One of two men charged in a fatal shooting in 2010 outside a Berkeley barbershop, which left a second man critically injured, entered a no contest plea this week in connection with a lesser charge just before the case was slated to head to trial.
Coleon Lee Carroll took the voluntary manslaughter plea as he and co-defendant Brandon Wallace, both 26, ramped up for trial, which had been long delayed due to numerous attorney changes and postponements previously in the court process. Trial preparations for Wallace are underway, and opening arguments are expected in his case in the first half of March.
Authorities identified Carroll and Wallace, during court proceedings in 2012, as “part of a gang in Berkeley called the Waterfront gang.”
Both men had been charged with murder for the Oct. 26, 2010, shooting of 35-year-old Gary Ferguson Jr. outside Johnson’s House of Style on Sacramento Street. A second man, a longtime barber at the shop, was also struck by a hail of bullets when two men walked up to them before 9 a.m. and opened fire. Authorities ultimately identified Carroll as the getaway driver, and Wallace and an unnamed third man as the shooters.
Carroll and Wallace were charged with attempted murder, in connection with the shooting of the barber, and Carroll faced a felony count of possession of a firearm by a felon. (He had been found responsible for committing a robbery in 2007 when he was still a juvenile.)
The plea deal, for voluntary manslaughter and an arming clause, resulted in a sentence of 13 years in state prison, which Carroll will serve at 85% time, said Teresa Drenick, Alameda County district attorney’s office spokeswoman. That translates into total time to be served of about 11 years since his original arrest in 2010. He has been in custody since then.
A GPS tracker authorities happened to have placed on Carroll’s vehicle four days before the fatal shooting — in connection with an unrelated Berkeley robbery case — helped police link him to the homicide, along with related tracking of his cellphone. In the robbery case, police said Carroll had pistol-whipped and robbed rap musician Mistah F.A.B. in June 2010 outside Berkeley’s Dome Apparel shop on San Pablo Avenue, then fired a gun at him after the robbery. Though charges initially were filed, prosecutors ultimately declined to pursue that case, as well as charges from an Oakland carjacking, as the homicide matter dragged on.
Police said there was ample evidence, including video and witness statements, tying Carroll to the robbery. An informant also told police, according to court papers, that Carroll and several associates had bragged in 2010 about robbing drug dealers and rappers “for their expensive jewelry.”
During the 2013 preliminary hearing in the murder case, where an Alameda County Superior Court judge ultimately ordered both men to stand trial in connection with the charges against them, attorneys said little about what might have prompted the Sacramento Street shooting. In response to questioning from prosecutor Steve Dal Porto, a witness testified that Carroll had referred to “the Ferguson family as ‘rats,’” and confirmed he did not like them. The attorney at that time for Wallace described victim Ferguson as “a narcotics dealer with a criminal history, including a history of violence.”
According to a police report that was part of the court record, Ferguson and another man were standing on Sacramento Street at about 8:30 a.m. when Wallace and a second man walked up to them, pulled out guns, and shot them multiple times. Ferguson died within minutes, shot in the torso and legs. Wallace — who was also known as “Stickup”— was accidentally shot by his accomplice during the attack.
The shooting was captured on numerous video surveillance systems. Police recovered casings from two different weapons in the area.
Immediately after the shooting, police wrote, Wallace and the second man ran down Sacramento and through an alleyway to Stanton Street, where they jumped into a silver PT Cruiser driven by Carroll. They drove to Kaiser Hospital in Richmond where police said Wallace made up a story about a fake robbery and, using a fake name, lied to hospital staff and police about how he had been shot. Richmond Police investigated his story and found no evidence to back it up.
Berkeley police who reviewed the surveillance video noticed that one of the shooters had himself been injured, and ultimately focused in on Wallace at Kaiser. While detectives were talking over the case, according to court testimony, they realized the suspect vehicle described by witnesses — a silver PT Cruiser — matched Carroll’s vehicle, which they were already tracking due to the robbery case.
