Merced police officers cleared in April shooting

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comJune 11, 2014 

The actions of two Merced police officers who shot and killed a robbery suspect in April were justified, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office said.

The officers involved in the April 26 shooting were Leon Pintabona, a seven-year veteran of the department, and Joseph Opinski, who has been a Merced officer for about six months, Capt. Tom Trindad said in a statement.

Pat Lunney, the district attorney’s chief investigator, confirmed both officers have been cleared.

“Officers Opinski and Pintabona were justified in their actions,” Lunney said Wednesday. “We anticipate no further action in this matter by our office.”

Police Chief Norman Andrade said he was pleased with the district attorney’s findings.

“I said right from the start, they were absolutely justified. The evidence was obvious,” Andrade said. “I’m very glad the district attorney’s office saw that too.”

According to authorities, Kandice M. Honiker, 27, pointed a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic Beretta at a police officer, who then fired in self-defense. Another police officer also fired at Honiker. The shooting followed an extended high-speed chase across Merced and a foot chase through several backyards that ended in an alley in the 1900 block of V Street.

Police said said Honiker’s gun had four rounds in the magazine and one round in the chamber.

Honiker was the suspected driver of a getaway vehicle that was involved in at least two reported armed thefts in Merced in the hours leading up to her death. Her alleged co-conspirator, Nathan D. Jones, was arrested that same night.

Police believe Honiker and Jones first robbed a man at gunpoint in an alley near West 11th Street and Martin Luther King Way, taking about $95 in cash. Several hours later, police said, the pair mugged another man outside a West Main Street bar, taking a wallet and cellphone after pistol-whipping the victim.

Officers spotted the suspected getaway vehicle, a silver Ford Mustang, near West 19th and O streets shortly after the second robbery. The vehicle took off, leading police on a 70 mph chase that ended on V Street when the car crashed into a sidewalk curb.

During the car chase, police said, Honiker told others inside the vehicle she would not go back to jail.

Police cornered Honiker a short time later in the alley, where she was shot and killed.

Honiker’s criminal history, which consisted of four drunken-driving convictions, was described by police as relatively “minor.”

Jones, 24, was apprehended shortly after the crash.

He has pleaded not guilty to robbery and other charges. He is scheduled to appear June 20 for a preliminary hearing in Merced Superior Court.

He remains in custody at the Merced County jail in lieu of $435,000 bail.

According to court records, Jones was previously convicted of robbery in 2011 and received a two-year state prison sentence.

Both officers were placed on administrative leave following the incident, a routine procedure in officer-involved shootings. Both returned to work in early May, according to records of arrests made by both officers.

The department’s internal affairs investigation remains open, Trindad told the Merced Sun-Star on Wednesday.

An internal review is a standard procedure in all officer-involved shootings. The inquiry will determine whether the department’s internal policies were followed during the chase and subsequent shooting.

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or rparsons@mercedsunstar.com.

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