Details come to light after Gilroy police officer suspension

Merced sergeant may have tried to protect officer

vpatton@mercedsunstar.comApril 12, 2013 

A Gilroy police officer is in hot water with his department after being charged for an alleged incident between Merced County Sheriff's Department deputies and himself.

But a sheriff's sergeant may have tried to protect the Gilroy officer from any disciplinary action by allegedly telling a subordinate to cut the suspect some slack because he's a law enforcement officer.

The incident came to light after Gilroy officer Jesus Noel Lemus, 45, was placed on leave Wednesday.

Gilroy police officials learned the Merced County district attorney's office filed a misdemeanor charge against Lemus: resisting, delaying or obstructing a police officer.

The off-duty incident happened March 8 at a residence just south of Merced.

According to the sheriff's incident report, deputies responded to a shots-fired call at a residence in the 2200 block of East Reilly Road at 10:31 p.m.

Deputy Paul Barile and deputy Javier Garcia arrived to find several adults going in and out of the home, trying to conceal various items, according to the report.

Deputies spoke to the property owner, who consented to a search and claimed there were no firearms on the property. But deputies found a sleeve for a box of .45-caliber law enforcement ammunition on a table.

Deputies confronted people at the home about the box sleeve. Two witnesses said an armed gunman was hiding in a room. One of the witnesses told Barile the armed man had fled into the room with the gun after deputies had arrived, according to the report.

Barile went to the locked room and repeatedly ordered the man to open the door, but the person wouldn't comply. Barile then reported hearing what appeared to be the sound of someone moving furniture inside the room.

The deputy drew his service weapon and kicked the door open. He saw Lemus standing inside the room and ordered the suspect, who appeared to be drunk, to keep his hands in plain view.

According to the report, Barile asked Lemus where the gun was, but he wouldn't reply. After the suspect exited the room, Barile ordered him to lie down on his stomach. Before completely getting down on the ground, Lemus refused to comply with Barile's orders.

Barile then forced Lemus to the ground. Under questioning, Lemus identified himself as a 12-year Gilroy officer.

Noel Lemus makes a request at the scene

While being questioned, Lemus pleaded with Barile not to notify Gilroy police about the incident.

Barile wrote in the report he believed the weapon that had been fired was Lemus' duty weapon, and he thought the suspect had hidden it.

Barile told Lemus the decision whether to notify Gilroy police about the incident would be made by his supervisor, Sgt. Mike Harris.

Throughout the incident, Lemus claimed he wasn't hiding a gun inside the room. After Sgt. Harris arrived at the scene, Barile relayed his concerns that Lemus had hidden a gun somewhere inside the room. Sgt. Harris asked Barile what he thought should happen, and Barile replied Gilroy police should be notified about the incident.

Harris spoke to Lemus for several minutes, and returned with a Glock .45-caliber handgun. Harris said the suspect led him to the bedroom where he'd been hiding, and indicated the gun was concealed in a small compartment at the bottom of a dresser, under a drawer.

The gun had a full magazine with a live round in the chamber, according to Barile's report.

A records check revealed the Glock was issued from the San Jose Police Department and was registered to Lemus out of Gilroy.

Two witnesses at the scene, Ramon Lemus, 45, and Loreto Gurrolalugo, 42, both told deputies they had been firing the gun on the property. Deputies found .45-caliber shell casings in Ramon Lemus' front pocket.

A 'blue on blue' incident?

Although Deputy Barile felt Gilroy police should be notified about the incident involving Lemus, Sgt. Harris felt otherwise, according to the report.

Harris told Barile that the incident was "blue-on-blue" and that Lemus should be cut some slack.

"Sgt. Harris told me although Noel was intoxicated and had made some mistakes, tonight he wanted me to cut Noel a break," Barile wrote in his report. "Sgt. Harris told me Noel was a police officer and the situation was blue on blue. ... Sgt. Harris told me not to write, say or do anything that would hurt Noel with his department and not to seize the gun."

Barile told Lemus he disagreed with the sergeant's decision not to notify Gilroy police about the incident. "I told Noel he knew better and he was not some rookie, but a 12-year veteran and I was angry," Barile wrote in the report.

According to the report, Barile then asked Lemus what he'd been thinking. The suspect replied he'd panicked when deputies arrived and hid the gun under the dresser.

Lemus said he didn't want Gilroy police to learn about the Merced County incident because he was already the focus of two pending internal affairs investigations, and feared he'd be terminated.

The gun and magazine were then returned to Lemus. Barile gave the suspect a business card and told him to notify Gilroy police about the incident.

Barile told Harris that he'd advised the suspect to notify Gilroy police about the incident. Harris told Barile he didn't think anything would result from it, according to the report.

"Sgt. Harris told me he did not believe that Noel would be stupid enough to notify his agency about the contact in Merced tonight, and if he did, he would be the 'most stupidest person in the world,' " Barile wrote in his report. "Sgt. Harris told me not to worry about Lemus notifying his agency regarding what had occurred this evening and told me after this evening we would never hear about Lemus or this incident again."

Harris was contacted by phone Thursday, and asked about "blue-on-blue" comments he allegedly made toBarile. Harris said he's been told not to speak about the case and declined comment.

Harris said he's currently out of the office on worker's compensation, due to an illness.

DA files charge against Lemus

Lemus' name would emerge later. Barile completed his report -- and included the statements allegedly made by Sgt. Harris. Barile notified another supervising sergeant about the case, which was filed March 28 with the Merced County district attorney's office.

Merced County prosecutors reviewed the case, and filed the charge Wednesday against Lemus.

After the charge was filed in Merced County Superior Court, Lemus was placed on paid administrative leave because of the alleged incident.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said the charge was filed against Lemus partially because he lied to law enforcement numerous times. "The suspect continued to lie to Deputy Barile about the presence of a gun in the room, delaying and interfering with a peace officer in the performance of his duties, which the charge is based upon," Morse said.

Gilroy Police Chief Denise Turner said she is concerned about the case against Lemus, adding that her department will conduct its own internal investigation into the incident. "We obviously are governed by our policies, procedures and core values, and we want to make sure that our officers are operating within those and the law," Turner said.

Turner said she couldn't elaborate about the other internal affairs investigations involving Noel Lemus, but said they're still pending.

Response from Merced County Sheriff's Department

Merced County Undersheriff Tom Cavallero, when asked about Harris' alleged statements that Gilroy police didn't need to be notified about the incident, said he was familiar with the case, but acknowledged he hadn't read the incident report.

However, Cavallero pointed out Sheriff's Capt. B.J. Jones did review the report prepared by Barile and properly notified Gilroy police about the Noel Lemus incident at the Reilly Road home. "We understand our obligation to notify allied agencies about enforcement contact with their personnel," Cavallero said.

Cavallero said Harris isn't under investigation for the incident.

When a member of another law enforcement agency is arrested by his department, Cavallero said the protocol is generally to notify that agency about the incident. "In a serious situation, and I would consider this a serious situation, it would be perfectly appropriate to make that notification even from the field," Cavallero said.

Harris said he's worked with for the Merced County Sheriff's Department for about 6½ years. Prior to working with the sheriff's department, he was a vice president and general manager with Riggs Ambulance Service.

City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reported at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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