When Donald Gadson woke up two weeks ago today, the father of five had no idea his life would change so dramatically in just a few minutes around noon that day.
A self-employed tattoo artist with a loyal following, Gadson and his fianceé, Ashley Coleman, were still in the afterglow of the May 15 birth of their baby girl, Zariah.
A one-and-a-half-year resident of Maricopa, Gadson has four other children: LaNiya, 10, Elijah, 9, Isaiah, 7, and Miyah, 5. The family lives on West Hall Court in Rancho El Dorado.
“I’m a father before anything,” he said in an interview Tuesday at a picnic table in Jane Askew Memorial Park in the community, his voice getting emotional as blood still pooled in his left eye. Nearby, several poster boards were full of family photos, the children smiling.
“I take pride in making my kids happy.”
Now his five children are in state custody, taken from the home by state officials and being cared for by strangers, he said.
“They came to my home and snatched them,” said Gadson, 33, a Chicago native.
His two older daughters are together and his two sons are together in separate foster homes. Baby Zariah is by herself at a foster home.
He is concerned about their health, staying in strange homes during the coronavirus pandemic. His fiancée, he said, is unable to nurse Zariah.
Gadson said his arrest made it impossible for him to attend a memorial service for his mother in Chicago, who died just days after the baby was born.
“My family has been destroyed,” he said. “I am not a monster.”
SLAMMED ON THE GARAGE FLOOR
Gadson said he was acting in self-defense and protecting the family he loves so much when, just after noon on July 5, a vehicle stopped on West Hall Court at his home.
Gunfire erupted minutes later.
Inside the home, Gadson had received a Facebook message from another man stating: “CAP im outside,” he would tell police later.
Gadson went outside and found the man, the boyfriend of an acquaintance of Coleman, in a “fighting stance” in his driveway, according to a police report that identified the man as Kalib Kimbrough.
Waiting behind the wheel of the vehicle was Kalib’s girlfriend, who was identified by police as Desiree Balentine.
Gadson told police he recalled Kimbrough calling him outside of the garage, but he said no. Kimbrough allegedly approached Gadson in the garage, “picked him up and slammed him on the garage floor,” the police report said.
Kimbrough then grabbed Gadson by his dreadlocks and punched him on the left side of his face, then grabbed a license plate in the garage and began hitting him in the head, Gadson told police.
With that, Kimbrough headed for the vehicle.
Gadson, who told police he was fearful that the man who had just assaulted him was going to the vehicle to retrieve a gun, allegedly told police that he went to a dresser in the garage, took out a firearm and began shooting, according to a probable cause statement.
Telling police that he recalled firing his weapon about “mid-driveway,” Gadson said he thought he struck the rear window and rear door of the vehicle, the report said.
SHOTS FIRED AND AN ARREST
Police received three calls about the incident, nearly all in real-time, including one from Coleman, who reported two men were in a physical altercation at the residence, according to the probable cause statement. Another report was phoned in by a Hall Court resident who stated she saw a neighbor with what she believed to be a gun in his hand and heard two pops. Another resident on the street reported that she “observed her neighbor being physically assaulted,” retrieve a firearm and started shooting at a vehicle as it left the area.
At the scene, officers found three shell casings in the front yard and cleared the home, observing a gun on a pool table near the front door, according to the report.
“Donald was interviewed and officers visibly could see injuries to the left side of his face,” the report said.
By 4 p.m., Gadson was under arrest, in handcuffs and on his way to Pinal County Jail. He is charged with aggravated assault, endangerment, disorderly conduct, criminal damage and weapons misconduct, police said.
Kimbrough, who suffered a gunshot wound, was airlifted to a Chandler hospital after officers with the Casa Grande Police Department located the vehicle on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway near the Frito Lay plant, according to Maricopa police. He was treated and released.
The Arizona Department of Child Safety showed up the next day to remove the children from the home because his fiancée had bonded him out of jail, Gadson said.
“I think DCS jumped the gun,” he said. “They should have done an investigation first.”
SURROUNDED BY FRIENDS
On Tuesday, surrounded by more than a dozen friends and former customers hours after he was formally charged with felony aggravated assault in Pinal County Superior Court, Gadson got emotional.
