Gang-related tensions that sparked a drive-by shooting in Kearns last month flared inside a courtroom Tuesday and spread to the hallway, where a spectator was arrested for investigation of witness tampering and disorderly conduct.
Third Circuit Judge Dennis Fuchs beefed up security for the preliminary hearing held for three Kearns men charged with attempted second-degree murder in connection with a drive-by shooting that occurred on Oct. 15.Attorneys said they feared there would be problems in the courtroom because of the ill will that apparently exists between the many friends and family members of both the victims and the defendants. They asked the judge to clear the crowded courtroom of all spectators, including some supposed gang members. Fuchs refused but warned the courtroom he would not tolerate any kind of disturbance.
But despite the warning, a 24-year-old Salt Lake man was handcuffed and whisked away to jail during a break in the hearing. "He was taunting and jeering and using obscene language and threatening one of the witnesses who was one of the victims (of the drive-by shooting)," said Salt Lake County Deputy Sheriff Steven DeBry.
Deputies said the man was warned once, but when he continued he was taken away and booked into jail for investigation of witness tampering and disorderly conduct. Deputies were to meet with Deputy County Attorney Greg Skordas to discuss the incident.
During the hearing, DeBry said he took a taped statement from Benny Lee Gardner, 18, the day following the shooting.
On the night of Oct. 15, Gardner said he borrowed a shotgun from a friend, jumped into a car driven by Trentin Giles, 18, and then "went looking for the group." The deputy said he believes Gardner meant the Tongan Crips gang or "any Tongan in the Kearns area."
DeBry said Gardner had previously been a victim of threats, harassment and fighting from "Polynesian elements," including a drive-by shooting at his Kearns home.
Gardner told DeBry he was "tired of the Tongans" and was particularly upset that a group of Tongans had soaked his friend, Marty Martinez, 17, head to toe in gasoline 30 minutes before the shooting occurred.
"The law wouldn't protect him, so he wanted to take the law into his own hands," DeBry said.
Gardner indicated that he was the only one with a weapon and that he fired five or six shots at the victims. "He said he wasn't trying to kill them, but he shot at them."
Four Kearns High School students testified that they were walking home on Oct. 15 when the shooting occurred.
"As we were walking, this dark-colored car pulls up and turns and someone yells, `What's up, Cuz, this is Blood,' " said Sam Teaupa, 15. "Cuz" is a slang term for members of the Crips gang and "Blood" apparently refers to the rival Bloods gang.
Alama Tausinga, 18, and Fatafehi Semani, 15, said they were hit with several small pellets from the shotgun blasts. Both were treated for their injuries at local hospitals. They said they both still had some pellets inside their bodies because the doctors were not able to get them all out.
Tausinga said he belonged to the Crips gang two or three years ago but denied being involved with the group now. He said that earlier in the day on Oct. 15 he went to a Kearns home and "called one of their guys out." Teaupa said he went with him to that house because Tausinga "wanted to talk to someone about them shooting a house or something."
Gardner, Giles and Giles' brother, Gary Archibald, 23, are each charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder and two counts each of aggravated assault. Fuchs continued the hearing until Thursday, saying attorney Don Bybee had a "serious conflict of interest" representing the two brothers.