Jury Unable to Agree in Trial Over Justin “Bully” Schalk’s Death
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Dec. 31, 2015)
Victorville, CA – The jury could not agree on a verdict.
After hearing testimony about how Sean Briskey shot Justin Schalk in the back of the head and made efforts to cover up the death, the 12 member jury could not decide if he was guilty of murder, manslaughter, or not guilty. A hung jury was declared on Dec. 31.
The trial took place in Victorville, California, not far from where Schalk’s SUV had been found burning in the desert with him inside of it over a year ago. The Metro Detroit native had been living in the suburbs of LA, doing bodybuilding, modeling, personal training and MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighting before being invited to live with Briskey in Pomona, CA.
And on April 14, 2014, at the age of 40, his life was cut short by a bullet from his own gun. Briskey acknowledges that he pulled the trigger.
For over a year family, friends and fans of Justin “Bully” Schalk wondered about what happened. The trial gave a challenging look at the life and death of a man who was a father, a son, a brother, a friend and a fighter.
Because Briskey claimed self-defense, much of the trial focused on Schalk’s personality, including his role as an MMA fighter and how deep his interest in motorcycle clubs might have been.
WHAT DID THE NICKNAME BULLY MEAN?
The last person to testify at the trial for his murder was a close friend of Justin “Bully” Schalk’s.
“I gave him the name Bully. He was like the guy who came to your house and ate all your food. If there was a pizza he got most of it,” the friend said.
“He knew everybody. He was invited everywhere… He was a warrior at heart. J. was like a Marine. That was his demeanor.”
He described the 40 year old motorcycle enthusiast and MMA fighter as “everybody’s big brother,” the “bullies’ bully,” a “jokester,” and a “clown.”
“He was everybody’s big brother. If someone was being bullied, he was the bully’s bully. He wouldn’t just beat somebody up, there had to be a damn good reason,” his friend said.
But the man who sent Bully to the grave painted a different picture.
Sean Briskey had invited Schalk to live with him at a place they called “the compound,” a junkyard-like enclosed property on Pipeline in Pomona, CA in the suburbs of LA. Briskey had hopes that Schalk would partner with him in building a motorcycle and hot rod repair business. He testified that he’d gotten into a disagreement with the previous mechanic, the mechanic had left, and he’d hoped Bully could fill the void.
But within a week of living together in a house busy with women, drugs and people stopping by, the dynamic fell apart.
Briskey said Bully was not only a bully, but a member of the notorious Vago motorcycle club, and a killer.
“I was intimidated by him,” Briskey said. “He talked through his teeth like he was growling at you.” He said Schalk started “telling everybody what to do.” Other accusations included bringing biker gang members to the compound, sticking his gun in people’s faces, robbing a friend of his, beating up the woman he was having sex with, and luring someone to the compound to beat them up while Briskey was not home.
When asked why he didn’t intervene in the things he said Schalk did, Briskey said “Bully wasn’t the type of guy you ask to do anything. He tells you.”
Briskey testified, “I felt like I was being taken over and there was nothing I could do about it.”
Had Briskey opened his home to a “gentle giant” or a terrifying thug?
The truth of Bully’s personality is likely somewhere in the middle. But he was still a person. A father. A son. A friend. And the justice system does not require perfect victims.
“No matter what kind of person Justin was, it does not give Mr. Briskey the right to be judge, jury and executioner,” said Assistant District Attorney Michael Risley.
Yet on April 14, 2014, that is what happened when Briskey pointed a 45 caliber gun towards the back of Bully’s head and pulled the trigger.
WHO IS SEAN BRISKEY?
Briskey is an actor who’d only landed a few small, non-speaking roles. He’d been in the movies “American Pie Presents: Band Camp” and “Malibu’s Most Wanted,” and on the TV show “Judging Amy.” When asked how he would rate himself as an actor, he testified “Poor. That’s why I wasn’t pursuing it.”
What he was pursuing, however, was drugs and an affair with a married woman named Jamie. He testified that he’d been a drug addict for ten years, doing marijuana, meth and molly / ecstasy. Later in the trial he mentioned doing speed. He did drugs and he sold drugs, though his hope was to build a legitimate business with the shop.
Prior to moving to the compound, Briskey had lived briefly in Laguna Beach. Before that he’d been living in a home owned by his parents, but because of his drug use they had thrown him out.
Briskey’s criminal history includes felony domestic battery, being a felon in possession of a firearm, operating an unregistered vehicle and driving on a suspended or revoked license. He testified that he had been charged with receiving stolen property over the purchase of stereo equipment. He’d also pled guilty to domestic violence and was on bail for other crimes.
He explained the more recent charges, saying “The mother of my child was with her dad. Her dad didn’t like me. She snuck me into the house in the middle of the night.” He was charged with abuse and breaking and entering, and was on bail for those crimes when the shooting occurred.