“I need my family back,” he said, mentioning that his fiancée has left him to try and get the children back.
He did not want to answer questions about allegedly firing the gun, nor the injuries he sustained in the incident. He claimed to have surveillance footage of the assault, but said police have not asked to review it.
Many of his gathered friends, who listened to Gadson’s lament while looking over the family photos, wanted to talk about the man they collectively described as an excellent father.
Melissa Sitts of Maricopa got to know Gadson as a tattoo customer and became a friend.
“He’s a family man,” she said. “I’ve been in his house and those kids are so happy.”
“It just breaks my heart.”
Carland Clinkscale, 45, of Maricopa agreed.
“He’s a very good man. He will do what’s necessary to protect his family,” he said. “I think he handled it the way anyone else would have done.”
“His family comes first,” said Neosha Ealy, who has known Gadson for years.
Stephan Nelson has only known Gadson a little over a year.
But the linebackers and running backs coach for Maricopa High School said his friend was “nothing but positive.”
“He’s an all-around good person,” Nelson said. “It’s all love.”
“It’s a shame. He is devastated.”
Gadson said he appreciated the support.
“I feel loved that I have the support of the community,” he said.
“I gained a reputation for my kindness and how I treat people,” he added. “Nobody in Maricopa has a bad thing to say about me.”
STARTED ON FACEBOOK?
The ugly incident apparently began on Facebook, and it has since festered on the social media platform.
Gadson claimed his alleged attacker told him that Gadson disrespected him on Facebook “so I beat his ass.”
Neither Kimbrough nor Balentine have been charged in the incident, according to police.
In the days since the incident, Gadson has been active on Facebook, telling his story, expressing his concern for his children trying to rally community support. Several of his posts have been shared hundreds of times and people have left dozens of sympathetic comments.
He has called out Balentine for taunting him on social media.
In a 28-minute, live video on a Facebook account bearing the name Dez Balentine and reposted by Gadson on his own page, a woman wears a t-shirt with his mugshot on it and responds to comments being made by her viewers.
Laughing, she says, “He was mad as hell taking this picture,” pointing to the mugshot. “‘Why am I going to jail? Why am I the one going to jail?’ Because you f***ed up.”
“Right, you’ve all seen that post of him crying ‘he attacked me,’” she says a bit later, still laughing. “Not with a weapon, though. Not with a weapon.”
Asked why Kimbrough is not facing assault charges, Maricopa police did not answer, instead pointing to Chief Steve Stahl’s comments on the case in a Coffee with the Chief video posted July 11 on the department’s Facebook page.
Near the end of his 49-minute video, Stahl is asked by a viewer to speak about the shooting in the Rancho El Dorado because it “appears like the other party instigated. Why did the other party not receive charges?”
Stahl discussed the case, briefly, leaving open the possibility of more charges to be filed in the case.
‘A NEED TO DEFEND THEMSELVES’
“The investigation is still ongoing so just because the other person hasn’t been charged yet, doesn’t mean they won’t be charged,” he said. “This investigation is far from being over. Not only are we investigating it, the Pinal County Attorney’s Office was involved in this from the get-go. We were in conversations with them from the moment we arrived on scene. So, this investigation is far from over.”
Stahl took the occasion to point out the case is yet another to highlight the dangers of social media.
“People are utilizing social media in a very divisive manner, causing arguments and fights over social media that escalate to the point then where somebody thinks they need to take matters into their hands. It’s sad,” he warned. “But this is a learning moment.”
“This is what could happen if you are talking bad about somebody (on) a social media platform that is a public platform,” he continued. “And then they have a need to defend themselves on that same social media platform.”
“I will be quite frank with all of you, the person who received the gunshot wound is very, very fortunate to be alive. By a fluke, by a deflection of a bullet, they were not killed. This is not a tool that you should be using to air your grievances.”
There is talk of setting up a GoFundMe to help raise money to cover some of the family’s legal bills, said Gadson, who is due back in court on Aug. 31.
He wouldn’t put it into words, but it’s hard to believe, given all Gadson, his fiancée and the children have been through, that he doesn’t regret the actions that led to his charges.
Time and time again, he returned to the irony – and disbelief – of his situation
“They came with the intent to harm me,” he said. “Meanwhile, I’m fighting for my family.”