By Jaden Jarmel-Schneider and Ruby Wilks
ANTIOCH — In the first Bay Area trial since courts ramped up activity after the COVID-19 shutdown, a music video by Bay Area rapper, Charles “Prezi” Gardner, became a key piece of evidence in the ongoing trial of the murder of 19-year-old Anthony Singh.
Prosecutors in Contra Costa County used the defendants’—Terrance Webb and Gale Young—appearance in the video as evidence of their affiliation to the San Francisco gang, Big Block, at the time of the murder.
The District Attorney’s Office alleged that in August of 2018, the two men were involved in the retaliatory murder of Singh, who was caught on video shooting Matthew Higginbotham, a friend of Webb and Young, the month before.
Sgt. Daniel Manning, a member of the San Francisco Police Department’s Gang Task Force, took the stand Monday morning as an expert in San Francisco gang activity. He testified that he knew Webb and Young were affiliated with the Big Block gang because they appeared in Prezi’s—a member of the gang—music videos.
Defense attorneys, Claire White and Chris Varnell, were quick to object to this conclusion, arguing that the music video proved only that the men knew each other, not that any of them were involved with the gang.
Prosecutor Christina Stevens responded that known members of the gang “shouted out” Webb and Young in the video, providing enough evidence to support the sergeant’s conclusion.
Unpersuaded, Judge Rebecca Hardie, who presided over the trial, struck the testimony from the record, arguing that being acknowledged by a known gang member was not evidence of being involved with a gang. Testimony that the videos were filmed and included the defendants remained on the record.
Sgt. Manning also cited text messages, saved Instagram photos of rival gang members, and videos of the defendants saying “we out here” in the Harbor Road housing projects in San Francisco, what Sgt. Manning referred to as “gang territory,” as evidence of the defendants’ involvement with the Big Block gang.
He further testified that Webb used gang references in his jail calls—mentioning “the movement,” for instance—which Manning claimed to be “very common gang vernacular.” According to the sergeant, known gang members had put money on Webb’s books while he was incarcerated.
On cross-examination, defense attorney White was quick to question him about these conclusions. “Do you know anyone who was proud of growing up in that neighborhood and not involved in gang activity? The fact that someone said ‘we out here’ in that neighborhood is evidence of gang activity?”
Sgt. Manning responded, “It was the totality of the person, place, and phrase that made it gang activity.”
He continued on to say that the “presence of him [Webb] in gang territory”—the Harbor Road housing projects—as evidence of “gang involvement.” The “project living,” he contended, in conjunction with the music video, proved that the defendants were involved with the Big Block gang in August of 2018 when Singh was murdered.
White rebutted, “If a person was a gang member in their youth and was successfully able to leave gang life and start a successful commercial rap career, and later in life used gang slang, would you, in your expert opinion, say that that person engaged in commercial rap activity, was related to gang activity?”
“If he was saying gang-related slang, then he was associated with the gang, yes,” the Sgt retorted.
With this answer, private defense counsel White paused, then concluded questioning for the day.
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