A homeless man accused of randomly killing a 35-year-old father at a restaurant near the Ventura shoreline last week made his first court appearance Friday where his bail was increased to $3 million.
Jamal Jackson, 49, has been charged with premeditated first-degree murder in connection with the April 18 attack that left Anthony Mele dead.
On Friday afternoon, Jackson appeared in court without an attorney, but refused a public defender to even enter plea and asked for a two-week extension.
The defendant first claimed he had an attorney who was absent, then made several outbursts, and said he was losing his hearing and had cameras in his eyes.
After 40 minutes of Jackson exhibiting only sporadically coherent behavior, the judge ordered him to enter a plea of not guilty to the murder charge and set an initial hearing date of May 8.
Richard Simon, the senior deputy district attorney for Ventura County, said he believed Jackson was "acting."
“This is more someone who is mentally ill, but he’s taking advantage of that and trying to use the system,” he told KTLA. "One minute he’s hearing everything and he’s answering questions, the next minute he’s complaining about his ears.”
Prosecutors had asked the judge to raise the defendant's bail from $1 million to $3 million, which the judge granted, citing a threat to public safety since the fatal stabbing appeared to be random.
Simon said he made the request because he felt the entire community would be at risk if Jackson were to be released.
“Everybody in the community was in danger from this guy, and so my feeling was that if he gets out, he’s very likely to kill somebody else,” he told KTLA.
On the night of April 18, the victim was dining with his 5-year-old daughter and wife at the Aloha Steakhouse, located at 346 S. California St., when the unprovoked attack took place, authorities said.
Jackson allegedly approached Mele at random and stabbed him in the throat after the family had just finished eating. The man's daughter was sitting on his lap at the time.
Mele was rushed to a hospital where he immediately underwent surgery, according to the Ventura Police Department.
He died the following day. A GoFundMe campaign set up to help pay for Mele's funeral and support his family has raised more than $109,000 as of Friday.
After the fatal attack, a crowd of people swarmed the suspect, chasing him from the restaurant to the nearby beach. He was arrested by responding officers.
Hours before the stabbing happened, police received a call regarding some disruptive behavior displayed by Jackson in the area. But with all patrol officers busy with other calls at the time, the department did not respond to the scene.
Instead, they monitored his activity from a surveillance camera near his location outside the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach for a brief period of time. The observation period ended after about 20 minutes, when police could no longer see Jackson on the camera.
Police ultimately determined he posed no threat and did not send resources to the area.
Five days later, Police Chief Ken Corney acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times that he felt the department made a mistake in not responding, saying they should have eventually gone to the area. He said the decision to cancel the emergency response came from the 911 operations center, which also has the ability to operate the surveillance camera.
That decision is being reviewed, Corney added.
"Our practice is not to handle these calls by security cameras, it is to put boots on the ground," he explained to the Times.
Patrols around the Ventura Promenade area have been increased.
Local citizens have also been putting pressure on officials to address the homelessness issues, voicing their concerns at a Ventura City Council meeting Monday night after marching to City Hall from the steakhouse where Mele was slain.
At the meeting, residents expressed frustration over the city's handling of what they described as a growing homeless population.
“We can’t go to the parks. We can’t go anywhere in the public without having to deal with a violent and aggressive vagrancy," said Angela Smith, who helped organize the march. “We need our City Council to invest in our public safety. That should be the utmost priority for us.”