The three Menlo Park police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a burglary suspect on Nov. 11 are veterans with more than a decade of experience, according to the police department.
Sgt. Jaime Romero and officers Scott Mackdanz and Nicholas Douglas are on paid leave, as is standard protocol following a shooting, Police Chief Bob Jonsen said. Sgt. Romero has been an officer for 18 years, Officer Mackdanz for 16, and Officer Douglas for 11.
The officers had responded to a report of a burglary in progress at a Willow Road-area business. An employee had spotted a man who resembled a suspect on a flier sent out to commercial tenants warning about a series of thefts at Peninsula businesses.
The man, 52-year-old Jerry Lee Matheny of Riverside County, fled when police arrived. During the ensuing chase, officers first fired a Taser, and the suspect then allegedly pulled a gun, according to the police department.
Attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson, who represents Sgt. Romero, said that he had joined the others in the foot pursuit along Willow Road and initially reached for his baton. Sgt. Romero told the attorney that the fleeing suspect reached for his waistband, then pulled a gun and pointed it at him; when Sgt. Romero heard a shot, he pulled his weapon to return fire, according to the attorney.
Menlo Park police reportedly found a gun and a stolen wallet at the scene. The initial press release on Tuesday stated that police officials had not yet determined whether Mr. Matheny had fired his gun.
The District Attorney's Office is reviewing the shooting and has video footage from the cameras worn by the officers. No further information will be released from the police department and further inquiries should go to the district attorney, Chief Jonsen said.
Mr. Matheny was wanted by the state for violating parole, according to law enforcement sources. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued a warrant for him on July 22 related to possession of a controlled substance. He remained at large until Nov. 11.
He was also suspected of other burglaries along the Peninsula. District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said that his office on Oct. 21 filed a felony case out of San Mateo for two counts of commercial burglary and one count of identity theft against Mr. Matheny, which had been pending on the issuance of an arrest warrant by a judge.
As Mr. Matheny's past is now subject to scrutiny, so is that of the officers. None of the three officers has been involved in other shootings in Menlo Park. Both Officer Mackdanz and Officer Douglas have lost civil trials related to excessive force complaints.
Asked how the officers' histories should be viewed in the context of Tuesday's shooting, Chief Jonsen said that their actions must be viewed as separate and independent of the past.
"Over a career, the probability that law enforcement officers are going to be involved in incidents leading to lawsuits is high," the chief said. "Each incident must be viewed in its own context, and the reasonableness of the force used must be determined based on the circumstances confronting the officers during this incident and not prior incidents."
The city paid for two claims against Officer Mackdanz in 2005. A jury ordered Menlo Park to pay $27,000 to a man who sued after being injured during an encounter with the police officer, and the city settled another claim for $13,250 in a separate case. A third claim resulted in a payment of $1,000 to a Menlo Park couple in 2004.
City Attorney Bill McClure said at the time that the officer had been cleared of wrongdoing.
The city won another lawsuit, filed in 2011 against five officers, including Officer Mackdanz. A jury found that the plaintiffs had not proven the allegations of excessive force.
As for Officer Douglas, a jury found that he used excessive force while breaking up a party in 2007. He and four other officers had responded to the scene. According to court documents, he had choked a woman with his baton, using her as a "shield or "buffer" against possible assaults. The jury awarded the woman $10,000; another plaintiff settled out of court for $1,500.
The jury found in favor of the city in the 22 other claims made in the lawsuit. Five of the party-goers had faced criminal charges for resisting or obstructing police officers; four were acquitted and one accepted a lesser charge of disturbing the peace.
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