A 36-year-old Merced man was arrested Friday on suspicion of manslaughter for his involvement in a fight at a comedy show that left an Atwater man dead two weeks later.
The suspect, Jesse Joseph Saucedo, is the son-in-law of Merced Police Chief Norman Andrade.
According to Merced police, Saucedo was involved in a fight with Jack Kline, 55, during a March 21 performance by comedian Ralphie May at the Merced Theatre. The two started arguing over noise during the show, and detectives believe the confrontation escalated and punches were thrown. Kline admitted himself at a Modesto hospital a day or two after the fight, and he died April 9.
Although specifics from Kline’s autopsy report were not available Friday, Sgt. Scott Skinner said the report concluded Kline’s death was a homicide and injuries suffered from the March 21 fight killed him.
Police said Saucedo was booked Friday at the Merced County Jail on suspicion of manslaughter, not murder, because there’s no evidence he intended to kill Kline.
Based on witness statements, police said it appears Saucedo and Kline were with separate groups and had been drinking alcoholic beverages before the fight between the two groups broke out at 9:12 p.m. March 21. Skinner said one of the groups was upset because a woman was “being loud” during the show, and they had asked her to keep it down. Words were exchanged and the matter became physical. Skinner said both groups were being combative, and it’s not clear which side threw the first punch. Merced Theatre security separated the groups.
Skinner said police were called, but when officers arrived, Saucedo and his group had left. Police took an initial statement from Kline, who had a bloody nose but was walking around and talkative. Kline acknowledged there had been a fight, and said Saucedo had struck him six times. Skinner said an ambulance arrived and treated Kline’s wife for a cut to her face, but Kline was not taken to the hospital that night.
Police located Saucedo and spoke with him that night at his home. Saucedo told police that Kline made an aggressive movement toward him during the incident between the two groups, and he punched Kline twice in the face.
No one who participated in the fight was arrested on March 21. Trindad said neither side wanted to press charges at that time, and the fight appeared to be a misdemeanor incident. “From my understanding, nobody (who was involved in the fight) wanted anything done,” Trindad said.
On March 25, Merced police learned Kline admitted himself to the hospital. Skinner said police went to the hospital and spoke with Kline, but he still did not want to pursue any action against Saucedo. Regardless, police told him a report would be forwarded to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office for review. Kline died two weeks later.
Detective Paul Johnson investigated the case. After the cause of Kline’s death was determined, Saucedo’s attorney, Neil Morse, arranged for him to surrender to police Friday morning. Morse could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Timothy Smith, Kline’s brother in-law, was reached on Friday. Smith pleaded for privacy regarding the matter and did not elaborate about the case.
“The Kline family has complete confidence in the Merced Police Department and in the Merced County District Attorney’s Office. The family does not have any comment regarding their loss, the circumstances, the investigation, subsequent arrest, or any other areas that may pertain to the death of Jack Kline,” Smith said. “The family is making every effort to endure this horrible loss, and asks that the media please understand their loss and allow them to mourn privately.”
Skinner and Trindad said Andrade removed himself from the investigation and did not participate in or oversee any of the personnel involved. When asked whether Merced police considered handing the investigation to another agency due to the suspect’s relation to the police chief, Skinner said the department did not feel there was a conflict of interest in investigating the matter.
According to police, Skinner oversaw the detectives investigating the case and Trindad reported the status of the case directly to City Manager John Bramble.
The case will be turned over to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office for a decision on whether to file charges against Saucedo.
Saucedo was released from jail shortly after posting $200,000 bail.
Investigators ask anyone with information regarding the incident to contact Detective Paul Johnson at (209) 388-7742, or the Merced Police Department Tipster Line at (209) 385-4725. Individuals can send information via anonymous text messages to the police department by dialing TIP411 (847411) and including “ComVIP” as the keyword in the text message.