News


DA clears Menlo Park officers in fatal shooting

 

The three Menlo Park police officers who shot and killed a fleeing burglary suspect on Nov. 11 used justifiable force, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office.

The DA's office concluded that the man who was killed, 52-year-old Jerry Lee Matheny, had a gun and pointed it at officers. Investigators, however, said they were unable to determine whether he had fired it.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe released a report on Friday, Feb. 6, detailing the circumstances of the shooting and the conclusions of his investigators, who conducted a review of the incident as is standard procedure. More than 20 witnesses were interviewed as part of the investigation.

The incident started when Sgt. Jaime Romero and officers Scott Mackdanz and Nicholas Douglas responded to a report of a suspicious man from a woman who worked in an office building at 64 Willow Road around 12:30 p.m.

"Although he had simply entered her building, waved at her and left without doing anything further, she was suspicious of him because he strongly resembled a photograph on a flyer posted in her office of a person who was wanted by police in connection with a series of thefts of purses and other property from open businesses," Mr. Wagstaffe's report said.

The suspect, Mr. Matheny, then reportedly drove to 68 Willow Road.

65 seconds

The district attorney said the following then unfolded over approximately 65 seconds:

By the time Officer Douglas and Officer Mackdanz arrived at 68 Willow Road, Mr. Matheny had exited his car. He approached Officer Douglas from behind. When asked to put his hands on the patrol car, he cursed and fled, according to the district attorney.

Sgt. Romero, who had his 15-year-old son in the car for a ride-along, arrived as a foot chase ensued.

Officer Douglas gave a warning and then fired a Taser, which failed to stop the suspect. The investigation determined that only one barbed prong had struck Mr. Matheny, Mr. Wagstaffe said.

With three officers now in pursuit, Mr. Matheny pulled a gun. Officer Mackdanz told investigators he heard someone yell "gun," followed by a shot as the officer tripped and fell. He fired five shots at the suspect. Officer Douglas dove to the ground, breaking his kneecap in the process, to avoid friendly fire, and released three shots. Sgt. Romero, who had yelled the warning, fired one shot before his weapon jammed. He cleared it, then fired a second time.

According to the DA's report, Sgt. Romero told investigators he was scared for the lives of everyone in the vicinity upon seeing Mr. Matheny's gun, and said that he "could not let this guy get away; I could not let him take a round at us, or my son. We had to eliminate the threat. We had to stop him."

The shooting was not captured by any body-worn camera. Officer Mackdanz had turned his in for repairs at the start of his shift. Sgt. Romero activated his immediately after the shooting, and Officer Douglas did not turn his on, the DA's review concluded.

Investigation

Mr. Matheny was pronounced dead at the scene. Toxicological testing performed as part of the autopsy found methamphetamine and its amphetamine metabolite in his blood, the report said.

After searching the body and scene, police located a .22-caliber semi-automatic gun about 21 feet away from Mr. Matheny. Six unshot bullets were found within 20 feet of the gun, five of them loaded in a magazine.

A gardener who had been working nearby told investigators that he had seen the man throw something silver away during the shooting. Fingerprint and DNA analysis proved insufficient to tie the weapon to Mr. Matheny; however, 19 rounds of ammunition found in the trunk of his car matched those in the magazine and the other bullet, the report said.

The investigation was unable to determine whether Mr. Matheny had fired at the officers, although his face and hands tested positive for gunshot residue. Methamphetamine and cocaine were reportedly also in the car's trunk.

Investigators confirmed that the photograph on the flier was Mr. Matheny, and that he was a suspect in eight office burglaries in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties, according to the report. He allegedly posed as an IT technician or repairman to gain access and stole items such as wallets from purses.

At the scene of the Nov. 11 shooting, officers said they found a wallet stolen from the purse of an employee at the Willow Road business complex earlier in the day.

The suspect's parole officer, Agent Donna Sanchez of Riverside County, told investigators that she had lost track of him after he removed an ankle monitor while at a casino in July 2014. A warrant was then issued for his arrest; she said that Mr. Matheny was aware that he could go back to prison for violating parole. Both she and a friend of the suspect said that he may have committed "suicide by cop," the DA's report said.

Police department response

The Menlo Park Police Department command staff expressed appreciation for the DA's thorough review.

"The findings match the findings in the criminal investigation conducted by the police department, which show the suspect's actions in this case caused the two officers and sergeant to use the appropriate force necessary to safeguard their own lives and the lives of community members in the area," Cmdr. Dave Bertini said.

"Although it is always tragic when any life is lost, the actions of Sergeant Romero, Officer Douglas and Officer Mackdanz were consistent with their training, experience and the law and they all acted heroically in the defense of others."

