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'Disgusted' by a violent scene<br> Promoter of party recalls fleeing fights, then hearing shots

Trouble was brewing outside City Grill, but the party promoter who drew about 150 young men and women to the sophisticated downtown restaurant walked away from it.

Marlando Brannon had already been outside the restaurant when he said he noticed partygoers who had been kicked out of the restaurant get into fights shortly before 2:30 a.m. Aug. 14.

"I was disgusted," said Brannon, whose fledgling True Life Entertainment company had been sponsoring the late Friday night parties at the Main Street restaurant since January 2010.

He walked down the block from the restaurant and found a bench.

"I just sat there shaking my head, disgusted by the whole situation," Brannon told the Erie County Court jury Monday, the second day of Riccardo M. McCray's murder trial.

Within minutes, shots rang out, Brannon said. He heard a lot of them, so he sprang up and ran farther away from the restaurant.

Meanwhile, Rashid H. James, a convicted felon whom Brannon had asked to help check IDs at the door, had been trying to disperse the crowd outside the restaurant when he "saw it was getting out of hand."

When James heard the gunshots, he said, he darted for the City Grill entrance.

"A bullet whistled past me," James said. He noticed two women behind him also running for the doors. He said he didn't hold the doors open for the two, but "they got themselves in there safely."

Craig J. Gadley Sr., an armed security guard hired to keep watch over the outdoor patio, called 911 at about 2:28 a.m. when he saw 20 to 25 people fighting. He had already used pepper spray on the disruptive partygoers outside the restaurant, but "they just scurried away" and started fighting again.

Prosecutors played the the tape of Gadley's 911 call for the jury; gunshots can be heard for 17 seconds.

"This is security down at City Grill. We have a brawl down here," Gadley told the 911 operator. Then the shots can be heard.

"Shots are being fired! Shots are being fired!" Gadley said hurriedly, although he remained composed during the call.

He repeated himself.

"Shots fired?" the dispatcher asked.

"Yeah!" Gadley said.

He told the dispatcher that the shots were outside City Grill, where 50 to 60 people had gathered.

"Several people have been shot," Gadley said.

By now, Gadley had pulled out his .40-caliber Glock handgun and moved back toward the patio. Under questioning from prosecutor James F. Bargnesi, Gadley said he didn't fire the gun but pulled it out in case he needed to defend himself. Seconds later, Gadley watched a fatally wounded Danyell Mackin, 30, stagger toward the patio and collapse in front of him.

Gadley wiped away tears and put his head in hands to compose himself while testifying. Some of the victims' family and friends in the courtroom also wept.

Bargnesi paused until Gadley composed himself. "I just tried to comfort him, told him to stay calm and not to move," Gadley said, recalling his words to Mackin. " 'Help is on the way,' " Gadley said he told Mackin.

When Gadley walked toward the entrance, he saw Tiffany Wilhite, 32, on the ground, also mortally wounded.

"I tried to keep my composure and tried to assist victims lying there," Gadley told jurors.

Keith D. Johnson, who had initially been charged with four murder counts in the shooting but was released the next day when authorities realized he was the wrong man, also testified Monday.

At the time of the incident, Johnson testified, the lights were turned on inside City Grill, and everyone was told to leave. As soon as he walked outside the restaurant, Johnson said, he got "sucker-punched" by someone he did not know.

"I came outside, and a lot of people was fighting," he said.

When the shooting started, Johnson said, he ran and hid behind a car.

Johnson said that he had known Mackin for eight years. He said he had known Willie McCaa, 26, also among the four killed that night, since 1999.

And for a decade, he has known DeMario Vass, 30, who has been unresponsive since being shot and probably will not recover, Johnson said.

When the shooting stopped, Johnson returned to the front of the restaurant.

"I saw my friends lying there, bleeding," Johnson said.

He stood over Mackin but was afraid to touch him because he didn't want to risk hurting him more.

"I was trying to get him to talk," Johnson said. "When I saw he wasn't moving, I went back inside."

Johnson said he knocked glasses and bottles off the counter of the bar to get somebody's attention. "I told them to call more ambulances," he said.

When the first police car arrived, Johnson left the scene.

Two weeks before the shooting, Johnson had been released on parole after serving three years for a violent assault. Among his parole conditions: Be at home by 9 p.m.

Although authorities dropped murder charges against Johnson the day after his arrest, he was sent back to jail through December for his parole violation.

The first police officer to arrive at the scene of the shooting and a police photographer who videotaped and took still photos of the scene also testified Monday. The photographer's video included the bodies -- covered by bloodied sheets -- of Mackin, McCaa and Wilhite. The footage also included the victims' personal belongings.

The graphic images caused several in court to weep, and some left; others tried to comfort those who remained.

McCray is charged with fatally shooting Mackin; McCaa; Wilhite; and Shawntia McNeil, 27; and wounding Vass; James Robb, 27; Shamar Davis, 30; and Tillman Ward, 27.

Charges against him include three counts of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree murder, four counts of first-degree attempted murder and possession of a weapon.

None of those testifying Monday who had been at City Grill during the shooting could identify the shooter, or even tell which direction the shots came from.

Gadley, a former Erie County sheriff's deputy, said he did not see anybody get shot and did not see flashes of gunfire.

James, who served about 30 months in prison for an attempted-assault conviction before being released in 2003, said he did not see a shooter when he was trying to disperse the crowd.

Johnson, who knew partygoers at both parties inside City Grill -- the Mackin anniversary group on the first floor and partygoers upstairs -- said he saw a flash of gunfire.

He said he saw a gun in the hand of a man wearing a solid purple shirt but could not identify the man.

Under questioning from Bargnesi and defense attorney Joseph J. Terranova, Brannon said he heard "about 10" shots but didn't see a gunman.

Brannon, a school bus driver, said in court that he promoted parties at City Grill so "working-class people got to have a good time." He said his entertainment business ended as a result of the City Grill massacre.

He testified that he charged $10 for admission to the Friday night parties and let men wear their baseball caps inside the bar only if they paid an additional $20 fee. The extra fee was designed to keep "a certain element" out of the event, he said.

Brannon said he paid three certified guards to provide security, although he wasn't aware whether any of them had been armed that night. Brannon said he did not hire an off-duty Buffalo police officer to provide security.

He provided the disc jockey and also arranged for a photographer to take pictures during the party, who would sell pictures to partygoers. The party photographer was a good break for prosecutors, because they gained hundreds of images of those partying inside City Grill at the time. Prosecutors could tell who was inside the restaurant and who appeared to know each other by looking at who posed together for pictures.

Brannon said that about 150 people were at his party but that he did not keep records tracking how much was collected. The security guards are not his employees, Brannon said, and he pays them cash to provide security at his parties.

His business was not making much money, Brannon said, but he made money that night.

News Staff Reporter Matt Gryta contributed to this report.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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