More details emerge in Calif. jail shooting
Officers Toamalama Scanlan and Juanita Davila were critically wounded when Thong Vang demanded to see someone
By Barbara Anderson
The Fresno Bee
FRESNO, Calif. — Armed officers were standing guard inside the lobbies of Fresno County jails on 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 felon who came into the Main Jail 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.
The armed officers are stationed in the lobbies at the Main Jail and the 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 before 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 if metal detectors were added to the lobbies’ entrances, they would have to be staffed.
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.
As Davila and Scanlan struggled with Vang in an effort to calm him, he began showing bizarre behavior, pulled out a gun and shot each officer one time, wounding both officers in the neck and head area, Mims said. He later surrendered to an armed deputy.
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 Jail 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 before 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.
Eulalio Gomez, president of the Fresno County Public Safety Association, said Monday that both officers were “doing relatively well, as far as can be expected.”
The brotherhood of officers has circled around Davila and Scanlan and their families to help “financially, emotionally, whatever it takes,” Gomez said.
Scanlan has family coming from American Samoa, where he was raised, Gomez 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 mother 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 Scanlan 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.”