Recent shooting deaths of two men in Modesto result in tensions aired at NAACP forum

Defense attorney offers advice on filing police complaints

Defense attorney Justin Ward talked about filing complaints against police as part of a forum with law-enforcement leaders in Modesto, CA, on April 16, 2019,
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Defense attorney Justin Ward talked about filing complaints against police as part of a forum with law-enforcement leaders in Modesto, CA, on April 16, 2019,

Law-enforcement leaders faced questions at a west Modesto forum about the shooting deaths of two African-American men last month.

Attendees on Tuesday night asked what was being done in the case of Lawrence Gregory Walker, 25, shot March 15 behind a McHenry Avenue tattoo and piercing shop. Business owner Jeremy Don Fennell, 36, was arrested on a murder charge but later released pending further investigation.

And the grandmother of Dai’shawn Brown, 19, who died after a March 21 officer-involved shooting near Carver Road, disputed the claim that he was a threat.

“I watched them literally murder my grandson,” Naomi McMillan said from the audience.

The Modesto/Stanislaus NAACP sponsored the forum at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center to discuss these two deaths and police practices in general. On the panel were Police Chief Galen Carroll, Sheriff Jeff Dirkse, District Attorney Birgit Fladager and two outside experts on police misconduct cases.

Brown was shot just north of Orangeburg Avenue as deputies were contacting suspects in a previous carjacking, the Sheriff’s Department said at the time.

Detectives David Corder and Christopher Gallo were named as the officers involved in the shooting and reassigned to administrative duties as the investigation proceeds. The Modesto Police Department is the lead agency on the case, while the Sheriff’s Department and DA do separate reviews, the standard procedure.

Carroll said from the dais Tuesday that he could not comment in detail on Brown’s death, but he did respond to his grandmother.

“I am sorry, ma’am, and I feel really bad about saying this, (but) he had a very, very extensive criminal history, which included being arrested for guns in the past,” the chief said. “... We are not looking at it as trying to clear anyone. We just want to know what happened.”

McMillan told The Modesto Bee after the forum that her grandson had been armed but did not make a threatening gesture when he was shot. At Carroll’s direction, a police lieutenant also spoke with her about following up on the case.

The other shooting happened in the alley behind Sin Cal Industries. Police said at the time that Fennell had a license to carry a concealed weapon and shot Walker during a confrontation.

Fennell called 911 promptly and cooperated with officers, police said. He was booked at the Stanislaus County Jail the night of the shooting. He was released four days later, when the DA’s office announced that it needed to gather more evidence. Fennell can still be charged.

Fladager said on the dais that commenting in detail could risk a defense motion to remove the DA’s office from the case, or get a change of venue to another county.

“So we try to be very circumspect in the comments that we make so we don’t try cases in the public, in the media,” she said.

The panel also discussed long-standing efforts to build trust between law enforcement and Modesto’s diverse population. Both Carroll and Dirkse urged African-Americans to apply for openings in their departments.

The sheriff also noted the Modesto Police Clergy Council, which meets to discuss various issues. One such meeting was called right after the Carver Road shooting, he said.

The panel also featured Justin Ward, a criminal defense attorney based in Sacramento, and Anthony Finnell, who has managed commissions overseeing police conduct in Oakland and elsewhere.

Both men said residents might hesitate to file complaints against police, but this information could suggest a pattern of misconduct by certain officers.

“If you don’t give it, somebody could be convicted and go to prison when your statement could have helped prevent that,” Ward said.