Jamare Coats (left center) and Sean Harrison (right) at their arraignment on Wednesday, March 27, 2019. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Gun battle erupted at Fillmore Heritage Center during memorial for pimp, prosecutors say

The deadly shooting that prompted the indefinite closure of the beloved Fillmore Heritage Center was a “gun battle” that erupted during a funeral reception for a local pimp, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart said the Saturday night shootout started with a confrontation between several men attending a memorial for Ron Newt, a storied San Francisco pimp and businessman.

The shooting killed 25-year-old Mister Dee Carnell Simmons III, injured five others and led to the cancellation of all events at the newly revitalized center in the near future to the outrage of community members.

The center has tried to distance itself from the shooting, calling it a “random incident” along the Fillmore Street corridor.

“We do not know the individuals involved with the shooting,” the New Community Leadership Foundation, one of the nonprofits behind the center, said in a statement. “The family who held the funeral reception said the individuals involved were not associated with the funeral reception.”

However the new details in the case from prosecutors show that Simmons and two men arrested on suspicion of murder attended the funeral reception.

Swart described the shootout in a motion seeking to detain the suspects in the case, Jamara Coats, 26, and Sean Harrison, 25, without bail.

“It’s just a cruel and barbaric act,” Swart told reporters after a hearing for Coats and Harrison at the Hall of Justice. “These individuals — none of them — had any business having handguns in the first place.”

The argument first broke out at around 8:30 between a group of people in the center including Simmons, Coats and Harrison. After Simmons revealed he had a gun, Coats, Harrison and an unnamed third man allegedly went to a car and returned with pistols.

Simmons was on the sidewalk out front when the trio returned. Swart said security tried to stop them, but Simmons pulled out a gun.

At that point Swart said the men started to shoot at each other. Simmons and Harrison first exchanged gunfire. Simmons was shot and fell to the ground, but continued to shoot. Coats then started to shoot at him.

In the midst of the action, a 27-year-old innocent bystander was shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist down as he tried to escape the shooting. Swart said he was injured in the direction that Simmons was shooting.

The District Attorney’s Office declined to charge Coats and Harrision with murder or attempted murder in connection with the shooting despite their alleged involvement. The two men, however, will face firearms charges.

“While at this time we have not charged these individuals with murder or the attempted murder,” Swart said. “From a moral standpoint these two individuals are responsible for the paralyzation of this 27-year-old man.”

The shooting prompted the Fillmore Heritage Center to cancel all events through the end of the month. Community members fear that the newly restored space could close permanently as a result of the violence.

Supervisor Vallie Brown said the center needed to be closed because the violence was a potential liability for The City, which owns the building.

Brown said the center failed to inform city officials that it planned to host the funeral reception so that police units could be provided.

Brown said the Entertainment Commission and the Police Department recommended that the center be temporarily shut down over the lack of a security plan for the funeral reception.

“There was a complete disconnect,” Brown said. “There weren’t any police around and … the security wasn’t there.”

David Stevenson, a police spokesperson, confirmed that police officers were not asked or hired to perform security at the funeral reception.

Long promised to the community as part of an effort to revitalize the Fillmore Street commercial corridor, the Fillmore Heritage Center was only recently reopened last November after a four-year vacancy.

The NCLF and the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation are operating the center as a site for housing and job training programs as well as an entertainment venue.

The temporary lease is set to expire April 9, but the groups are seeking an extension. Should The City approve it, NCLF would aim to reopen in the Center in May.

But Brown said that discussions around a lease extension have been put on hold until the improved security plan is presented.

“We had six people shot… that is pretty terrible for a neighborhood that hasn’t had that kind of violence in a long time,” Brown said. “We all agreed that we needed to find out if there are any holes in the [center’s] security, and what was happening.”

The NCLF said the center has held over 200 events in the last four months centered around “healing, culture and celebrating diversity.”

NCLF said that it was prepared “out of an abundance of caution” to “voluntarily suspend operations,” but does not expect the center to be shut down permanently.

The Entertainment Commission has recommended measures including the addition of video surveillance on Fillmore Street and the posting of additional security personnel outdoors, according to NCLF. The district’s police captain recommended ways to improve communications with police and the community.

“What we found in meeting with them is that all parties were supportive of getting Fillmore Heritage Center operations back on track with added security provisions,” the group said in the statement.

Built in 2007 with city funds and a $5.5 million HUD loan, the $80.5 million center was initially hailed as the centerpiece of a revitalization effort for the Fillmore Street corridor, historically the center of a large black community. In the years since then, however, it has come to serve as a symbol of blight in the neighborhood.

Developer Michael Johnson operated Yoshi’s nightclub out of the center until the popular music venue declared bankruptcy in 2014. A restaurant in the space shuttered a year later, leaving the building vacant.

Last August, the City Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit against Johnson seeking to recover the federal loan.

Brown said that she remains one of the center’s “biggest cheerleaders,” and is committed to securing city funding for a lease extension in this year’s budget cycle.

Reflecting on the center’s operations prior to Saturday’s incident, Brown said that she has been happy with the programming, which has also been well received by the local community.

“There have been some hiccups, but anytime you start something new there are hiccups and you have to adjust. I feel that happened here,” said Brown. “I would love to see this continue. I also have to make sure they will feel comfortable moving forward.”

With no events scheduled for April, the understanding is that the group would take next month to “completely reorganize,” said Brown.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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