Ceres Police Officer Ross Bays was justified in fatally shooting a Hughson teenager on Aug. 18, 2018, the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office has ruled after a lengthy investigation.
Officer Bays shot to death Carmen Mendez, 15, at the end of a police pursuit that originated in Ceres and moved to Service and Sperry roads in rural Denair. Mendez was shot as he fled the car, dropped a gun, pick it up and continued running away.
“It is our determination that the officer was justified under the totality of the circumstances in his actions and we now view this matter as closed,” said a statement by District Attorney Birgit Fladager. The report gives details not previously known about the events that led up to the shooting.
Case law gives officers the right to use reasonable force, said the report which cites the 1965 People v. Jackson court case which determined “If someone is confronted by the appearance of danger which causes in his mind, as a reasonable person, an honest conviction and fear that he is about to suffer bodily injury, and if a reasonable person in a like situation seeing and knowing the same facts, would be justified in believing himself in danger, and if the person so confronted acts in fear and with an honest conviction, his right of self-defense is the same whether such danger is real or apparent.”
The law also allows an officer to defend others who might be in harm’s way. This law is codified in California and follows federal law as found in the Tennessee v. Garner 1985 court decision: “Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.”
“The law in California does not require proof that Mendez was an actual threat, only that he appeared to be,” the investigation report recapped.
Mendez was involved in a number of crimes prior to his death. The toxicology report also confirmed that he was intoxicated at the time of his death and had marijuana in his system.
At approximately 3:30 p.m. on the day of the shooting, a Riverbank resident returned home from work to discovery his house had been broken into and multiple guns had been stolen. One of the guns stolen was a silver Ruger .357 revolver – which later was held by Mendez when he was shot. A witness reported seeing two males loading long guns taken in the burglary into the trunk of a black car.
At approximately 4:04 p.m., a male wearing red pants and a white tank top walked into the Liquor King on Mitchell Road and stole two bottles of Grey Goose Vodka and ran to a waiting black Lexus with a female behind the wheel. Videotape of the theft would later prove the suspect was Mendez.
Moments later witnesses said they were at Smyrna skate park in Ceres when one of the occupants of the Lexus banged his car as he got out to take a selfie. The pickup owner complained that the male had hit his truck. The male told the female driver of the Lexus to “scoot over” and he got into the car. He then drove the Lexus in front of the truck and pointed a silver revolver with a long barrel at the civilian. The Lexus passengers were heard shouting “Don’t do it! Don't do it!” at the gunman who then retreated and got in the car and sped away. Citizens reported the incident to police.
The Lexus was driven to the area of Whitmore and Moffet where it crashed into another car and caused injuries before fleeing. A witness followed the Lexus to report its location to police. Moments later Officer Bays spotted the car and took off in pursuit which reached speeds up to 105 mph with the Lexus running stop signs and failing to yield to the marked police car.
As the Lexus turned onto Sperry Road, Bays saw the car slow in the middle of the road turn. Bays stated later that he had never seen suspects act like this before and believed he had driven into an ambush given how occupants were reported to be armed and dangerous and had fled from two different criminal scenes. Bays tried to line his patrol car up at an angle to get cover when Mendez bolted from the car carrying the silver Ruger .357.
The DA’s report said that Bays said most all suspects who “leg bail” run at a 90-degree angle away from the car and officers but his fears increased because he believed that Mendez started to run toward him. As Mendez exited the car he fell to the ground and it appeared that he dropped the gun. Instead of getting up and fleeing, it appeared that Mendez stopped and picked up the gun while looking at Bays. Bays stated that Mendez carrying the gun was a significant factor in his thought process.
Seeing that Bays had a gun and fearing he would be ambushed from someone in the car – and believing Mendez was a serious threat to those in the nearby farms – Bays fired at Mendez.
The four subjects still in the car were detained at gunpoint. A search of the vehicle turned up the stolen firearms and a large amount of ammunition.
Physical evidence, including cell phones, was seized pursuant to a warrant and examined. In March, the cellphone from the female juvenile's phone was submitted for review. Uncovered were photos of her with the silver Ruger handgun. There was also another photo of her with the gun and another occupant of the car holding up a fanned-out bundle of currency.
One of the backseat passengers admitted that they had been at the park, someone from the Lexus had brandished the silver gun at the truck owner and then committed the hit and run. He stated that right before the shooting the car had died, Mendez said “he wasn't going back to jail” and then ran from the car as it was still slowly moving forward. The passenger admitted that Mendez had a gun when he ran. He said Mendez had the gun in his hand pointing out in front of him, although the passenger stated he thought this was after the cop shot Mendez.
A second passenger admitted that there was “stolen stuff in the Lexus.” He was booked for outstanding warrants.