Arlon Watson trial offers glimpse of gang life in Compton

Ashley Webb did not enter the courtroom through the main door. She came in through the cage on the side of the room—a distinguishing feature of the courtrooms on the 10th floor of the Compton Courthouse, one of the two levels in the building dubbed “high security.”

Deputy District Attorney Joseph Porras asked the petite 21-year-old to describe what she was wearing to the jury.

Looking down at her orange jumpsuit, Webb replied, “Jail clothes. And handcuffs.”

“And were you wearing jail clothes yesterday?” the Porras asked.

Webb responded that she was not. She was visibly shaking because she was here to testify for the prosecution.

Pop culture or gang culture?

imageWebb’s testimony was part of the continuing trial of Arlon Watson, a 22-year-old Compton resident charged with the 2009 shooting death of Dannie Farber, Jr., a Narbonne High School senior and star football player.

The Sunday night of Memorial Day Weekend two years ago, Farber was eating dinner at a Louisiana Fried Chicken on Rosecranz and Central avenues in Compton with his girlfriend. According to prosecutors, Watson walked in the restaurant and asked Farber where he was from. Farber stood up and responded that he “didn’t gangbang,” but moments later he was shot and killed. Farber’s family and friends say he was not involved in gang activities at all, but pictures on several online social networking websites show Farber throwing gang signs and wearing lots of red, a color commonly associated with the gang the Bloods. Prosecutors say Watson was involved with a rival gang, the Crips.

When Watson appeared in court in February 2010 for his arraignment, he sported a county-issued blue jumpsuit and bushy hair. At the trial on Thursday he wore more formal courtroom attire with his hair in braids and black, square-framed glasses. He spent much of the day hunched over, resting his elbows on his knees.

Before testimony began, Porras warned Farber’s family and friends that he would be showing graphic pictures of Farber from immediately after the shooting. Several family members chose to sit outside during the presentation.

The morning’s first testimony came from Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Kenneth Roller. Roller confirmed that he and another officer were the first on the scene at the fast food restaurant the night of May 24, 2009. He arrived within 45 seconds of receiving the call of a shooting, but Farber did not appear to be breathing when he reached him. Roller identified around eight photographs he had taken that night, several showing spent shell casings that would have come from a semi-automatic gun. As the pictures became more graphic—close-ups showing Farber lying in pool of blood with several gunshot wounds to the chest–more of Farber’s family stepped outside the courtroom.

Roller said there was nothing about Farber’s outfit that night that jumped out as gang-related.
“He was wearing faded jeans and a white T-shirt. Gang members do wear outfits like that, but it’s also a look that’s in popular culture. My sons wear that outfit sometimes.”

Guardian angels

Sitting outside the courtroom during a lunch break, Farber’s grandmother, Michelle Malveaux, looked exhausted. She managed to smile and laugh weakly as younger family members cracked jokes.

“We’re all here,” Malveaux said. “Grandmas, Aunt Myrtle, and friends that are like family. They’ve been my guardian angels.”

Malveaux has been in court every day since the trial began on Monday. She’s not sure how long it will last.

“Definitely into next week,” she said. “Joe [Porras] may have told me the schedule, but things tend to go in one ear and out the other these days.”

Raffi Djabourian, forensic pathologist with Los Angeles Department of Coroner performed the autopsy on Farber. He confirmed in his testimony this afternoon that Farber died of three gunshot words, including one that severed his aorta and would have caused Farber to be brain-dead almost instantly because of loss of blood. Pictures from autopsy accompanied his testimony.

Watching from the back row of the courtroom, Malveaux pulled her sweater up and over her eyes, as if hiding under a blanket.

On a good day

Webb had been asked to appear in court on Monday. When she did not show up again after being served a subpoena at a basketball practice at a local college, she was arrested last night and taken to the Compton Sheriff’s Department. Webb had never spent time in jail before.

When asked why she didn’t show up to testify, Webb said that she was scared and worried about the safety of her mom and brother.

Webb grew up in Compton in the territory of a gang known as the Tragniew Park Crips. She knows many Crips, including some of her friends, but said she has never been involved in gang activity. She knew Watson by his nickname, A-Whack, and knew he was associated with the Crips.

Several nights after the shooting, Webb was hanging out with friends, including Watson, in her front yard. While her friends were discussing the shooting, someone asked Watson if he had pulled the trigger. Webb said that Watson told her he did. 
She also said Watson had called Farber a “slob,” a term Crips use to disrespect members of their rival gang, the Bloods.

Webb never went to authorities with the information for fear of being labeled a snitch. She said she had heard stories since middle school about the bad things that happen to people who tell on others in her neighborhood.

Just over a year ago, in early January 2010, Webb said the knowledge of what Watson said he had done began to weigh heavily on her. After encouragement from a friend, she spoke to a detective in the Los Angeles Police Department.

In October 2009, Webb was arrested for breaking into a house, but the DA rejected the case and charges were dropped. Webb denied she had been offered any sort of bargain or promised the incident would never come to trial.

Before she left the stand, Porras touched again the seriousness of snitching in the gang community. He asked Webb how tall she was.

“Five one-and-half,” she said. “On a good day.”

Testimony will continue into next week. If Watson is convicted as charged, he faces a maximum prison term of 50 years to life, according to the DA’s office.

Photo courtesy of Scott Varley / Torrance Daily Breeze


  1. The Bloods gang hmm terrible

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