Photo: From left, Jermaine Goodjoint, who has been living in the streets for seven years, talks to police Chaplain Steve and public information officer Rosie Calderon in Stockton on Oct. 13. “I think I feel safe inside here, honestly, opposed to being outside of here,” Goodjoint said. (Photo by Harika Maddala/Bay City News/Catchlight Local)
What had grown into a nationwide manhunt for a person wanted in connection with seven Northern California serial killings may have reached an end Saturday when the Stockton Police Department and city officials announced an arrest in the case.
Wesley Brownlee, 43, of Stockton, was arrested around 2 a.m. Saturday after he was stopped by officers in the area of Village Green Drive and Winslow Avenue. Brownlee, who authorities said is known to have a previous criminal record, is set to appear Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in San Joaquin Superior Court.
Police said after their surveillance team followed Brownlee while he was driving and watched his patterns, they determined he was possibly searching for a new victim and preparing to strike again.
“We are sure we stopped another killing,” Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said during a Saturday news conference announcing the arrest.
Just two days earlier, McFadden had joined community service providers to visit multiple homeless encampment sites, talk about safety, and pass out flyers of a person of interest in connection with the killings that have left many unhoused residents on edge.
According to police, seven people have been killed or shot since April of last year by the same suspect or suspects, including a 40-year-old Hispanic man in Oakland.
Four of the seven victims were experiencing homelessness, and many were Hispanic men, according to Joseph Silva, a Stockton police spokesperson.
“Everyone wants to be safe and our job as a police department is to reach all our communities, and this is one of our communities as well,” McFadden said during the Thursday tour.
Brenda Gallegos, a woman who has experienced homelessness for two years, said hearing about the recent slayings has been scary but says her tent neighbors have been watching out for each other.
“When it comes down to it, some people don’t get along with other people but when it comes down to certain problems, we all got each other’s back,” Gallegos said.
McFadden said he still believes there is strength in numbers and the Police Department has amped up its communication with communities as well as adjusting their patrols.
Silva advised that in case of an emergency, unhoused people should attempt to get to a safe place such as a local business or shelter to be able to contact police officers.
However, some unhoused people interviewed Thursday said they don’t feel that the police presence has been useful enough.
“A few days ago, I thought I seen the guy and I went to tell another guy … they called the police but they never called back or anything,” Gallegos alleged.
McFadden said if people perceive that the department is not doing enough, then that means police have to do better.
While some people experiencing housing instability may have had more fear for their safety recently with a potential killer roaming the streets, others said they have no worries about being harmed.
Jermaine Goodjoint, who has been living in the streets for seven years, said he feels safe where he lives because many people don’t enter that area.
“A lot of people don’t come off into the trenches … I think I feel safe inside here, honestly, opposed to being outside of here,” Goodjoint said.
The victims of the shootings include a 46-year-old Black woman who survived her injuries in April 2021, a 40-year-old Hispanic man who was killed in April 2021, a 35-year-old white man killed this July, a 43-year-old Hispanic man killed in August, a 21-year-old Hispanic man killed in August, a 52-year-old Hispanic man killed in September, and a 54-year-old Hispanic man who died in September.
Kevin Lincoln, Stockton’s mayor, said Saturday that with the arrest of Brownlee the homeless population can rest a little easier now.
McFadden said the case is still an active investigation and no motive was made available.
Victoria Franco is a reporter based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. She is a Report for America corps member.