'No snitch' street code complicates trial — and gang unit's job
For months, JaeBrione Gary dodged participation in the prosecution of Hailu Mandefero, a 19-year-old alleged gang member who is on trial for shooting Gary in May. "On the streets, there's a code you got to live to," Gary testified Wednesday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
JaeBrione Gary says he wanted revenge after he was wounded in a shooting outside a fast-food restaurant in Skyway in May, but exacting vengeance from the witness stand was not what he had in mind.
So on Wednesday, just before the 20-year-old was set to testify in King County Superior Court, he found himself in the same place as the man accused of shooting him: jail.
For months, Gary dodged the lead King County sheriff's detective investigating the shooting, making it clear he had no intention of participating in the prosecution of Hailu Mandefero, an alleged South Seattle gang member. Gary was arrested on a material-witness warrant and jailed for two weeks so prosecutors could be certain he would testify.
When he did, Gary told the jury he was "pissed off" when he was picked up on the warrant and warned the arresting officer "if he took me in ... I would (expletive) the whole case over."
It will be up to jurors to decide how truthful he was on the stand.
Gary testified that he had lied when he named Mandefero as the shooter as he writhed in pain in the back of an ambulance after being shot outside Ezell's Chicken in Skyway. Instead, he said, he was shot by another man, a close friend of Mandefero's who is awaiting trial for an unrelated shooting.
Encountering uncooperative or even hostile victims and witnesses is not uncommon for gang investigators, though it does make their jobs harder, police acknowledge.
They say the reluctance to participate in the criminal-justice system stems from a gang culture that abhors "snitches" and sees street justice as the preferred way to settle beefs and exact revenge.
The Prosecutor's Office estimates it issues roughly 50 material-witness warrants each year to compel witnesses, and victims, to testify in various cases. Defense attorneys can also ask judges to issue the warrants.
Mark Jamieson, a Seattle police spokesman, said it's not unusual for his department's gang detectives — who did not investigate Gary's shooting — to come across uncooperative victims and witnesses.
"Unfortunately, that happens a lot. It fits into the whole 'don't snitch' code," he said.
Code of the streets
"On the streets, there's a code you got to live to," Gary said on the witness stand Wednesday.
Initially, Gary told a deputy who responded to the shooting that he had been shot by a member of a Bloods gang from Seattle's Central District. But "he wasn't believing my story," Gary said of Deputy Michael Glasgow, who was the first to reach Gary as he sat bleeding on a bench outside the Skyway Bowl, across the parking lot from Ezell's, on May 1.
Glasgow testified that Gary was hesitant to talk while surrounded by a crowd outside the bowling alley and casino on Renton Avenue South.
"He was very nervous and aware of people being around him and hearing what he was saying," Glasgow testified. "He didn't want to say who shot him because he didn't want to be considered a snitch."
Once inside the ambulance, Glasgow — knowing Gary was about to be sedated and intubated — asked him again about the shooter, the deputy testified.
He said Gary told him, "Halua from Money Gang," giving a first name that sounded similar to Mandefero's, which is pronounced "hay-loo."
Gary testified that he had identified Mandefero as the shooter because he wanted to protect the real shooter, someone he's known for years from his Rainier Valley neighborhood.
A couple of hours after the shooting, Mandefero was arrested at Valley Medical Center in Renton, where he had taken the man Gary would later testify had been the shooter, to be treated for a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the buttocks. Though detectives quickly determined that Gary's shooting and the other man's injury were connected, they didn't have enough evidence to also arrest him.
Mandefero is charged with first- and second-degree assault, accused of shooting Gary and firing a bullet that narrowly missed a bystander. He's also been charged with unlawful possession of a firearm because, as a felon, Mandefero is barred from having guns.
The man Gary says is the real shooter was arrested in June for a January shooting that critically injured three men in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. He has not been charged in connection with Gary's shooting because Gary did not implicate the man until last week during an interview with trial attorneys, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Julie Kline wrote in a trial brief.
Kline wrote in her brief that prosecutors plan to explore charges against the man in connection with Gary's shooting following the conclusion of Mandefero's trial.
The Times is not naming him because he has not been charged in connection with Gary's shooting.
In her opening statement to jurors, Mandefero's defense attorney Aimee Sutton said police arrested the wrong man in connection with Gary's shooting.
According to Sutton, Mandefero, 19, was excluded as the source of trace DNA found on shell casings collected at the scene. His fingerprints also weren't found on the casings, and cellphone records don't put him at the scene, either, she said. Sutton said the other man is solely responsible for the shooting.
But Kline believes both Mandefero and the other man opened fire on Gary's gold Cadillac outside Ezell's Chicken, which shares a parking lot with Skyway Bowl. She told jurors that Gary told the truth when he named Mandefero as his shooter as he lay wounded in the ambulance.
"The truth is what you tell when you think it might be your only chance to tell it," Kline said in her opening statement.
Beef over money
Gary testified that he had been friendly with Mandefero, as well as the man he recently identified as the shooter and others in their circle, but that changed in the spring following a dispute over money between Mandefero and Gary's cousin.
When he woke up at Harborview Medical Center the day after the shooting, Gary told his mother he had been shot by Mandefero, according to his testimony.
"Were you lying to your mother as well?" Kline asked.
Gary mumbled the first part of his response, then said: "I didn't see him shoot me. ... I told my family whenever they catch either one of them, they know what time it is."
It was a veiled threat to repay his shooters.
"Is that how you planned to take care of it?" Kline asked.
"Yes," Gary responded.
Asked if he still feels the same way, Gary, referring to Mandefero, said: "Honestly, I'm not ... putting no man away. I don't know how long he's looking at."
"You just don't want to see anybody go to jail, whether they shot you or not?" Kline asked.
"Pretty much," he said.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org