Police Chief Bob Jonsen said he never doubted the officers' actions, and praised their professionalism.

The department will keep striving to improve its service to the community, he said. "We'll continue working with our residents, businesses and elected officials to ensure their trust and confidence in us to keep them safe is impregnable."

Two of the three officers returned to work in December. Officer Douglas continues to recuperate from the knee injury.

Click here to see the District Attorney's Office report (PDF).

Comments

12 people like this
Posted by Wow
a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:09 pm

You have to realize this is a very significant finding by DA Steve Wagstaffe who DOES NOT HESITATE to find law enforcement accountable when they commit transgressions.

If Wagstaffe clears them, that means they did nothing wrong. If there were even a scintilla of a chance of wrongdoing, Steve Wagstaffe would be the first to bring charges and let the balls fall where they may.

(I'm kidding).


Like this comment
Posted by Wag the dog
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Why do we bother with tax dollars for technology when they don't bother to turn the cameras on until they get to the scene, where it is then invariably too busy to activate the camera?


7 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 6, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Robert is a registered user.

@wag the dog - I presume you did not read the full report on the web link. He was too busy as he was approached from behind by the suspect. Sgt. Romero probably should have , but what an awful day to have your son witness you killing someone. This suspect who was on parole, had removed his ankle bracelet was drunk, high on Meth in possession of drugs and his car had additional ammo. A person on parole has been convicted and he knows full well what happens when you have a gun and stolen property and removed your ankle bracelet. MPPD did try the taser and it did not work unfortunately. It appears the Gardner was the one who provided the valuable statement. Yes, the camera would provide additional information that the 20 witnesses may not have, but all in all it is hard to see any doubt in this case.


6 people like this
Posted by downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 6, 2015 at 3:44 pm

Robert, I've read the full report & everything printed about this since it happened. I'm with Wow on this one.

Time for a new DA & a new SMC sheriff.


Like this comment
Posted by Memories
a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Why was this breaking news? Why wouldn't they be cleared? Cops are cleared in cases where their use of lethal force was clearly wrong, but in this case, it was the best choice, for the sake of the police involved and the public.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Oswald
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 6, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Great DA work and excellent work on the MPPD's part. Another menace to our community is off the streets permanently.

If you disagree with this outcome you should consider the fact that the perpetrator was brandishing a weapon in the presence of law enforcement. Expect to be shot if you make such a grave error in judgement. We need more cops like this to keep the streets safe from such people. It's a shame it consumed such a large amount of taxpayer dollars in coming to a resolution and closure on this incident. For me and the facts I read when this case unfolded, it was a open and shut case. No video footage needed.


2 people like this
Posted by Due process
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 6, 2015 at 10:40 pm

Pathetic.

No reason for them not to turn on the cameras during the ride over to Willow. Or while they were interviewing the caller, before they spotted the suspect. Easy for them to plant a gun and other "evidence" on the body, which was illegally moved after they killed him. Of course his body had gunshot residue; they shot him.

Was he a fine upstanding member of the community? No, he wasn't, but at the time he was murdered, all they knew was that he resembled a burglar and parole violator. Even if they had had confirmed identity, those are hardly death penalty crimes. Nevertheless, the police took it upon themselves to act as judge, jury, and executioner.

It's all good, until it happens to your kid or your neighbor. Shoot to kill first, figure out whether you've got the right person later.


10 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 7, 2015 at 7:19 am

Robert is a registered user.

@ Due process - I am surprised the Almanac left your comments up as your conclusions have no factual basis and assume facts that I cannot see stated anywhere on any article. Example:
In your vast experience in forensic science, can you articulate how someone shot would have gun residue on their hands. Most of can look that up quickly and cite numerous publications that will tell you how you obtain gun residue - shot at a distance is not one of them.
The body was moved illegally. Where do you find that statement - anywhere? I cannot find one source that states that it was moved illegally and then next of course by whom
Body cameras. Numerous articles have stated that the battery life is 3 hours. During a 10 hour shift, the officer must select which 3 hours and on which call. Every call for service they get cannot be recorded. One was broken and was not being worn. If someone can devise a body camera that can be used up to or beyond 10 hours I am confident department policies would dictate it always stays on.
Executioner - really? MPPD tried first non-lethal force. It did not work. Had that worked this would not be an issue and the parolee would be back in jail waiting for his next release date.
Recently a Civil Rights Activist who was very critical of police, especially the use of force, expressed his sentiment in several rallies against the police. In return the Arizona police put him through a series of scenarios to show how and why he would not shoot. Web Link
Take a look at that and then I high recommend that you do a few ride alongs. After you do that, let us know if you still have the same opinion. I have done several ride alongs in EPA and it did alter my perception.