WHO WAS JUSTIN “BULLY” SCHALK
Schalk grew up in the suburbs just north of Detroit. Even in school he was a tough guy with a strong physical presence. His passion was wrestling, and he was known in Ferndale, Hazel Park and Berkley for his skills.
His Myspace name was BerkleyBully, and his social media accounts are plush with pictures of body building, tattoos, attractive women, fast cars, motorcycles, and inspirational quotes for training. Clearly proud of his muscular physique, there are many photos with his shirt off in modeling, bodybuilder and fighting poses. The phrase “Smile now cry later,” is boldly tattooed across his chest, and at times he’s seen with a black eye or bruises from professional fights.
Among the demonstrations of strength are photos of a man who enjoyed life. There are pictures of him smiling with friends, hugging members of his family, and playing with his kids.
In the Los Angeles area he worked as a model, a trainer, a bouncer in various clubs and as an MMA fighter.
He kept the nickname Bully as his MMA nickname. His friends rooted him on, though he would often get disqualified.
“We all pushed for it. We wanted to see him win. He wasn’t professional. He wanted to be,” said the friend who testified.
The friend said Schalk got a Harley shortly after he got one. “Whatever people were doing, he wanted to be doing too.”
After Bully’s death, a memorial service was held in Venice Beach where members of The Chosen Few came out to honor him. He had friends in several motorcycle clubs, including Vagos, Chosen Few and Hell’s Angels.
The defense argued that Bully was a patch-wearing member of the Vagos, using that as an excuse to avoid going to the police or throwing the unwanted guest out. Briskey said Bully wore a jacket with the Vago patch, but no such jacket was found. There were, however, pictures of Bully wearing a green bandana on Instagram, and two Vago tee shirts in his room.
His friend described a man who wanted to fit in wherever he was. Not a biker club member, not a prospect, but a “hang around.” He said that a hang around is a friend of the club who might be invited to hang out, like at barbecues or to go along on rides. A prospect would be someone going through initiation to be in the club. His friend said he would have known if Bully was taking that path.
“When you have a bike you don’t like riding alone. Something could happen,” said the friend. “He would ride with anyone who wanted to ride.”
Just days before his death, Schalk texted his friend to let him know that he had found a cool new spot to live.
“The compound” was an enclosed lot on Pipeline Avenue in Pomona, CA. There was a garage for fixing cars, a trailer house and another shed-like building where Major Austin lived.
The compound was surrounded by a wall, with a sliding gate to let people in and out.
Multiple people lived there or slept there. At the time of the shooting, Bully had lived there about a week, having been invited by Briskey. Jessica was an ex-girlfriend of a friend of Briskey’s who had no place to go and had also been there for about a week. Jessica and Bully began a sexual relationship. Also in the compound were friends of Briskey’s named Troy and Lewis.
Briskey described the compound as an auto shop, stating “It was a legitimate place of business, but people did do drugs there after hours.”
Justin and Briskey had their own rooms in the main house. By all accounts the week of cohabitation did not go smoothly as Justin became the dominant personality in the home. Even his friend agreed that Bully liked to be a tough guy and that he liked to show his gun. He also liked to be the center of attention. Drug use exasperated the conflicts.
APRIL 14, 2014
Briskey said that in the days leading up to his death, Schalk was “always turned up, always arguing.” He claimed Schalk had robbed his friend Lewis, threatened him with the gun, and beaten Jessica. He said that on April 13 Schalk had come home covered in blood, claiming to have killed a man who was a witness to a murder committed by some Vago club members, and that he might have to let some Vago members hide out at the house.
In spite of this terrifying claim, Briskey slept until nearly noon on April 14. He testified that he woke up, ate McDonald’s, and spent the afternoon hanging out in his room playing video games on his computer.
Schalk and Lewis had a disagreement. “He had been threatening my tenant Lewis, basically punking Lewis. Basically everything Lewis owned was in the shop. He kicked him out of the shop,” Briskey said.
According to Briskey’s testimony, Lewis left and returned home around 8 or 9 at night. Bully told Lewis to give him the keys to the shop. Briskey left with Lewis. “We went to 7Eleven to break a $100 to get Lewis a room for the night because he didn’t want to be around Bully,” he said.
The plan had been to talk to Bully and smooth things over so Lewis could return the next day. Briskey said he went inside while Jamie and Jessica waited outside, and that while in the house alone Schalk had pulled his gun on him. But when the women came in, he calmed down.
Briskey testified that he, Jamie and Jessica took molly and put on music. Briskey and Jamie went to his room to have sex, while Bully and Jessica stayed in the living room.
This is the point where the testimonies differ.
Briskey testified that he had been in the room with Jamie when he heard scuffling in the front room. He said he got dressed and went out to find Bully standing over Jessica, threatening her.
