Photo: Wesley Brownlee, 43, has been arrested in connection with the series of shootings in Stockton and Oakland in the past 16 months. (Courtesy of Stockton Police Department)
Police have arrested a Stockton man in connection with a series of killings that have occurred in the city since last year.
Wesley Brownlee, 43, was arrested early Saturday morning by Stockton police just two weeks after the department announced a string of shootings that took six lives — five in Stockton and one in Oakland — and injured another victim may be the work of a serial killer.
Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden commended the work his department and all of its partners in the community and allied agencies had done in helping to identify and apprehend a suspect.
“This arrest happened in two parts, one was community tips and the second was good old fashioned police work,” McFadden said.
Police say the suspect was under surveillance at his home before being followed and ultimately taken into custody.
“We watched his patterns and determined … he was on a mission to kill,” McFadden said later in the day at a press conference announcing the arrest. “He was out hunting.”
Police announced last month that more than half a dozen shootings in Stockton and Oakland were likely the work of the same person or persons.
Seven shootings — six in Stockton and one in Oakland — since April of 2021 were determined by authorities to be connected through both ballistics data and the general circumstances of how the crimes occured, police officials previously said. All the victims, six of whom died, were shot during the night or early morning while alone in dimly lit areas lacking any camera surveillance.
Those killed were described by police as all men — five Hispanic and one white — with an average age of 42. The only female victim, described as a Black woman from Stockton, is also the only surviving victim. And while some of the victims lived in the area they were found, more than half were homeless.
Only a week ago police provided grainy video footage of a possible suspect as well as a general description provided by the lone living victim to the public. The woman told police her assailant was a thin man about 6 feet tall. In her statement, she described the gunman as wearing all dark clothing and a COVID-style mask.
The city of Stockton offered an escalating award for information about the shootings, with the amount reaching $125,000 as of this week.
The newly-minted police chief himself was out just two days ago canvassing and speaking with homeless residents on Stockton’s south side.
Information the department received during its investigation led officers to the suspect’s home Saturday morning, where they “kept eyes” on the residence until Brownlee was seen leaving in a vehicle, McFadden said. The surveillance team then followed Brownlee before eventually stopping him in the area of Village Green Drive and Winslow Avenue near Panella Park in north Stockton at about 2 a.m.
Officers decided it was imperative to take Brownlee into custody at that time because “we identified that he’s posing a threat,” McFadden said. Brownlee’s alleged pattern of behavior was consistent with what police knew of the case, such as hanging “around parks, around dark places, stopping, looking around, moving again.”
Brownlee, described as wearing dark clothing and a mask around his neck, was also in possession of a handgun when he was arrested, McFadden said.
“We are sure we stopped another killing,” he said.
Typically the perpetrator in this case approached their victims directly on foot, McFadden said. It is unclear how other modes of transportation may have figured into the crimes.
Police say Brownlee has had run-ins with law enforcement in the past, but McFadden did not go into detail about where or how.
According to online San Joaquin County Jail data, two of the five felony charges Brownlee is currently facing include a felon or addict in possession of a firearm and a prohibited person owning or possessing ammunition. The three other charges include carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle, carrying a loaded weapon in public and one charge of felony murder.
No information was provided on the make or model of Brownlee’s vehicle, how or where he acquired a firearm, how long he’s been a resident of Stockton or any possible motives for the killings.
McFadden did say that Brownlee’s home was near where one of the victims was killed, but would not provide any additional information about the area where he lived. A warrant was also conducted by a Stockton SWAT team at Brownlee’s residence sometime Saturday morning, for which McFadden was said to be present.
“I want all you to know how seriously I take these types of investigations,” McFadden said. “I went with them.”
Despite the arrest marking a significant break in the case, McFadden says the work is not done yet.
“Just because an arrest was made does not mean the investigation stops,” McFadden said. “We now have to have a successful prosecution for our victims and their families.”
Brownlee was booked into the county jail Saturday afternoon and is being held without bail, according to online jail records. He will be arraigned Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. in Stockton.
San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar also said a press conference will be held following the arraignment to officially announce the charges against Brownlee, as well as address any possible additional charges being filed.