Two Merced County sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a homicide suspect in Turlock in May 2014 and still it remains unclear when the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office plans to conclude its now nearly yearlong investigation.
Brian Scott Hiatt, 49, of Mariposa, was shot by deputies May 30 near a motel in the 200 block of South Walnut Road. Hiatt was the prime suspect in the murders several hours earlier of his estranged wife, Rhonda Hiatt, 47, of Mariposa, and her sister, Lisa Robbins, 51, of Hilmar.
Merced County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dustin Witt and Deputy Adam Leuchner were the deputies who opened fire on Hiatt. They were placed on administrative leave immediately after the incident, a standard procedure in officer-involved shootings. Both returned to work a few weeks later.
Merced sheriff’s deputies identified Hiatt as a suspect in the deaths of the women and tracked him to the Turlock motel. It was about 5:20 a.m. on May 30 when deputies got into a “confrontation” with Hiatt in the parking lot, which ended when he was killed.
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Stanislaus County investigators have not said whether Hiatt was armed during his clash with the deputies.
The Turlock Police Department conducted the initial investigation into the shooting by the deputies, but it is left to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether the shooting was justified.
Carol Shipley, Stanislaus County assistant district attorney, said the case was still under review. “We hope to have something next week,” she said.
Shipley said it’s not unusual for officer-involved shooting investigations to take a long time. “Sometimes it takes longer than it should for us to get all of the reports and test results back that we need,” she said.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke on Tuesday said his department believes the deputies’ shooting of Hiatt was warranted. He said he could not say why Stanislaus County prosecutors have yet to conclude their investigation, but did not criticize that department.
“I don’t know what their workload is like. I don’t know what their situation is,” Warnke said. “I don’t think it’s unusual at all for these things to take a long time to look into. Obviously, we think the actions taken by the deputies were completely justifiable, and we’d like to have it concluded, but I understand they have to do what they have to do.”
The lengthy investigation continues to frustrate the family of Rhonda Hiatt and Robbins. Their sister, Georjean Dennis, said the family cannot retrieve any of the victims’ belongings until the inquiry concludes.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my whole entire life, and it just keeps lingering on and on, and I just want to put it to rest,” Dennis said Tuesday.
Dennis said the family has struggled to get answers from authorities.
“I just don’t understand what’s left to investigate, why’s it taking so long?” she said. “It’s been almost a year now.”
A similar shooting involving Merced police officers last year took less than three months to conclude. Merced police shot and killed robbery suspect Kandice M. Honiker, 27, on April 26. The Merced County District Attorney’s Office in early June said police were justified in shooting Honiker after she pointed a loaded handgun at them.
Shipley said comparing investigations, even cases where some similarities exist, doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the laborious process involved.
“Each investigation is unique, and all of the circumstances involved are all very different,” Shipley said. “You can’t really compare one investigation to another.”
Sun-Star staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.