A 46-year-old man who was shot by a Merced police officer after reportedly flinging a knife at him has been charged with attempted murder, officials say.
Lou Seng Saeteurn pleaded not guilty during his arraignment hearing Friday in Merced County Superior Court.
He's accused of throwing a knife at the head of officer Miguel Gallegos on the night of Oct. 17 near E and East 11th streets, according to court records.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll said his office filed the attempted murder charge against Saeteurn because of the level of danger the defendant's alleged actions posed to Gallegos.
"We're grateful the police officer was uninjured because it was a life-threatening situation," Carroll said.
If convicted, Saeteurn could face life in prison.
It's unknown whether Saeteurn's mental health will be an issue in the case. According to police documents, Saeteurn had been previously admitted to Marie Green Psychiatric Center.
Before the knife-throwing incident, witnesses told police Saeteurn exhibited unusual behavior, including breaking some windows at an apartment near his East 11th Street residence. When someone approached him about it, he threatened to sue that person, according to the documents.
Officers wrote in their reports that they had previous encounters with Saeteurn because they'd been called to the apartment complex for various disturbances.
Mental health issues
Interim Public Defender Eric Dumars said he's reviewing Saeteurn's case, although he said the attempted murder charge seems "a bit heavy handed," considering his client may have mental health issues.
"I would encourage people not to rush to judgment," Dumars said. "He obviously has some mental capacity issues that need to be addressed."
According to police reports, Saeteurn was shot three times by Gallegos. He was shot in the left arm, and a bullet traveled through his left hand and exited through his waist. He had a grazing wound across his chest.
The incident happened after police responded to a shots-fired call near East 11th and D streets.
As Gallegos drove northbound on E Street, police believe Saeteurn began to chase his patrol car and threw something at it. Gallegos turned into a parking lot and got out of the car to speak with Saeteurn.
Police say Saeteurn then threw a large knife at the officer, who was standing about 15 feet away from him. The knife just missed the officer's head, striking the patrol car.
Police say Saeteurn reached for a second knife before the officer pulled out his weapon and fired.
Saeteurn had a previous arrest for reportedly threatening to cut a family member's throat in 2007, police said. In 2006 he was arrested on suspicion of possession of a concealed knife.
Saeteurn remains at the Merced County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.