A serial killer, a student slain on campus in broad daylight, and incompetence or corruption among Stockton Unified trustees top the list of biggest Stockton stories of 2022.
In late September police announced a string of murders fit a pattern: victims out late at night in north Stockton, alone in dark places, gunned down. Soon they confirmed a serial killer was out there.
“This person is on a mission,” warned Police Chief Stanley McFadden.
As the chilling news went national, police released a grainy video of a black-clad, hooded suspect in six killings. A city of over 300,000 became a ghost town at sunset.
Tips poured in. Police put a suspect under surveillance. They tailed him when he set out alone one late night in early October — and arrested an armed Wesley Brownlee, 43.
“He was out hunting,” said McFadden. “We are sure we stopped another killing.”
Brownlee was charged with three murders and a raft of other crimes, with more charges to come. Stocktonians, breathing a sigh of relief, resumed normal life. The case may not come to trial for a year.
In another shocking crime, in April a man pulled into a parking lot at Stagg High School and tried to grab two female students before stabbing to death 15-year-old Alycia Reynaga.
Ex-con Anthony Gray, 53, was charged with murder, injuring a child and possessing a weapon on school grounds. He is scheduled for a mental competency hearing in January.
In June the San Joaquin County Grand Jury issued a damning report saying rogue officials in Stockton Unified School district are mismanaging the city’s largest school district into insolvency.
The report strongly hinted at corruption such as bid rigging, embezzlement, wrongful firings and nepotistic hirings, as well as millions of dollars squandered.
It emerged that Stockton Unified is being investigated by the FBI, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office, the California State Employees Association, and a state auditing agency, whose chief publicly stated he expects their audit to find fraud.
As of this writing, none of the investigations have concluded. Voters, however, did not wait. In November they ousted two bums up for reelection. Another termed out. Only a lone dissenter was spared.
Supposedly now there is a reformist board majority. One looks forward to serious house cleaning — and, sooner rather than later, the conclusion of investigations and possible criminal charges.
Other top stories:
- Stockton Fire Department Capt. Vidal “Max” Fortuna was fatally shot after Engine Co. 2 responded to a dumpster fire in east downtown. Police arrested Robert Somerville, 68. Somerville said he thought someone was breaking into his warehouse.
- The City Council formally abandoned Ten Space’s vaunted Open Window Project. The downtown revival effort supposed to bring 1,000 housing units and 400,000 square feet of retail and commercial space to 15 blocks produced a measly 34 units.
- The Stockton Heat ice hockey team announced it was leaving Stockton after the 2021–22 season and relocating to Calgary, Alberta.
- Stockton police got a raise, but not as much as they wanted. The deal slowed but did not stop the exodus of cops leaving for higher-paying cities. A department supposed to number 485 sworn officers currently has only 376.
- At long last a jury found Paul Flores guilty of the 1996 murder of Stocktonian Kristin Smart. Smart was a 19-year-old freshman at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo when she disappeared. Flores faces a 25-years-to-life sentence without the possibility of parole.
- In a separate trial, Flores’ father, alleged to have helped his son hide Smart’s body (which has never been found), beat the rap.
- Stockton’s Council unanimously voted in September to dump PG&E and get power from East Bay Community Energy Authority. The deal, which starts in 2024, promises greener, slightly cheaper power and a say in the Oakland power company’s decisions.
- Cheaper power may come in handy, as Stockton’s sizzling summer season broke the all-time record with 40 days of temperatures 100 degrees or higher.
- The heat wave worsened the city’s Stage 2 Water Shortage Emergency. Residents were told to water only two days a week.
- The San Joaquin Delta continued to decline from excessive water exports. A recent survey by state biologists found zero Delta smelt, a sign the web of life is unraveling. Instead of helping, Gov. Gavin Newsom continued to push for the procrustean Delta Tunnel to satisfy politically powerful interests.
- After more than 15 years in office, U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney stepped down. His seat in the newly redrawn 9th Congressional District was won by 10th District Congressman and fellow Democrat Josh Harder.
- The city’s newest festival, Stockton Flavor Fest, successfully attracted 10,000 people to two days of food, music, and vendors at Weber Point. The Council voted to keep the party going in coming years.
- The ever-shrinking Stockton Record canceled its Saturday print edition and moved out of its 530 E. Market St. home of more than 100 years. A small staff moved into the south-bank Waterfront Warehouse and its editor, Don Blount, departed the paper. Observers wonder how long The Record will last.
- –A funeral for Hell’s Angels motorcycle club founder Ralph “Sonny” Barger drew 7,000 club members and others to Stockton 99 Speedway and freaked the sheriff out. The event came off without incident.
- The city broke ground on an 11,000 square-foot, 3-story “navigation center” near the waterfront with beds and services to reduce homelessness locally and countywide.
- Stockton police and other agencies made 88 felony arrests in a big gang takedown, netting an arsenal of guns and suspects in two homicides, one of them the killing of Edison High School coach Mark Scott.
- The city spent $2.5 million to modernize the arena’s scoreboard and sound system. Supposedly this enables arena management to book more concerts, sports events and other shows.
Several things notably did not happen:
- City negotiations with a developer to build 575 housing units, retail, a park and “civic space” on 8.78 acres of city land west of the Waterfront Towers — a potentially transformative project for Stockton — failed to produce a deal. Yet.
- Sherwood Mall did not finish remodeling and becoming an “outdoor-oriented shopping experience” with a Sprouts Farmers Market. Owners look to 2023.
- The 9-business Empire Theatre complex so important to the Miracle Mile neither rebuilt nor reopened and never may. Owner and city are in their 5th year of litigation over the city closure for alleged fire safety violations.
- In possibly the weirdest story of the year, motorists passing Highway 12 vineyards were aghast to see what looked like numerous Ku Klux Klan robes on display. The Sheriff’s Office determined this was not a Lodi rebranding but farmworker spray suits set up as scarecrows to frighten away coyotes.
Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: email@example.com.