Haamid Zaid
Haamid Zaid (San Jose Police Department)

SAN JOSE -- Residents along Laurelei Avenue call it a "pocket neighborhood" that benefits because the streets loop into each other and keep out through traffic.

Kids play street hockey and residents look out for each other -- something they've been trying to do more since police started coming around the West San Jose enclave because of the disturbing actions of a neighbor.

"It's a quiet neighborhood, and he brings a little too much negative attention," resident Hector Sanchez said.

Sanchez was talking about 33-year-old Haamid Ade Zaid, the man accused of a drug-addled Easter rampage in which police and witnesses say he barreled his Cutlass Salon through the front of a Wal-Mart in East San Jose and bludgeoned shoppers before he was tackled by onlookers and arrested.

His neighbors are among those wondering how Zaid, who was arrested in a string of troubling cases over the past two years, was out of jail Sunday, the day of the latest incident.

At the time of the Wal-Mart attack, Zaid was being prosecuted in drug court for a gas-station crash in December, an October case in which he allegedly threw a chair through the window of a Santana Row pub while high on cocaine and a July 2011 incident involving a burglary he imagined.

Despite adding two more drug violations to his record since the December crash into the gas station, Zaid stayed out of jail for a simple reason: Until he allegedly clubbed Wal-Mart shoppers and an employee Sunday, all of his crimes were misdemeanor drug offenses where no one was injured.

Zaid posted $20,000 bail after his December arrest. He was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance, but prosecutors say the amount of suspected methamphetamine officers found on him amounted to less than a hundredth of a gram, not enough for a valid lab test. That count was subsequently dropped, dashing the chance for a higher bail amount.

Deputy district attorney James Sibley said Zaid's previous offenses were characteristic of a drug abuser but nothing that would telegraph his alleged violence at the Wal-Mart.

"The system was doing what it was supposed to do. There was nothing significant that would flag something like this coming down the line," Sibley said. "He had drug problems, but a lot of people have drug problems and don't drive into Wal-Mart."

Sibley said that in light of the Wal-Mart case, prosecutors are reviewing footage of the December crash to look for any evidence that it might have been intentional.

"Up until the Walmart incident, it was hard to think he intentionally drove into the gas station," he said. "He got into an accident and while trying to flee got into another accident, which is a common occurrence."

The melee that garnered national headlines didn't come as a complete shock to neighbors, given their experience living around Zaid, who is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.

"He's been a problem since he moved in," said neighbor Vera Symons. She said Zaid's been living at the home for about two years with his girlfriend, whom she described as "nice" and "intelligent."

Zaid, a mechanic, worked on cars late into the night, Symons said, and they've heard him loudly revving an engine next door past 11 p.m. on Sundays. When the weather is warm they often have to close windows because the exhaust comes straight into her family's home.

In two cases in as many years, he called police to the neighborhood to stop home invaders who turned out to be a meth-induced paranoid delusion and ended up being the only one placed in the back of a patrol car, according to court documents.

Court records also allege a string of offenses by Zaid, many involving him high on illegal drugs.

Sanchez said he wasn't surprised to hear that Zaid is a suspect in the Wal-Mart incident but added that it was disconcerting.

"Now it's not just our neighborhood," he said. "It's gone broader. And he can drive a car anywhere."

Sanchez, who lives a half dozen houses away, encountered Zaid shortly before his paranoid and delusional neighbor called the police on July 8, 2011.

"That night he came through our side gate and we heard him coming into our house through the back door," Sanchez said. "I confronted him, told him to get the hell out of here. I closed the screen door and told my wife to call 911. Then when I was on the phone with 911, I saw him peeking around the corner. He told me that someone was after him.

Police returned to the neighborhood in January, when Zaid summoned officers because he again thought people were breaking into his home.

According to police reports, he exhibited detached behavior, shuffling around his house and not acknowledging the officers. When they tried to restrain Zaid, he broke free and ran through the neighborhood briefly before being taken into custody on suspicion of resisting arrest and being under the influence. He told an officer that he had smoked meth earlier in the day.

"If he gets help, that would be wonderful," said Sanchez. "I don't know if he was getting help before."

After the 2011 incident, Zaid was ordered by the court to get help, deferring his misdemeanor conviction if he completed a substance-abuse treatment regimen.

Prosecutors say he failed the program.

Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga. Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5869. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.