The risk management authority covering the city of Ceres will shell out $2.1 million to the parents of a Hughson teenager killed by Ceres Police Officer Ross Bays last year and $2 million to the family of another man killed by the same officer.
Both cases were settled in U.S. District Court in Fresno in the middle of last month, said City Attorney Toby Wells.
On Aug. 19, 2018 Bays was in pursuit of a black Lexus in which suspects had fled the Smyrna Park skate park parking lot after one of them brandished a gun. The car struck a second car near Whitmore Avenue and Mitchell Road as it fled. Officer Bays chased after the suspects to Sperry Road just north of Service Road and Spencer Carmen Mendez, 15, armed with a handgun, immediately exited the vehicle. At the time the only officer at the scene, Bays rapidly fired at Mendez as he ran through a row of young orchard trees, striking him twice in the back. Before the shooting, Mendez reportedly dropped a gun as he got out of the car and picked it up. The gun was found about five feet from where Mendez dropped. The boy was pronounced dead at the scene after paramedics tried to resuscitate him.
Video of Bays’ body camera revealed that Bays did not issue a verbal command to stop and emptied his entire clip toward the suspect. It also showed him keeping an eye on the occupants of the car after the shots were fired.
Other officers arrived after the shooting and helped Bays detain the four persons remaining inside the car. Police located stolen rifles in the trunk of the car.
Mendez’s parents filed a wrongful death suit against the officer and Ceres Police Department in federal court with attorneys for the city’s self-insurance pool, the Central San Joaquin Valley Risk Management Authority, settling. Attorneys Adam Stewart of Modesto and Mark Merin of Sacramento asserted that Bays could have used nonlethal methods to stop the fleeing teenager, such as released Bays’ police canine.
Ceres Police Chief Rick Collins said he couldn’t say much about the Mendez case since the district attorney’s office is still investigating. But he was briefed on his department’s internal investigation into the shooting which determined there were no policy violations on Bays’ behalf. Collins said he had not read the report, however.
The chief said an officer shooting a suspect in the back was “not necessarily” in violation of policies governing an officer’s action.
“You have to look at the totality of the circumstance so… it’s easy for people who have a lot of questions to make comments but they weren’t in the officer’s shoes and they didn’t know the information the officer had at the right time,” said Collins.
The chief said he will look at the investigation report to look for areas to improve but said his officers are “doing a great job.”
The Mendez shooting was the second fatal shooting involving Bays during his employment in Ceres. On Oct. 22, 2017 he and Sgt. Darren Venn were involved in fatally shooting of Nicholas Adam Pimentel, 27, of Modesto, at the end of a pursuit in south Modesto that terminated with a PIT maneuver at Imperial Avenue and Ustick Road. Pimentel was blocked in by officers but Pimentel was spinning his wheels and moving the vehicle when Bays and Venn opened fire.
The investigation revealed that at approximately 1:08 a.m., a Ceres police officer was in pursuit of a Chevy pickup in the unincorporated area of Modesto. About two minutes later officers radioed that they had been involved in a shooting with the driver struck by officers’ gunfire.
The DA’s office had cleared Venn and Bays of any wrongdoing in the Pimentel shooting.
Pimentel had been drinking before the incident, his sister, Summer Pimentel, said at the time. Pimentel had a criminal history with a no contest plea to a misdemeanor DUI and obstructing or resisting an officer or emergency personnel in 2012.
Both shootings were independently investigated by the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, Ceres Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office.
Bays was a deputy for the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department from 2004 to 2011. He joined the Ceres Police Department in 2011. Since going on medical leave, Bays has moved to the Boise, Idaho area.
In 2013 Bays was the officer who alerted Ceres Police superiors to the actions of Ceres police officer Christopher Melton who kicked a man who was surrendered and prostrate on the ground during an April 13, 2013 arrest 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 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. 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.