Police reviewed GPS tracking data linked to the PT Cruiser and “confirmed that it was, indeed, in the area at the exact same time the murder took place,” police wrote. Carroll’s cellphone data placed him there, too. Police said they found Wallace’s blood staining the front seat of the PT Cruiser, which GPS data later put near the hospital in Richmond.
Police said Wallace’s purple shoes, found with him at the hospital, matched those seen in surveillance footage, and that a bloody sole print discovered at the scene matched the treads of the purple shoes.
Carroll initially told police he had been with his girlfriend at the time of the shooting at a San Francisco medical clinic where she was getting an abortion, according to court papers. But the 21-year-old testified in court that he had dropped her off at the clinic and said she didn’t see him again for hours. She said she had been a “call girl” who had at the time lived with Carroll and his mother, and had given them all the proceeds from her sex work in exchange for food and shelter. She testified that she gave Carroll more than $50,000, all the money she had received for performing hundreds of sex acts all over the Bay Area and in Los Angeles which she would arrange over Craigslist.
“I can’t say whether or not he was my pimp, but, he did get paid for what I did,” she testified, according to court records. She told the court that she had been pregnant with Carroll’s baby prior to the abortion, and knew this because he was the only person she was having unprotected sex with.
It was her PT Cruiser, which she said a client had bought for her, that Carroll was driving the day of the fatal shooting. She said she stayed with Carroll and Wallace in a San Rafael motel room the night before the shooting, and recalled that Carroll had gotten frustrated with her for giving him bad directions en route to the motel because he had weapons with him and didn’t want to be on the road any longer than he had to be.
She recalled, one day after the shooting, being with Carroll at their Antioch home when what she described as a Berkeley SWAT team took him into custody. She said Carroll told her to dump two phones in the toilet before officers swarmed in and he was arrested. Police found the PT Cruiser at that location, too. The blood on the seat was later determined to be a DNA match to Wallace, according to court testimony. No weapons were recovered there.
In an unexplained coincidence, the woman testified that her mother had previously been in a longterm relationship with Gary Ferguson Sr. — the father of the homicide victim — and said she had lived with them for six years, from age 9 to 15. She told the court, however, that she never knew the younger Gary Ferguson personally.
The surviving shooting victim also testified in court, and said he had been childhood friends with Gary Ferguson Jr., that they’d gone to school together and both grown up in Berkeley. They saw each other daily or every other day, but he said he did not know exactly why Ferguson was on Sacramento Street the day he was killed.
He said they had been talking on the sidewalk for 5 or 10 minutes when the shooters — neither of whom he recognized — came up. He said he didn’t see the shooting, but recalled “hearing and feeling” the shots.
“I felt a couple of bullets go in my back, and that was about it,” he said. He estimated that he was shot 6-7 times in the legs. His next memory was waking up in the ambulance. Ultimately, he spent about a month recuperating in the hospital.
He noted that one of his visitors in the hospital was Coleon Carroll’s mother, identified in court as LaDonna Grayson. He said she was “kind of like an auntie” to him, though much older, and that her family went back a long time in Berkeley.
Carroll is scheduled to return to court March 21 for a sentencing hearing. Preparations for Wallace’s trial are ongoing. He remains in custody at Santa Rita Jail with a bail of $5.5 million.
In addition to the cases described above, Carroll was also picked up in 2009 with his older brother Joseph and a man named Gregg Fite as part of a sweep of five Bay Area cities in a coordinated crackdown on gang violence in the East Bay. Carroll was shot during his arrest at a house in Hercules and had to be treated in the hospital for an abdominal wound. Carroll was not tried on any charges stemming from that arrest.
Police said at the time that the three men were members of the Waterfront gang, so named since they lived in West Berkeley near the San Francisco Bay, and were said to be responsible for many violent crimes.
[Correction: Carroll took a no contest plea in this case. He did not plead guilty, counter to what the district attorney’s office told Berkeleyside. The story was fixed after publication.]
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