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The People v. Isaiah Jermaine Thompson

December 14, 2011


(Super. Ct. No. 08F00207)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Butz , J.

P. v. Thompson CA3


California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

A jury found defendant Isaiah Jermaine Thompson guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm, being a felon in possession of ammunition, and participation in a criminal street gang. (Pen. Code, §§ 12021, subd. (a)(1), 12316, subd. (b)(1), 186.22, subd. (a).)*fn1 [1] The jury also found that defendant's possession of the firearm was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal street gang (i.e., was "gang related"). (§ 186.22, subd. (b)(1).) The trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate term of eight years in state prison.

On appeal, defendant contends the trial court committed prejudicial error in admitting evidence of numerous prior uncharged arrests. He also contends there was insufficient evidence to support the gang enhancement, and double jeopardy principles prevent its retrial. We agree with each of these contentions and shall reverse.


On January 8, 2008, police were surveilling defendant at an apartment complex in South Oak Park. They saw two men, Marcus Hawkins and Ernest Harris, approach the back of a Mercedes parked in the apartment parking lot. The men spoke for a moment and then Hawkins went back to his apartment. Seconds later, defendant walked up and he and Harris (a validated Oak Park Blood, Ridezilla gang member), got into the Mercedes. Harris got into the driver's seat and defendant got into the front passenger seat.

Three marked tactical police vehicles then pulled into the parking lot, parked behind the Mercedes, and performed a "felony vehicle stop"--the officers got out with guns drawn and repeatedly ordered defendant and Harris to raise their hands. Harris slowly complied with the order, although he later lowered his hands when he turned off the ignition and rolled up the window. Defendant began to put his hands into view, but then brought them towards his front waist/stomach area. Defendant was wearing a bulky jacket, which officers saw rise on his body. Defendant turned to the left for a second or two toward the rear of the car behind the front center console. Defendant then faced forward and put his hands into view. He had apparently been talking on his cell phone.

Once defendant and Harris were arrested, officers searched the Mercedes and found a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun on top of the "back center raised area." There were one or two gloves near the gun and an additional pair of gloves in the driver's seat area. Defendant had two cell phones in his possession. At least one of those phones contained gang-related photos, as did the phone confiscated from Harris. The images on defendant's cell phone were dated in December 2007.

The Ridezilla gang is one of various subsets, or cliques, of the Oak Park Bloods. Law enforcement has validated 247 Oak Park Blood members, and an additional 30 Ridezilla members. The Ridezilla subset has somewhat more structure that the otherwise very loosely structured African-American street gangs in the area, including the Oak Park Bloods, which lack leadership. The Ridezilla gang is known for committing violent crimes. Their primary activities include drug dealing, robberies, carjacking, gun possession, burglary, assaults with firearms, murder and attempted murder.

Defendant had been found in the presence of Ridezilla gang members in December 2002, September 2003, and June 2005. He also had thrown gang signs from inside a police car after he was detained for loitering back in November 2003. Law enforcement validated him as a Ridezilla gang member in June 2005 when he was in the apartment of Ricky Ware, another validated Ridezilla gang member. Defendant had a "Zilla" tattoo on his forearm and admitted to officers he was a Ridezilla gang member.

Defendant's nicknames or monikers include Maymay, Stax, Drastic Stax, and Toback. In March 2005, law enforcement confiscated a letter addressed to "Twin Shots," a "UZ Soulja" (soldier) from another gang member's house, which was signed by someone identifying himself as "UZ Stax, Godfather Zilla, The General." "UZ" stands for "Underworld Zilla," a nickname of the Ridezilla gang. A gang expert testified it would be dangerous for a "wannabe" gang member to refer to himself as a godfather or general.

The People also introduced evidence of a YouTube video entitled "STAXandQQ on YouTube." The date the video was made is unknown. The video depicts numerous individuals, including defendant and six additional individuals identified to be Oak Park Blood, FAB*fn2 [2] and Ridezilla gang members, talking and "rapping." During the video, defendant raps, "I paid my homage, and take the honors, medallion on my neck, like a medal, I keep the .40 on me Homie riding through the ghetto. It's UZ, N--gah!"*fn3 [3]

We set forth some additional evidence of the Ridezilla gang, and defendant's participation therein, in our discussion as necessary for resolution of the issues presented. The parties stipulated that defendant had been previously convicted of a felony.


I. Prior Uncharged Offenses

A. Evidence Admitted

On the People's motion, and over defendant's objection,*fn4 [4] the trial court admitted the following evidence:

(1) On June 16, 2006, defendant was approached by officers who asked to speak to him. Defendant ignored them and attempted to lock himself in a vehicle. One of the officers placed him in a compliance hold but defendant broke free and fled. During the subsequent foot chase, defendant threw a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic gun. He was ultimately convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

(2) On September 11, 2005, officers received a report of shots fired and when they responded to the nightclub, they were directed to defendant by some citizens. Defendant ran but was eventually caught. Shell casings were located in the area where defendant was initially seen. Defendant claimed he ran because someone had shot at him. He was found in violation of his parole.

(3) On September 27, 2004, an officer attempted to pull defendant over for having expired registration tags. As the car came to a stop, defendant and his passenger ran off. Defendant was found hiding nearby. A .45-caliber handgun magazine loaded with four bullets was under the center console of the car. Defendant was found in violation of his parole.

(4) On October 17, 2003, officers contacted defendant and another individual, who were sitting in a car outside a bar. During the contact, defendant began to reach into his waistband. A subsequent search of his waistband area revealed a loaded .45-caliber handgun. Defendant was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

(5) On September 18, 2002, patrol officers saw defendant firing a handgun into the air. Defendant ran but was later found hiding under a car.

(6) On February 6, 1998, defendant was seen riding his bicycle without lights in the early morning hours. When officers activated their overhead lights, defendant threw a baggie containing what was later determined to be 16 individually wrapped pieces of rock cocaine. He was arrested and booked into county jail.

(7) On February 1, 1997, officers responded to a call of shots fired. When they asked to speak to the three minors who were present, including defendant, the minors all ran. One of the officers saw defendant reach into his waistband and throw a .38-caliber pistol. When defendant was caught, he was uncooperative and tried to bite an officer. While transporting defendant to jail, officers found live ammunition on defendant's person, which matched the gun that was recovered.

The trial court found the evidence listed above relevant to establish that defendant was "a busy and active member" of the Oak ...

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