California

Armed officers now man Fresno County jail lobby; injured officers still critical

Yellow tape and evidence markers on the front steps of the Fresno County Jail after a man shot two correctional officers in the lobby Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.
Yellow tape and evidence markers on the front steps of the Fresno County Jail after a man shot two correctional officers in the lobby Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016. sflores@fresnobee.com

Armed officers were standing guard inside the lobbies of the Fresno County jail Monday, even as two correctional officers who were shot two days earlier continued to fight for their lives at Community Regional Medical Center.

And other new safety precautions at the jail lobbies could be in the offing.

The two critically injured officers – Juanita Davila, 51, and Toamalama Scanlan, 40 – were unarmed when they were shot by an ex-felon who came into the lobby. It had been the practice at the jail for correctional officers assigned to the lobby to be unarmed.

“Since this happened we’re going to have an armed officer with a weapon in all the lobbies,” Sgt. Isaac Torres, a correctional officer, said Monday.

Since this happened we’re going to have an armed officer with a weapon in all the lobbies.

Fresno County sheriff’s Sgt. Isaac Torres

The armed officers are stationed at the Main Jail and North and South annexes.

Correctional officers typically carry pepper spray and batons, but they can be trained to carry weapons. Officers carry weapons when transporting inmates to and from the jail, Torres said.

The lobbies of the Fresno County jail could be undergoing other changes. Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said Monday that discussions could begin as soon as Tuesday. Sheriff Margaret Mims will attend a briefing Tuesday morning prior to heading to the Central Coast for the Fresno-Madera Police Chiefs Association meeting this week, he said.

Right now, the public is not screened for weapons at the entrance to the jail lobbies. Metal detector machines are inside and visitors are screened before being allowed to see inmates inside the jail. Whether screenings would be added to the lobby entrances is not known. “All that is going to be discussed amongst the sheriff and her staff,” Botti said.

Mims said Saturday that Scanlan and Davila were critically wounded that morning when Thong Vang, 37, an armed felon, entered the Main Jail lobby in downtown Fresno around 8:30 a.m. and demanded to see someone. Mims said Vang tried to go to the front of the line and was pacing back and forth near a metal detector in the jail lobby.

Davila, who was alone in the intake booth, called for back-up and Scanlan responded. During a short struggle to calm Vang, he began showing bizarre behavior and pulled out a gun and shot each officer one time, wounding both officers in the neck and head area, Mims said.

Vang, whose felony record dates to 1998 from a Mongolian Boys Society sex-slave ring at a local Motel 6, is being held without bail on charges of attempted murder, possession of a firearm by a felon and bringing drugs into a jail, the sheriff’s office said. There were no details available about the latter charge.

Botti said Monday that detectives had interviewed Vang, but he did not know if Vang had come to the jail to visit someone or who he had come to see. Vang is in a cell by himself, in what is called “administrative segregation,” he said.

The Main Lobby does not have a protective glass screen around the intake desk, but Elias Mendez, the jail watch commander, said plans for adding protective glass had been made prior to Saturday’s shooting. “It is proposed and it’s in the works,” he said. However, he did not have a time frame for when the glass would be installed.

Correctional officers have rallied around the families of Davila and Scanlan, visiting at the hospital, bringing food, giving money and saying prayers. Fundraising efforts are underway to help offset costs of the families who are staying around-the-clock at the hospital.

On Monday, Davila was in critical but stable condition and Scanlan was in critical condition, Botti said.

These folks want to be near their loved one, and we want to be able to accommodate them as best we can.

Eulalio Gomez, president of the Fresno County Public Safety Association

Eulalio Gomez, president of the Fresno County Public Safety Association, said Monday that both officers were “doing relatively well as far as expected.”

The brotherhood of officers has circled around Davila and Scanlon and their families to help “financially, emotionally, whatever it takes,” Gomez said.

Scanlan has family arriving from American Samoa, where he was raised, he said. “These folks want to be near their loved one, and we want to be able to accommodate them as best we can.”

Davila’s mom is at her bedside, Gomez said. Her two daughters are attending college “and we want to make sure they continue going to college,” he said. “She wants her kids to continue in their education and not to stop, so that’s my job to help the family.”

Gomez said he worked side-by-side with Scanlan in the gang unit and was in the lobby when Scanlon was shot as he responded to Davila’s call for help. “He’s a warrior. He’s the first guy to be there when there’s an emergency and the first guy to be there at home when you need him.”

Scanlan sings Samoan songs, is committed to his faith, is a coach, a mentor. “He’s a star,” Gomez said.

Gomez said he has known Davila for 25 years. They both live in Sanger.

Davila is religious, he said, and she will pray for you and will offer counsel when you need it. “She will always give you words of encouragement,” he said. “She has a heart of gold.”

Since the officers were shot, there has been an outpouring of support from the community. Gomez said an ex-inmate shook his hand in the grocery store and said he was sorry to hear that “your brother and sister got hurt – we wish them well.”

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter

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.

In addition, a GoFundMe account has been established to assist the two officers and their families: https://www.gofundme.com/injuredofficerfund

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