8 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2015 at 10:33 am

It's pretty clear from the report that the suspect's gun was not fired. Finding gunshot residue on the suspect's hands and face is consistent with skin to skin contact between the officers checking the suspects hands for a weapon and checking if the suspect was still breathing after being shot 10 times. The officers certainly has residue from firing their own weapons. So, this is the origin of that residue.

While there is no video of the shooting, MPPD has the archived radio traffic between the officers and their dispatcher. Officers reported that they shot the suspect because he fired first. Clearly that didn't happen based on the evidence in the DA's report.

Maybe nobody cares, but there's clearly inconsistencies and problems with the DA's report.


11 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 7, 2015 at 11:51 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Joe:

does it really matter if he fired or not? He pointed his weapon at the officers. All bets were off then. Are they supposed to actually wait until they are fired on and risk getting killed? Some of the officers might have thought he fired first. When guns start going off it's not always possible to identify exactly where they are in that split second.


Like this comment
Posted by Wow
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Menlo Voter: "does it really matter if he fired or not?"

If the officers involved said he did over the dispatch radio when he actually didn't, apparently it does matter, or at least it did to them in terms of how the situation would be viewed.

I really don't know what happened here. None of us do since we don't have the video. I don't think it's as black and white as is being suggested, either way.


Like this comment
Posted by Wow
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2015 at 2:06 pm

ALSO, I should add, if the suspect was holding a gun an running away from the officers, versus facing them or coming towards them, it makes the use of lethal force on their part not as justifiable.


6 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 7, 2015 at 2:35 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

"ALSO, I should add, if the suspect was holding a gun an running away from the officers, versus facing them or coming towards them, it makes the use of lethal force on their part not as justifiable."

Actually, it might not, especially if he had fired on the officers. Anyone that has shot at an officer has demonstrated he is a clear and present danger to everyone in the community. Officers would be justified in shooting at him to stop him from harming someone else. Running away is not surrendering. If you don't stop an armed felon from running away after he has used or attempted to use deadly force, you are likely to wind up with a hostage situation.


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Posted by Wow
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2015 at 3:15 pm

And if he never fired on the officers, as the report certainly implies by the lack of that accusation, as well as the lack of all of the forensics that could have established his gun was fired in this incident?


5 people like this
Posted by Ed Franklin
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 7, 2015 at 3:40 pm

According to Chief Jonsen, "The Nov. 11 incident went out as a "suspicious person" call, which Chief Jonsen said normally turns into a case where the person is in fact somewhere they have a right to be. This can make it a challenge to know when to activate a camera, given that the battery carries only about a 3-hour charge, and the officer works a 12-hour shift."

Web Link

That's very interesting for I was reported as a suspicious person to the menlo park police about a week before Matheny was and the officers, one being Mackdanz, had their cameras on and were recording before they exited their patrol cars.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 7, 2015 at 5:18 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

[Post removed. Please do not paste the text of a copyrighted article in a Town Square post. You can provide a link to the article.]


3 people like this
Posted by Memories
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2015 at 7:32 pm

My heart especially goes out to Romero in this incident. Seeing the others hit the ground, that the suspect had a gun and that could all be killed - as well as his child and others in the vicinity - he obliterated the threat. I'd hope to be as competent to do the same.

How ironic on a day that seems safe to have your teen ride along - daytime, a school holiday, some businesses closed for the holiday - that hell breaks loose in suburbia.
Just imagine if Matheny had gotten away and ran loose on the street, panicked, high and armed. That's a scenario I'd rather not contemplate because it would be even more hellish.

I'll conserve my ire for true abuse by the police.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 7, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

For those who are interested in the FACTS of this matter:

County’s top attorney clears three Menlo Park police officers in fatal shooting of burglar last November
BY RHEA MAHBUBANI

Daily News Staff Writer

Web Link 2/7/2015

Three Menlo Park police officers justifiably killed a burglar last November and no criminal charges will be filed against them, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s office.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe announced Friday that a “thorough and independent” investigation led by inspectors Richard Maher and Kevin Raffaelli revealed that Sgt. Jaime Romero and officers Nicholas Douglas and Scott Mackdanz didn’t violate any laws when Jerry Lee Matheny was fatally shot Nov. 11.

Wagstaffe said “the use of lethal force by the officers in the confrontation” was a “justifiable” and “lawful response.” Because the officers didn’t engage in criminal conduct, the case has been closed, he added.


7 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2015 at 10:03 pm

[Post removed for using multiple names on same thread.]


5 people like this
Posted by dm
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2015 at 8:38 pm

dm is a registered user.

[Post removed for using multiple names on same thread.]


3 people like this
Posted by dm
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2015 at 8:55 pm

dm is a registered user.

[Post removed for using multiple names on same thread.]


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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