Seeking Justice: People v. Roosevelt Turner
By Simon R. Umscheid, Supervising Deputy District Attorney
For six and a half years I was assigned to the Hardcore Gang Unit at the Fontana District Attorney’s Office. During the course of that time I handled hundreds of cases ranging from misdemeanor vandalisms and assaults to murders. Of all of those cases, some stick out because of the brutality of the crime or because of the particular victim who showed courage in trying to obtain justice for the crime committed against them.
One of those cases is People v. Roosevelt Turner. It sticks out in my mind because of the horrendous cruelty of the crime and because of the incredible courage of the victim and his family.
On the night of August 26, 2006, 17-year-old Antonio Steward was sitting in front of his parents’ apartment in the late evening hours speaking with a friend. They were just sitting minding their own business when the defendant and a group of his friends approached Antonio and his friend. Turner asked Antonio “Where are you from?” Antonio knew that Turner was asking him what gang he ran with or what neighborhood he claimed. Antonio responded that he didn’t claim anyone and that he didn’t bang (meaning he wasn’t affiliated with a gang). Turner then demanded the cigarette that Antonio had tucked behind his ear. Turner was carrying a bottle of clear alcohol when he approached Antonio.
Despite being confronted with the defendant and the group of “friends” he had with him, Antonio offered to share the cigarette with Turner. That wasn’t good enough for Turner. He felt disrespected by Antonio for a reason that most people wouldn’t understand nor relate to.
Turner initially acted as if he was going to turn and walk away. As he began to turn he suddenly backed up and produced a semi-automatic firearm. He pointed the gun at Antonio from just a few feet away and started firing. The defendant fired more than a dozen rounds at Antonio. Antonio was hit eight to nine times throughout his body. Antonio’s friend also suffered a graze wound but was not seriously injured.
Antonio’s father heard the rapid gunfire from inside the family apartment. He ran to the front door of the apartment in panicked terror. He found his son on the ground riddled with bullets in front of the family’s apartment.
Antonio’s father cried out for someone to call 911. The front landing area was littered with brass shell casings and bullet fragments. Antonio told his father that it “hurt real bad.” Antonio’s father sat cradling his son until help arrived. Antonio had several through and through gunshot wounds. He also still had several bullets lodged in his body. Antonio was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. During that trip Antonio’s heart stopped requiring dramatic medical intervention. The situation was so chaotic that Antonio’s parents initially went to the wrong hospital before realizing that their son had been taken to Loma Linda Medical Center.
Antonio was rushed into emergency surgery; just the first such surgery of the eventual fifty he would have to undergo. Antonio was in a medically induced coma for weeks. Because of the damage to his body, Antonio, his parents, and the medical staff had to make the extremely difficult decision to amputate both of his legs in order to try and save his life. The doctors told Antonio’s parents the situation was still very dire; there was a good chance that Antonio still might not survive.
While Antonio lay unconscious in the hospital ICU, the search for the shooter was under way. A canvas of the apartment complex led to one witness saying she had seen a subject earlier in the evening with a group of friends. She didn’t know his name but knew he went by the street name “22.” She also said he was carrying a bottle of clear alcohol.
In a very lucky coincidence, there was a Fontana Police Officer working that evening that had lateralled to the Fontana Police Department from Colton Police. He knew a subject from Colton who went by the moniker “22.” He knew that person as Roosevelt Turner. Turner was an associate of the Colton City Crips and a resident of an apartment complex that was notorious for gang activity. That complex was known as the “Zoo.” Turner was referred to as a “Zoo baby” for being an affiliate of the gang. That officer had contacted Turner at that complex on more than one occasion as part of his employment with the Colton Police Department.
Turner was eventually located and arrested. The court process then began. The court ordered law enforcement to conduct a live lineup at the jail. After several weeks Antonio had regained consciousness. The lineup was scheduled. Both Antonio and his friend would have to come to the jail and look at a lineup to see if they could identify the person who shot them both.
Antonio was brought to the jail facility for the lineup by his father. I had to check out how many electrical sockets were in the lineup room prior to his arrival to make sure that the room could accommodate his medical needs. Antonio’s friend from that night looked at the lineup first. He immediately pointed out Turner as being the shooter. Antonio studied the faces on the other side of the glass. He asked if they could each be made to step forward and speak a sentence: “Give me a smoke.” Each individual in the lineup was required to step forward and repeat the sentence. Afterwards Antonio picked Turner out as the person who had shot him and taken his legs.
Form used by law enforcement at lineup. All communication at lineup is in writing. Antonio Steward picks out defendant Roosevelt Turner after detective has each person in lineup step forward and repeat “Give me a smoke.” Form signed by Antonio Steward.
After the lineup the case continued to slog through the court process. Meanwhile Antonio was in and out of the hospital for more surgeries. He fought multiple infections. At one point prior to trial, Antonio was readmitted to the hospital with a life threatening infection and other complications. The family called me and asked if the case would be able to go on if Antonio didn’t survive. The medical staff informed his parents that it was a definite possibility. I considered the real possibility that the case could become a murder case.
After several weeks of touch-and-go news on his medical condition, Antonio fortunately recovered. Finally in May of 2008 we were ready to go to trial. We spent a few days picking a jury and another day arguing motions. After opening statements I called my first witness to the stand. Antonio bravely entered the courtroom to confront the man who had shot him.
I had spoken to Antonio prior to his testimony about how he was feeling. I asked if he was afraid. He responded “Not really, what else can he do to me?” Antonio came into the courtroom in his wheelchair and testified next to the witness stand. He relayed the horror of that night. He spoke of the terror of being shot multiple times and sound of brass hitting the pavement. He relayed the pain and the smell of gunpowder.
He also testified about the lost weeks and months after the shooting. After Antonio relayed all the details of what happened I asked the most important question: “Do you see the person who did this to you in the courtroom?” Antonio calmly pointed at the defendant and identified him as the person who had taken his legs from him. In a cruel and unfathomable act of cowardice the defendant laughed out loud and stared Antonio down. Antonio bravely said he was sure the defendant was the person who shot him.
Antonio’s friend from that night also testified and identified Turner as the shooter. The female who had said she had seen “22” also testified and identified the defendant as the person she knew as “22.” She also remembered that the defendant had also asked her for a cigarette during their chance encounter shortly before the defendant shot the victim.
The jury deliberated and eventually convicted the defendant of both the attempted murders of Antonio and his friend. The jury also found the gun enhancements to be true. Unfortunately, they were not able to reach a unanimous verdict as to the gang enhancement.
After some post-trial motions by defense, sentencing day finally arrived. Nearly two years after the shooting that nearly took Antonio’s life, Roosevelt Turner was sentenced to 59 years plus life for the shooting. Antonio spoke at the sentencing and explained what impact the shooting had on his life and that of his family. He spoke of lost dreams of playing baseball at the collegiate level. He discussed the tremendous toll the case had taken on his parents including incredible financial hardship and health problems for his father. There were more medical bills than the family could ever hope to pay.
The defendant sat through the sentencing snickering and smiling. Turner didn’t even seem to care about the pain he caused his own family. Turner sat smirking as his sobbing mother left the courtroom as he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison at the age of 20.
After the sentencing the family was finally able to get some peace and turn their attention away from the defendant and look to the future. Antonio was learning to walk with prosthetic legs.
In 2009 Antonio was able to walk across the stage at his high school graduation.