresno police chaplain’s van arrived on scene about 11:30 a.m. By then, many of the officers and deputies who had surrounded the jail entrance had left. By 11:50 a.m. it appeared that only M Street in front of the jail remained closed to traffic.
Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea visited the hospital soon after the injured officers arrived.
“We want to be here to show our support to the family, show our support to the officers, keep them all in our prayers,” Perea said.
Law enforcement officers from throughout the region are at Community Regional Medical Center to support the wounded officers and their families. Mims asked for community prayers for the officers and family members of officers.
The Fresno County Jail will remain closed to visitors until further notice. When it reopens, correctional officers and deputies in the lobby will be armed, at least initially, Mims said. Officials are discussing whether that will continue over the long term.
Long criminal history
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 already 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.
Anyone with information about Vang should call the Sheriff’s Office at 559-600-3111.