‘Career criminal’ given life term in Gaslamp shooting
SAN DIEGO — An ex-con was sentenced Tuesday to 27 years to life in prison in connection with a shooting last year in the Gaslamp District that left an off-duty sheriff’s deputy and a visitor from Hawaii wounded.
Ray Pitoau, 38, was convicted in July of three felony firearm counts, but jurors deadlocked on three counts of assault with a firearm. A second trial last month also ended in a mistrial on the assault counts.
Before sentencing the defendant, Superior Court Judge Melinda Lasater declined to dismiss the outstanding charges, saying new information — including the arrest of Emory Zinga, who was with Pitoau the night of the Aug. 7, 2017, shooting — was enough to warrant a third trial.
“He (Pitoau) has an issue with being violent,” the judge said.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Reilly said Pitoau — who has a residential burglary conviction from 20 years ago and a robbery conviction from 2003 — is a “poster boy for the three strikes law.”
Reilly said Pitoau was basically a “career criminal” who has been to prison four times. The only times Pitoau isn’t committing crimes is when he’s incarcerated, the prosecutor said.
If convicted on the assault with a firearm charges, Pitoau could face an additional 105 years to life behind bars, Reilly said.
Pitoau testified that he grabbed a gun from Zinga in self-defense because a group of men, including off-duty sheriff’s Deputy Jason Philpot, were advancing on him.
Prosecutors said Philpot, his two brothers and two off-duty Escondido police officers walked past Pitoau on Island Avenue near Sixth Avenue just after 1 a.m., and Pitoau and Philpot’s younger sibling Joshua traded insults.
Pitoau pulled out a gun and pointed it at Joshua before the deputy charged the defendant, according to the off-duty lawman.
Jason Philpot — an 11-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department — testified that he tried to wrap his arms around Pitoau and get the gun away, but the defendant was able to pull the trigger, wounding the deputy in the upper chest and right arm. A second round also passed through his right arm. One of the rounds ricocheted off the sidewalk and struck Vladimir Shvets, a passerby in San Diego for a convention.
Reilly told the jury that Pitoau — sitting on a rail in front of a barbecue restaurant — had words with Joshua Philpot when he walked in front of the defendant.
“Oh, you’re shaking your head at me,” Pitoau said, according to the prosecutor.
Pitoau put on a pair of black gloves and pulled up his shirt to reveal a gun, Reilly said.
After the shooting, Pitoau escaped through downtown, tried to get on the trolley and posted a message that said, “I shot someone. (They) all over me downtown,” according to the prosecutor.
The gun was recovered the next morning, but Pitoau wasn’t seen for a month, when he was arrested at the border and turned over to U.S. authorities. He had shaved off his beard and cut off two long braids, Reilly said.
Deputy Public Defender Jessica Marshall told the jury that Jason and Joshua Philpot had been drinking all night and were kicked out of a bar shortly before the shooting.
She said her client was standing in front of the barbecue restaurant, eating chips and waiting for a ride, when Joshua Philpot said “something very offensive.” Marshall said the victims’ stories have not been consistent.