VENTURA (CBSLA/AP) — A homeless man and convicted felon suspected of randomly stabbing a father to death as he was holding his daughter in a crowded Ventura restaurant Wednesday was reported just a few hours earlier for disruptive behavior, but police ultimately determined he was not a threat, authorities said Saturday.
Jamal Jackson, 49, is facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of 35-year-old Anthony Mele. He was being held in Ventura County jail on a $1.5 million bail.
According to Ventura police, at about 9:20 p.m. Wednesday, Jackson entered Aloha Steakhouse, located at 364 S. California St., walked up to Mele’s table and stabbed him in the neck with a knife while Mele was dining with his wife and 5-year-old daughter.
Prosecutor Richard Simon said patrons and a restaurant employee followed Jackson out of the restaurant, even though he still had the knife. They kept track of him until Ventura police arrived and arrested him on the Ventura Promenade.
Mele was taken to a hospital and died Thursday after being taken off life support.
Prior to the stabbing, witnesses told police the suspect was waving a knife and threatening people outside the restaurant.
Police confirmed that a bystander reported a man — who turned out to be Jackson — for disruptive behavior several hours before the stabbing.
According to the bystander, a man was yelling on the promenade not far from the beachside restaurant about three hours before the attack.
Patrol officers were out on other calls so command center staff monitored the man via a pier security camera system for more than 20 minutes before deciding he didn’t seem to be a threat, police said.
Police are asking anyone who spoke with Jackson during that time to contact investigators.
“It’s horrible,” Simon said. “You don’t think you’re going to be killed when you go out to dinner at a nice restaurant with your family and you didn’t do anything.”
Simon said the two men had not interacted before the attack.
“He was just sitting there with his daughter in his lap,” Simon said. “You’re not supposed to die that way.”
Mele’s loved ones started a GoFundMe page to help raise money for a funeral and to support his wife and daughter. Mele’s Facebook page was filled with photos of his daughter and said he was a manager at an AT&T store.
The killing prompted the Ventura City Council to increase police patrols in the area and add staff members to monitor security cameras, among other measures.
“We are extremely disheartened and infuriated by this criminal attack,” Mayor Neal Andrews said in a statement. “We will not tolerate this in our community. Nothing is more important than the safety of our visitors, residents and businesses.”
Authorities are trying to determine if drugs or alcohol played a role in the attack.
If convicted, Jackson faces up to 55 years in prison. According to online court records, he has prior convictions for burglary and unlawful sexual intercourse dating back to the 1990s.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)