“His gun was in his waistband. I took his gun. I grabbed it with my right and hand pushed with my left. He swung at me and missed. I retreated to the kitchen,” Briskey said. “I was in between the kitchen and bathroom. At that moment my adrenaline was kicking into overdrive… I was scared and I didn’t want to kill him. I didn’t want to shoot anybody. I said ‘Bully you’re scaring me and everyone in this house. I’m not giving you the gun.’
“He punched me, knocked loose two of my teeth. He head-butted me. I felt dizzy. He said he was going to get his other gun and blow me away….He ran into his room to get the other gun. I thought he was going to get the gun and kill me and everybody else. I was in living room by couch. I could see him through the doorways. He reached in the drawer and got another gun and he turned. I thought he was going to shoot me. I had gun pointed at him. He started to turn and I fired.” In the mugshot of Briskey, taken days later, there are no visible signs of bruises.
Jamie testified about what she saw. She said that Schalk was “acting psycho” that night, but that around midnight things had calmed down and they started doing molly. She said that Schalk kept his gun by the couch where she was sitting and that Briskey came by her to get the gun. She testified that Briskey went to the other end of the house with Schalk, where some kind of altercation occurred.
She said she heard Schalk say “You’re going to fucking shoot me with my own gun?” Then he “got physical” with Briskey before going to his room.
According to Jamie, things calmed down. Justin was in his room. Jessica was on the couch. And she and Briskey were in his room together for a while listening to music. He left the room. She heard a gunshot and came out of the room to see Briskey by the door with the gun in his hand.
THE COVER UP
There is evidence that the gunshot was not instantly fatal, and speculation by the Medical Examiner that had an ambulance been called, Schalk may have lived.
“We have examples where someone was shot in the head, and got treatment and lived,” said Dr. Brian Hutchins of the San Bernardino County Medical Examiner’s Office. “When someone is shot, the faster you get them medical treatment, the more likely they are to live.”
Briskey did not seek medical treatment however. Nor did he call the police. And even when questioned by the police about Bully’s disappearance, he lied and pointed the finger at the Vagos.
“I panicked,” Briskey said. “I just killed a man. And it wasn’t just him. He had friends that were very scary. If his buddies find out we’re going to be dead.”
He dragged Bully through the house to his own SUV. He couldn’t lift him in alone, so he woke up Austin to get help. He said that once Austin helped him move Bully into the SUV, Austin hosed down the concrete while Brisky began burning evidence in the barbeque grill. “I burned his wallet with ID card, anything that had blood on it or anything with his name on it,” Briskey said.
Then Briskey drove the SUV with Schalk in it out to the desert, with Austin following behind in a green Volkswagen. They stopped along the way to get a gas can full of fuel. Thinking they were safely in the middle of nowhere, they lit the van on fire and returned home in the green car.
Witnesses who had been camping in a trailer in the high desert testified that at about 8am on April 15, they saw the brown SUV and the green car drive past. About 20 minutes later the green car came past again, but not the brown vehicle. The men saw smoke and went to check it out. They saw the SUV on fire and called 911. They had no idea that a person was inside.
Two hours later the police had not yet come, so they returned to the vehicle. The fire had burned itself out and one of the men peeked inside and saw human remains. The police came quickly when he called to report it.
Back at the compound the cleanup effort was intense. “All of us cleaned. We were all afraid,” Briskey said.
The furniture was rearranged and though Briskey had tried to clean all the blood, he missed some spots and failed to empty out the reservoir of the vacuum cleaner. The presence of blood also remained that could be illuminated by a special compound that investigators can use to detect it.
Police learned that the SUV was registered to a woman in Oklahoma and that insurance was in Schalk’s name. They did surveillance on the compound on Pipeline and pulled over the green Volkswagen on April 16, along with another vehicle driven by a woman named Kristina who also part of the cleanup.
Briskey was arrested April 18 on his way to buy cigarettes. He gave the Sheriff’s deputy a fake name. “At first I denied it. Finally I told him the truth,” Briskey said. “I was under the influence of speed at that time, scared out of my mind.”
In a three-hour interview, Briskey told a detective “It was definitely those Vago guys, they’re scary as hell.”
Later he admitted the shooting and the cover-up, but failed to tell them about Jamie being there. He later said this was because she was married and he was protecting her.
According to the prosecution, they have not been able to find Jessica to get her side of the story.
Originally Briskey and Austin were arrested and charged with Schalk’s homicide. Austin took a plea deal in exchange for testifying. He will not be sentenced until after Briskey’s trial is complete finished.
The jurors could not agree on if Briskey was guilty or not.
On the Premeditation and Deliberation theory, the split was 7 for First Degree Murder, 3 Voluntary Manslaughter, and 2 Not Guilty. On the Felony Murder-Arson Theory, the split was 10-2 for Guilt.
In California a criminal verdict must be unanimous.
The jurors were dismissed and the prosecution intends to try again. Briskey remains in custody. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Feb. 26, 2016 in the San Bernardino County Court’s Victorville location.
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