On January 21, 1995, a boy named Tony Hicks was hanging out with some gang members who were friends of his when a kid named Antoine Pittman ordered him to call for a pizza and shoot the delivery man. Gang initiations like this were not uncommon in San Diego at the time, and Pittman was a higher-up in the gang. 

He gave Hicks a gun and had him demand the pizza and some money but when the delivery guy, Tariq Khamisa, didn’t hand it over Pittman and other gang members present yelled at him to shoot. Hicks hesitated, but then pulled the trigger, killing Khamisa. 

At the time, Annika Green was at law school at the University of San Diego. While taking a criminal justice class, she was paired with the prosecutor, the probation officer, and the public defender in the Tony Hicks case. She ended up shadowing them all so she could learn about the system as a whole.

“It was like an internship,” she said.

But the thing that really stuck with her about the experience was that as an intern, she was able to talk to Hicks and learn more about his life than she would have had she been the actual prosecutor.

“I met the kid, and his family,” she said. “I spent a lot of time with him, preparing him for court, and he was just… he was scared to death.”

 

 

All this was complicated by the new law that had been passed recently in California and the San Diego area. In response to an increase in crime committed by young people, the legislature decided to pass a law allowing young people to be tried as adults, even some as young as 14 or 15.

 “The reason why it came out was because there was this outcry from the government to do something about young people committing serious crimes,” she said.  “Legislation like this doesn’t come out of nowhere.”

“There hadn’t actually been any cases yet,” she said, “I think this actually was the first case in that county, so I hadn’t actually encountered it yet… but to see it put into effect, in real life, it’s hard.”

It’s hard to be a prosecutor, because you can always see the direct impact that you are making. She used the opioid crisis as an example. “15 years ago it was heroin. And when you finally make a difference with heroin, it becomes something else, something else takes over. It’s just hard to know what makes a difference.” In this case, the problem was gang violence in San Diego.

Because she was in the internship, she was able to go meet Hicks in prison. “He was really small,” she said. “Being in prison is intimidating anyway, and he was much smaller than the other people… and he just looked like a kid.” 

She felt a lot of compassion for him because of her experiences in other programs, like one in which she and other students spent the night in a juvenile detention facility. “In undergrad, we had to spend a night in a juvenile prison. And it’s just as bad as regular prison… it’s so loud, like 24/7. I don’t know when they sleep,” She said. “It’s just scary.”

When Hicks was in court, he was under a lot of pressure from gang members. “He was scared to testify because the gang members were going to testify against him,” She said. “Because they were the witnesses so that’s part of why he pled guilty, and if I could’ve gotten him, [if I were] the prosecutor to really stand up [that would have helped.]”

The fact that this crime had so many witnesses was actually really bad for Hicks’ case, because most of them were in the gang. “It’s amazing how even in prison… threats can be made.” she said. “There were a lot of people involved in this crime: watching, setting it up, so there were a lot of witnesses who saw it happen.”

“If it goes bad, then you’re on your own,” Green said of this kind of gang incident. “That he got caught and was getting really hit hard with the consequences was not their problem, and they were more out to protect their leader than him.”

After the sentencing, she wasn’t able to see Hicks because her internship had ended. “I kinda wonder where he’s at now,” Green says. “I wonder if now he’s a criminal. He’s probably had more time in jail than as a normal kid, you know?”  

After the case, it turns out that the father of Tariq Khamisa, who was killed in the shooting, reached out to Hicks’ grandfather and they started a foundation, the Tariq Khamisa Foundation. Azim Khamisa saw this tragedy as being caused by problems in society, namely gang violence; he didn’t hold Hicks at fault.

Tony Hicks with Azim and Tasreem Khamisa

 

Discussion questions:

  • Is it a good idea to treat young people differently than adults? Is there ever a time when a juvenile should be tried as an adult?
  • Do you think there’s a better way to address this kind of gang violence?
  • Could the prosecutor in this case have done something differently? Explain