Gang rivalries cited as trial opens in Halloween shooting at USC

LAPD officers patrol on the USC campus a day after a shooting outside a Halloween party in 2012.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
<i>This post has been corrected. See note below for details.</i>

A man accused of opening fire at a Halloween party at USC in 2012, wounding four people, was retaliating for his being shot by a rival gang member, prosecutors said Wednesday on the first day of his trial.

Brandon Spencer, 21, is charged with four counts of attempted murder in the shooting amid a large crowd of people waiting to enter a Halloween night party at the USC student center’s ballroom.

Spencer believed that a Crips-affiliated gang member had been responsible for shooting him in the stomach, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Antonella Nistorescu said in court.


Spencer had also earlier argued with former Crenshaw High School football star Geno Hall on Twitter about their rival gang affiliations. Nistorescu said the tweets ended with Hall issuing Spencer a challenge to come and find him.

“This isn’t the kind of rivalry we’re talking about in football games,” Nistorescu told the eight women and four men on the jury. “This is a rivalry steeped in violence.”

The shooting rattled nerves, particularly because it came six months after two USC graduate students were fatally shot in a robbery, and prompted university officials to increase security for campus events.

The night of the party, Spencer ran into Hall and they began arguing. Hall alone suffered four gunshot wounds. Three other males were also shot.

“The evidence in this case will show you that there is no place immune from gang violence,” Nistorescu said.

A USC public safety officer identified Spencer as the shooter and followed him to a campus parking lot where he was arrested, according to the prosecutor. A revolver was later recovered in the same parking lot and matched to the shots fired.


Spencer’s attorney, John Blanchard, countered Wednesday that authorities could not recover any fingerprints from the gun, that a DNA sample provided only a possible match to Spencer and that a witness a few feet away from the shots couldn’t identify Spencer in a lineup shortly afterward.

Many people that night were wearing similar baseball shirts -- white with red sleeves -- making identifying the shooter difficult, Blanchard said. He argued that several gangs were represented in the crowd.

“In that part of town, you can expect a lot of unsavory people are going to come on campus,” Blanchard said to the jury.

Several three-wheeled motorized scooters used by USC public safety officers had dashboard cameras pointed at the scene, but none of the videos clearly showed the shooting.

Although Hall and at least two other victims have been ordered to testify, they are expected to be reluctant to “snitch” and may deny any ties to gangs, Nistorescu warned the jury.

Spencer, who is being held in lieu of $2-million bail, faces life in prison if convicted. A dozen of his friends and family members attended Wednesday’s hearing.


His first attorney, James Simmons, had said Spencer was on the verge of starting a program at UCLA to become an emergency medical technician. State records also show he was a licensed security guard at the time.

The shooting was the first on the campus in at least two decades, according to Times archives. After the shooting, the private university erected new fences along the campus perimeter and amended its campus events’ policy to require the preregistration of guests to late-evening events.

[For the record: The original version of this post incorrectly stated attorney John Blanchard’s first name as James.]