Crime

Merced County officers cleared in separate shooting deaths, DA's office says

Los Banos chief releases new details of officers-involved shooting

Los Banos Police Chief Gary Brizzee gives an update on the officer-involved shooting that unfolded Monday morning, leaving the suspect dead and two officers hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
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Los Banos Police Chief Gary Brizzee gives an update on the officer-involved shooting that unfolded Monday morning, leaving the suspect dead and two officers hospitalized with gunshot wounds.

Officers and deputies involved in two separate shootings in Merced County have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, the Merced County District Attorney's Office confirmed Monday.

Five officers were involved in the separate shooting deaths of two men from last July in Los Banos and in March in Atwater. The officers have been cleared, according to Bill Olson, the chief investigator for the District Attorney’s Office.

"There's no criminality in either of the cases. They're cleared," he said.

In the Los Banos shooting, 34-year-old Officer Kristifer Hew and 28-year-old Officer Aaron Pinon were shot around 6:18 a.m. July 31, 2017, by 39-year-old Norberto Nieblas Reyes after the man took Hew's service weapon and opened fire in an apartment in the 2100 block of Gilbert Gonzalez Jr. Drive, according to investigators.

Hew was able to use Pinon's firearm to shoot Nieblas Reyes, who died at a Modesto hospital, investigators said.

Nieblas Reyes had a history of fighting with law enforcement and drug use, according to court and jail records.

Pinon was shot once in the upper torso. He has returned to work, according to Los Banos Police Cmdr. Ray Reyna Jr. "He has made very good progress," he said. "We've been working him 40 hours a week in a light-duty capacity."

Hew was shot three times - in the torso, leg and head, above an eye, investigators said. He has not returned to duty.

"We felt that the investigation was very thorough," Reyna said. "We're pleased with the decision the District Attorney's Office has made."

The man killed in Atwater was 42-year-old Timothy Breckenridge, who was shot about noon on March 30 inside a home in the 2600 block of Atwater Boulevard, according to investigators.

The three law enforcement officers involved in the deadly confrontation were identified as Sgt. Kevin Blake, a 16-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office; Deputy Brian Carbaugh, who has been a deputy for two years; and Probation’s Alex Cruz, a supervising officer who has been with the department for more than 10 years.

Breckenridge had a replica gun that fired plastic or metal BBs and appeared to be a real firearm, investigators said.

Merced County Probation Department officers first began carrying service weapons in 1999, according to Probation Chief Jeff Kettering, and the March shooting was the first ever to involve a probation officer.

"(Investigators) came to the decision that they did, and I was thankful of the thorough investigation," Kettering said on Tuesday.

A letter from the District Attorney's Office says investigators reviewed body camera footage and noted the confined space inside the home where the shooting took place. It also noted the man had a BB gun that appeared to be real. "The officers gave multiple commands to drop the firearm and de-escalate the encounter," the letter says.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said the results were clear.

"I completely concur with the finding. I viewed that video myself, and knew at the onset of that video that the officers did the right thing at the time," he said. "They were left with no choice."

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