Fresno, CA – A suspended Dos Palos police officer was fatally shot by Merced County deputies during a standoff in a residential neighborhood on Tuesday night.
Dos Palos Officer Johnny Mathis, 46, was driving his personal vehicle as police followed him to his residence in the 1800-block of Lopez Avenue, neighbors told the Merced Sun-Star.
Neighbor Kathy Hurtado, who was out walking her dog, said that she saw several patrol vehicles and one SWAT vehicle trailing Officer Mathis’ car through the neighborhood.
As they passed by, police told her and other neighbors to get inside, she said.
Resident Keith Ensminger described the incident as a pursuit.
“It seems like the sirens went further into town, then swept around and it was obvious they came back here,” he told KFSN.
Officer Mathis then slammed his vehicle into a closed overhead garage door, initiating the standoff, the Merced Sun-Star reported.
“I came out took a look, and that’s when I heard the intense gunfire,” Ensminger told KFSN.
Erick Guttierez, who lives across the street, said that officers came to his home to take those inside to safety.
“They came to our door and evacuated us, because we’re in the line of fire,” Guttierez told the news outlet.
The Merced County District Attorney’s Office did not release details regarding what led up to the shooting, and said more information would be made public when the investigation is complete, the Merced Sun-Star reported.
“The deceased, who died as the result of a single gunshot wound, was an off-duty Dos Palos police officer who was on administrative leave,” the district attorney said in a statement. “We know the public has a strong interest in learning what occurred, but there is an even stronger interest in getting a full, accurate, and complete history.”
The reason for Officer Mathis’ suspension from the department has also not been released.
Prior to joining the Dos Palos Police Department, Officer Mathis worked for the Merced County Sheriff’s Office from 1996 until 2010, The Fresno Bee reported.
While serving as a deputy, Officer Mathis became embroiled with multiple scandals, including accusations of excessive force and steroid use.
He and a second deputy were named in a lawsuit against the department in 2004, after they allegedly assaulted a drunken man and someone who spoke up in his defense.
According to the lawsuit, the deputies were allegedly using steroids at the time of the altercation.
Two months later, the Merced County sheriff confirmed that four unnamed deputies within the department had used steroids.
That civil case ended with a settlement in excess of $340,000.
Another woman filed a civil suit against the department in 2005, alleging that then-Deputy Mathis arrested her without probable cause and broke her glasses. She was awarded $50,000.
The next lawsuit came in 2006, after the deputy mistakenly detained and tasered the wrong person while chasing after a suspect. The plaintiff received a $22,500 settlement.
Then-deputy Mathis was arrested for allegedly assaulting an on-duty dispatcher – to whom he was married – while he was on duty inside the Merced County Main Jail in 2010.
He was subsequently charged with a misdemeanor and lost his job, but the case against him was dismissed after he attended counseling, The Fresno Bee reported.
Former Dos Palos Police Chief Barry Mann said he hired Officer Mathis in 2014.
“Johnny was rough around the edges until you got to know him,” Chief Mann told the paper. “He’s a very intense person, but his heart was in the right place.”
“There were some troubled spots during his career with the Merced Sheriff’s Office,” he agreed.
Despite his checkered past, he also “did a lot of good things for the [Dos Palos Police Department] during a tough time,” the former chief told the Merced Sun-Star.
“I know the entire family. My heart goes out to them,” he told The Fresno Bee. “Whatever troubles John had, I’m just glad no one else was hurt.”
Stephanie Perry, who worked with Officer Mathis and his wife during their time at the Merced County Sheriff’s Office, said that he was a dedicated officer who went beyond the call of duty, KSEE reported.
“We don’t know his mind setting and we don’t know what was taking place with him on a personal level,” Perry said. “It’s a tragedy for all, regardless of the circumstances and situation.”