Monday, February 23, 2009
San José Police Officer Jeffrey Fontana, 1977–2001
Since Halloween 2001, Tony and Sandy Fontana have “celebrated” by taking part in a vigil to honor and memorialize their son, San José police officer Jeffrey Fontana. The vigil isn’t held only as a united show of grief over the October 28, 2001 murder of the 24-year old rookie cop—it is held to remind the public that Officer Fontana’s murderer, DeShawn Campbell, has thus far escaped justice.
There are several facts in the murder of San José police officer Jeffrey Fontana that are not in dispute. A 4:30 a.m. 911 call brought SJPD officers to a quite cul-de-sac in the Almaden Valley region of San José where they found Officer Fontana dead, a single gunshot through his right eye. He service pistol was snapped in its holster. A Hyundai automobile was nearby, and ownership of that vehicle was quickly traced back to Robert Campbell, Sr. of San José. The set of keys found in the car along with fingerprints belonged to Campbell’s 22-year old son DeShawn.
DeShawn Campbell had used the vehicle to attend a Halloween party the night before. And on that Sunday, the then-22 year old who was the already the proud bearer of two felony warrants was nowhere to be found.
The younger Campbell should not have been whooping it up at all that Halloween. He already had a distinguished history of robbery and assaulting police officers. The only reason he was not in jail for the charges was one of the Santa Clara County’s fine liberal judges who bought the younger Campbell’s plea to allow him to be out on bail to be a good baby daddy and take care of his kid.
Jeffrey Fontana was everything DeShawn Campbell was not. Fontana wanted to be a police officer from the time he was 8 to 10 years of age. To make that dream come true, he attended San José State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2000. He was one of the best and brightest in his class, graduating with a 3.8 grade point average, interning with SJPD’s community policing program, and was the recipient of the Daniel Lomio Memorial Scholarship. Daniel Lomio was a SJSU criminal justice grad, a detective working for the San Francisco police department who was killed in the line of duty.
Fontana was hired by SJPD upon his graduation and is said to have had a way with kids. Outside of the dog park named for Officer Fontana is a bronze statue memorializing his image, arm outstretched to a second figure, a child wearing the officer’s hat.
He had just graduated from his field training two weeks prior to his murder, and was on patrol by himself.
It is not exactly why Campbell was in that neighborhood, on that cul-de-sac, to in the first place. There had been a small epidemic of car break-ins in the tight-knit neighborhood. Was Campbell looking to make a buck by breaking into a car? Campbell had attended a Halloween party the night of October 27, and he’d reportedly gotten his “ass kicked” at the party. He went home to retrieve his father’s gun and to exact revenge. Who was he waiting for?
Nor is it known why Officer Fontana chose to pull up behind the Hyundai, turn his light on, and approach the vehicle. Either the officer’s radio transmission was lost or jammed, or he failed to make one at all.
Campbell and his counsel haven’t been too terribly concerned about a speedy trial regarding Officer Fontana’s murder. Following his arrest for the officer’s murder, the now 27-year old Campbell has been found guilty of four felonies and has been sentenced to nearly 20 years in state prison. In order for Campbell to stay in easier contact with his attorney (not a public defender but paid for by public funds), he’s been given the privilege of thus far doing time in the relatively cushy confines of the Santa Clara County jail, next door to the courthouse.
That private practice attorney, Ed Sousa, the fourth attorney on the case, is orchestrating a defense that makes the prosecution of Phil Spector look like a speedy trial. There have been well over 100 court appearances, three judges, and over 3,000 pages of filings and transcripts. Finally, today, February 23, 2009, the jury trial begins.
Campbell’s first attorney, a public defender, was removed from the case due to conflict of interest when he agreed to act as counsel for Campbell in the wrongful death civil suit the Fontana family will bring against DeShawn Campbell.
Sousa has done an excellent job of further delays, filing motions, some of which are utterly laughable. Sousa unsuccessfully petitioned to have the entire county prosecutor’s office recused from the case because the defense is dissatisfied with the prosecutor, Lane Liroff. He then successfully petitioned for a delay in the case because he (Sousa) broke a finger (since when has having nine working fingers been a handicap to an attorney?).
The most devastating and time-consuming delay has been the fight to have DeShawn Campbell declared mentally retarded.
In a somewhat bizarre twist, both Jeffrey Fontana and Campbell had serious learning disabilities and were in special education classes while growing up. Fontana rose above his disability to attend SJSU and graduate with honors. Campbell used his disability as an excuse to fall behind, ultimately drop out of high school and seek a career as a criminal, collecting arrests for robbery and assaulting cops.
Through all this, Sousa claimed he was ready to go to court immediately—as long as the death penalty was taken off the table. Even though the Bay Area is notoriously liberal, it doesn’t take kindly to cops being murdered on duty.
The question of Campbell’s retardation was answered after a long court battle and a judge reversing her initial decision, which had initially declared Campbell not mentally retarded. This past December, after a contentious battle, Campbell won and became mentally retarded (read DeShawn Campbell ruled mentally retarded for a summary of that ruling).
Witnesses against Campbell have some pretty devastating things to say about him. One witness said shortly before the murder, she and Campbell had been listening to a radio show that discussed the best way to kill someone wearing soft body armor.
Other witnesses claim Campbell panicked and confessed to the shooting. Yet another witness states Campbell gave him the gun, which was destroyed with a blowtorch. All that was left of the gun was a single spring.
Campbell was arrested two weeks after the incident after an intense manhunt. He’d been spending his time hiding and writing farewell letters. Thanks to a CrimeStoppers tip, he was brought in to face the consequences for his actions.
Campbell didn’t feel it was right he faced jail times for his pending felonies.
Today Deputy District Attorney Lane Liroff is making his opening statement to a jury of seven men and five women. This has been his only case, 8+ hours a day, never leaving his consciousness. He is well aware of the gravity of his task.
In Deputy DA Liroff’s office is a framed headstone rubbing from Jeffrey Fontana’s grave, and a letter from a private citizen taped to the wall, castigating the DA’s office for taking so long to get justice for Jeffrey Fontana. The cul-de-sac where he was gunned down in cold blood now bears Officer Fontana’s name.
Justice for Jeffrey - Greg Fontana's blog
Long-delayed cop-killing trial gets under way(This is an excellent article with much background not included in my summary)
After seven years, trial of suspected cop killer begins today in San Jose
SJPD Fallen Officers
One family’s long wait for justice … and still counting
Suspected cop killer in limbo
Police officer, SJSU grad, killed in line of duty; Shot while on traffic stop in South S.J. early Sunday