Former Ceres police officer Christopher Melton was on trial last week in Stanislaus County Superior Court on criminal misdemeanor charges of assault by an officer under color of authority.
Melton is accused of kicking a surrendered man during an April 13, 2013 call regarding a home invasion robbery in the 1600 block of Evans Road. A subsequent internal investigation questioning the amount of force used by Officer Melton during the incident commenced after Ceres officer Ross Bays reported the suspected misconduct to supervisors.
Melton was placed on paid administrative leave before he was terminated.
Bays testified in court that Melton kicked suspect Daniel Reagan in the groin along Norwood Heights Lane and later seemed to be amused about his action.
After a short chase, Bays had his gun drawn on Reagan after he ditched his bike and announced to the officer "I'm done" and dropped facedown on the ground in surrender. Bays testified that Melton ran up to Reagan and kicked the motionless suspect in the genitals. Reagan immediately doubled up in pain, said Bays. Melton then placed his knee on Reagan and handcuffed him. Later Melton approached Bays as he was writing a report on the hood of the car and asked in a laughing tone, "Did you see me kick that guy in the nuts?"
Bays commented that Melton's actions seemed unreasonable.
A second Ceres officer, Josh Klinge, testified that Melton seemed to be bragging about the kick to the suspect's privates.
Melton's defense attorney, Nicole Valentine, called a Don Cameron, a Sacramento Public Safety Training Center use-of-force expect, said that kicking a suspect in the groin area is warranted if the suspect poses a flight risk. Cameron said Reagan's turning of his head may have been perceived as an indication that he may have been searching for a place to run, and that Melton's actions may have been justified. He noted that Reagan had a backpack and possibly could have had a weapon available to retrieve and fire quickly.
Another use-of-force expert, California Peace Officer Standards and Training instructor Jeff Martin, spoke for the prosecution and countered Cameron's view. Martin said that it didn't seem legitimate for Melton to kick a suspect who was complying with officers' orders. He said the movement of the suspect's head was not unusual in that most people try to look at whoever is speaking to them.
Bays also testified that he told the suspect to look away from him before Melton came up and kicked him.
Melton took the stand and testified that he intended to kick the inside of Reagan's leg, not his genitals. He told the court that he believed Reagan was looking around to plan a flight or fight against officers. Melton called the kick a distraction strike to thwart a planned flight.
Prosecutors noted that Melton's report of the incident left a lot of details out. He didn't mention kicking Reagan in the written report nor did he make any mention of Reagan moving his head. Melton also stated in his trial that he doesn't remember talking to Bays about kicking Reagan in the groin and doesn't remember hearing Bays give verbal orders to Reagan while he was lying on the ground.
After the department let go of Melton, then Police Chief Art deWerk said that "Officer Melton's conduct, as alleged, does not reflect the values of Ceres Police Department or the law enforcement community as a whole."
Reagan was arrested this week for a possible home invasion robbery committed in Modesto this year.
Melton has had prior conflicts with the department. He was one of the officers who allegedly inflicted excessive force on party goers during a 2007 loud party call in the 3100 block of Burton Drive. Allegations included that police dragged a woman out of the house by her hair and pepper-sprayed a handcuffed man.
Shortly after Melton's experience during the shooting death of Sgt. Howard Stevenson in January 2005, police officials say he failed probation. Melton was with Officer Sam Ryno the night he was critically wounded when shot at by Andres Raya at George's Liquors the night of Jan. 5, 2005. Melton pulled Ryno to safety before Raya turned on Stevenson and fatally shooting him in the head.
A psychological report noted that Melton exhibits fits of temper and used curse words in the presence of members of the public and coworkers. He regained his job after suing the city of Ceres in 2006.