Dos Palos cop was on leave when he died during officer-involved shooting, Merced DA says

The man killed Tuesday night in an officer-involved shooting in Merced was a Dos Palos police officer, officials said.

Merced County Sheriff’s deputies and Merced police officers were called to a chaotic scene Tuesday around 10 p.m. in the 1800 block of Lopes Avenue, where there was an officer-involved shooting, authorities confirmed.

“The deceased, who died as the result of a single gunshot wound, was an off-duty Dos Palos police officer who was on administrative leave,” according to a statement by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, which is handling the investigation.

The officer was 46-year-old Johnny Mathis, a longtime veteran of law enforcement who had a checkered past, according to neighbors and property confirmed. The District Attorney’s Office did not release Mathis’ name Wednesday.

Police and deputies on Tuesday night followed Mathis in a non-patrol car to a home on Lopes Avenue before he crashed the car into a garage, according to neighbors who witnessed it.

Neighbors confirmed a Dos Palos police officer named John was killed, and property records show the address was tied to Johnny Mathis as of at least October 2018.

The statement didn’t expand on the nature of the case, stating the office won’t reveal more details until the investigation is complete, which could extend through at least next week.

“We know the public has a strong interest in learning what occurred,” the statement reads. “But there is an even stronger interest in getting a full, accurate, and complete history.”

It wasn’t clear Wednesday why Mathis was on leave from the department or for how long. Dos Palos police referred all specific question about Mathis to the District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors didn’t elaborate.

Mathis was hired by the sheriff’s office in March 1996 and left in 2010. Former Dos Palos Police Chief Barry Mann brought Mathis on in 2014, according to Merced Sun-Star archives.

Reached by phone Wednesday, Mann confirmed the man who has been reported dead was an officer. He would not confirm it was Mathis but spoke about the officer.

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A former Dos Palos police officer, John Mathis, died after a standoff with law enforcement officials Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, at his current or former home on the corner of Lopes Avenue and Sydney Lane, sources said. During the standoff, Mathis reportedly ran a vehicle into the home’s garage, pictured here. Vikaas Shanker

“He did a lot of good things for the (department) during a tough time,” Mann said.

Family members in the home declined to comment to the Merced Sun-Star.

A neighbor near the home on Lopes, Kathy Hurtado, said she had just finished a walk through the neighborhood when she saw several patrol cars and what she described as a SWAT vehicle following the car. Police told several neighbors to go inside, she said.

Officers were speaking with the man saying phrases like “don’t do this” and “we know it’s tough,” Hurtado said.

“It’s scary,” she said. “We hear (police) chasing people off (Highway) 140 but never thought anything like this would happen here.”

Mathis was investigated in 2010 for an on-duty allegation of domestic violence. He eventually was charged with a misdemeanor and removed from his job. He was accused of pushing his wife, a dispatcher with the Sheriff’s Department, on May 26, 2010. Both Mathis and his wife denied the allegation, authorities said.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.