Escapee caught after standoff in Merced

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comApril 4, 2013 

— A three-hour standoff with a wanted Merced man came to an end Thursday night when a SWAT team broke the windows of a home and sent in a K9 unit.

The Merced County Sheriff's Department and regional SWAT team surrounded a home in the 100 block of West 18th Street near I Street, after 35-year-old Mario Tarin Garcia barricaded himself inside.

Garcia was sought on a warrant for escape after receiving a pass from a Merced County judge and failing to return, according to sheriff's spokesman deputy Delray Shelton.

Garcia is in a post-release program stemming from the state's prison realignment law, Shelton said.

"He's currently under our post-release programs, but the escapee (status) is subsequent of him not returning from a pass and blatantly not adhering to the terms and conditions of the program in which he was granted," Shelton said.

Garcia has a violent history that includes assault with a deadly weapon, resisting officers and fleeing, Shelton said.

The SWAT team surrounded the house about 4:30 p.m. Thursday and began negotiating with Garcia, who was holed up in the attic.

Four other people inside the home surrendered without incident. But Garcia wouldn't leave the home, Shelton said.

"Our hostage negotiation team began to attempt to make contact through a throw phone, which we placed inside the residence to give Mr. Garcia the opportunity to communicate with us," Shelton said.

When Garcia refused to surrender, the SWAT team shot less-than-lethal bean bags into the home, breaking about four windows.

A K9 unit was sent into the house and bit Garcia one time on the arm, Shelton said. The injury was not life-threatening, and Garcia was not hit by the bean bags, he said.

During the standoff, Garcia's girlfriend, Susie Bermejo, 30, ran through the police tape and charged toward the home.

She was arrested and faces obstruction and resisting charges, Shelton said.

Another man, Robert Burgess, 23, was arrested on a warrant during Thursday's incident. Officials said he was the boyfriend of a tenant of the home.

Shelton said it's unclear why Garcia was granted the pass, but they're typically granted for family funerals, medical issues or other personal business.

"Even though these people are out of our jail facilities, they are still monitored by a bracelet," Shelton added. "So anytime the bracelet is cut off and they flee, and they don't adhere to the terms of the program, we consider them as escapees."

Shelton said Thursday's incident is an example of the Sheriff's Department cracking down on monitoring individuals in post-release programs.

"Sheriff (Mark) Pazin is taking a firm stance on monitoring these people, and we will exhaust all measures, including our SWAT team, to apprehend them when they escape," Shelton said.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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