A 23-year-old suspected gang member accused in a pair of fatal shootings that occurred more than four years apart in Emerald Hills pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder charges.
Tahjee Ector, a Riverside County resident, is accused in the May 1, 2016, killing of 46-year-old Kevin Spelmon at Emerald Hills Park and the May 31, 2020, slaying of 28-year-old Arif Abdalla in the 5200 block of Lenox Drive.
Ector is also charged with other felony counts, including attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Deputy District Attorney Christina Arrollado alleged that Ector and others went to Emerald Hills Park because they believed rival gang members responsible for a fellow member's killing would be at the park. Spelmon, who was not a gang member, was working on his car with friends when he was shot, the prosecutor said.
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Ector and his co-defendant, 21-year-old Kenneth Earl Brooks, are also charged with Abdalla's killing, which was the result of a plan to "locate and shoot and kill rival gang members'' over the course of several days last year, according to the prosecution.
Arollado said that plan resulted in gunshots fired at a Bankers Hill Airbnb property where the defendants allegedly believed rival members were staying. The defendants then allegedly ventured into rival gang territory, where Abdalla was shot.
Abdalla was also not a gang member, the prosecutor said. He died in a hospital about a week later.
Brooks is also charged with the May 8 slaying of Tamara Shellum, who was found shot dead in a parked car on Bethune Court, alongside Emerald Hills Park. Arrollado alleged Brooks also was targeting rival gang members in that killing, though like the other victims, Shellum was not a gang member.
Brooks was arrested last month by San Diego police and remains in custody without bail.
One day after Brooks' arraignment, Ector was arrested in St. Louis. He is also being held without bail.
According to police and prosecutors, gang-related shootings in San Diego are up 129% since Jan. 1 and gang-related cases submitted to the DA's office are up 25% from last year.
More than 1,000 firearms have been recovered during that time, nearly 20% of which are "ghost guns,'' or firearms assembled from kits and which lack traceable serial numbers.
"The spike in gang-related crime and the widespread use of untraceable guns by gangs needs to be addressed through prevention and prosecution,'' said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. "We won't allow gangs to terrorize any of our neighborhoods in San Diego County and we are dedicated to working with our law enforcement partners to stem the alarming uptick in gang-related violence.''