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Testimony in case of murdered rapper centers on day of bloodshed

on January 19, 2012

By the time for the Richmond Police Department’s evening shift change, the city was on high alert.

Bloodshed had started just before 9 a.m., when gunfire at the Pullman Apartment complex sent two alleged gang members to Kaiser Hospital. About two hours later, a 30-year-old man and his 10-year-old niece sitting in a green Buick at Eighth and Adeline streets in Oakland came under fire. The man, who had no gang affiliations, was shot five times while shielding his niece under the dashboard. She was unhurt. He survived his wounds.

By 2:30 p.m., it was clear that a gang battle was on. Gunfire again lit up Richmond’s sophisticated shot-detection system. Officer Matthew Anderson, a gang specialist who earlier in the day responded to the Pullman shooting, accelerated toward the coordinates radioed to his police cruiser.

When Anderson arrived two blocks southeast of Harbour and Chanslor avenues, he found a familiar face, an alleged gang member, laying on the sidewalk with his white T-shirt soaked in blood. The purple sedan in which the victim had been riding was stopped in the intersection, riddled with bullet holes, engine running.

“He was gasping heavily,” Anderson recalled from the witness stand on Wedesday as he gave testimony in the trial of Joe Blacknell III, age 21, who faces charges of murder, six counts of attempted murder and 15 other felonies in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez.

Prosecutors allege that Blacknell and unknown accomplices went on a September 2009 crime spree to avenge the killing of their revered fellow gang member, Sean Melson, known as “Shawny Bo,” who was shot in North Richmond three years earlier.

Mixed in with the shootings that day were two carjackings, one in Richmond and one in Oakland.

By the evening of Sept.13, the streets were flooded with police, Anderson testified. Those on duty that day had their shifts extended. Patrol officers at home were called in. Officers were riding two to a car as a safety precaution.

At about 9:30 p.m., Anderson and other police were in pursuit. Four men bolted from a Nissan Maxima Anderson and his partner had attempted to stop just north of Cutting Boulevard.

The officers did not yet know that Blacknell was one of the group, and would be accused in all the crimes that had rocked Richmond and Oakland that day.

After hitting a center median on 17th Street just north of Cutting Boulevard, two men sprung out of each side of the four-door car. Anderson testified that he and his partner elected to pursue the driver and the driver side passenger, who sprinted south on 17th Street.

At the same time, Officer Wallace Jensen and his partner, having heard the radio dispatches, were racing west on Cutting Boulevard in their cruiser, Jensen testified. When they screeched to a halt, Jensen saw Anderson and his partner chasing two men.

As he exited his passenger side door, Jensen said he saw a man in a dark hooded sweatshirt sprint past him barely 10 feet away, heading east on Cutting Boulevard, with something in his right hand, flashing in the night light.

“I couldn’t tell exactly what it was,” Jensen testified. “But I could guess it was a gun.”

Jensen got a side profile view of the man, but didn’t recognize him initially. The prosecution alleges it was Blacknell, an alleged Easter Hill Boys gang member that was already well known to Wallace and other Richmond detectives and police officers.

He was wanted in connection with the March 2009 killing of 21-year-old Marcus Russell, an East Bay-rapper who was shot while driving east on I-580 in Richmond. The 22 charges Blacknell faces court in a high profile trial that began Jan. 17, include a murder charge in Russell’s death. The bulk of the others stem from his alleged crime spree six months later that took the wounded four people.

In her opening statement on Tuesday, Blacknell’s attorney said she will show that her client is innocent but on trial because police and prosecutors couldn’t make a case against anyone else.

During cross-examinations Wednesday, Garrido pressed officers on their credentials and methods in determining who is identified as a gang member. Anderson mentioned several factors, including online rap videos and photos that feature certain lyrics, symbols and hand-signals, as well as families, friends and tattoos. Anderson testified that there are many families with surnames in Richmond that are common among gang members.

Garrido also demonstrated that none of the four people that prosecutors allege Blacknell shot on Sept. 13 have identified him as their assailant. Blacknell faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted on all charges.

The only member of the public in the public, other than the press, in the courtroom Wednesday was Blacknell’s mother.

In the trial’s second day of testimony on Wednesday, Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Derek Butts called seven witnesses to the stand: Three Richmond police officers, the Oakland shooting victim, an Oakland store owner, an Oakland crime scene technician and a Pleasant Hill man whose guns were stolen from his home in 2007.

All of the day’s testimony centered on crimes that occurred on September 13, 2009. Butts sought through his witness list and questioning to establish the scope and sequence of events that day, which culminated in Blacknell’s arrest on a rooftop with a semi-automatic handgun and high-capacity ammunition magazine stashed nearby.

The first witness was Richmond Det. Steve Harris, a firearms expert who testified that he found a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun and a 30-round magazine on the roof of a home in the 500 block of 18th Street, where Blacknell was captured after a short chase.

The gun was traced to a 2007 burglary of a house in Pleasant Hill. Anderson testified next. The four-year Richmond police veteran and gang expert testified that he responded to the Pullman shooting on the morning of September 13. Anderson went to Kaiser hospital to interview two shooting victims, but they did not cooperate, he testified.

“Is it common for gang member not to want to talk to police even if they’re injured?” Butts asked. “Yes,” Anderson replied, adding that in Richmond it is also common for non-gang affiliated residents to not cooperate with police for fear of reprisal.

Later that afternoon, Anderson testified, he was on the scene of the shooting at the intersection of Harbour and Chanslor avenues, where he found a young man he testified was a known gang member suffering from two gunshot wounds, one to his upper arm and one to his chest. Butts showed the jury photos from the scene, showing the man laying on the sidewalk with a blood-soaked shirt and Anderson kneeling beside him.

The man survived.

Testimony Wednesday afternoon concluded with Jensen, who in 2009 had been an officer for just over one year.

Jensen testified that he had been working an overtime shift due to the spate of crimes earlier in the day. Jensen and his partner had responded as backup to Anderson and his partner, who were chasing four occupants who had fled on foot from the Nissan Maxima they had attempted to stop near the intersection of 23rd Street and Cutting Boulevard for driving without headlights.

Jensen hopped from the cruiser at Cutting Boulevard and 17th Street, he testified. He and his partner chased the man prosecutors say was Blacknell into a dark, fenced alcove between two homes. As he slipped through an ajar gate, Jensen and his partner fired at least five rounds in his direction, none hitting him, after the man allegedly pointed his gun at the officers.

Testimony then concluded for the day. The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Jan. 19.

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