Cop killed in standoff with Merced County officers shot at police vehicle, investigator says

The Dos Palos officer killed in an officer-involved shooting with Merced County law enforcement showed signs of intoxication and was seen firing a handgun randomly during a police pursuit, according to a news release Thursday from the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

Johnny Mathis, 46, was killed in the 1800 block of Lopes Avenue on Feb. 12 after a pursuit that began around 7:45 p.m., according to officials.

Someone reported a suspicious vehicle in the 2100 block of Highway 140 that day, according to a news release, and deputies found Mathis standing outside of his non-patrol car on the side of the road.

Deputies began to question Mathis and noticed the car was damaged, the release says. He “displayed symptoms of intoxication” and did not listen to deputies’ orders before getting in his car and leaving the scene, the district attorney said in the statement.

The deputies began a pursuit, during which they witnessed Mathis firing a handgun into the air out of the car window, the release said. He did not appear to deputies to be firing at any person or building.

Merced police assisted the pursuit as Mathis traveled through south Merced neighborhoods, investigators said. Mathis ultimately ended up at a home in the 1800 block of Lopes Avenue, about a mile from where the pursuit began.

Law enforcement officers gave Mathis commands but he drove the car into a garage door at the home while firing his gun into the car, investigators said.

A neighbor near the home on Lopes said she heard officers speaking with Mathis saying phrases like “don’t do this” and “we know it’s tough.”

Mathis’ final shot was aimed at law enforcement and struck a Merced police car, according to investigators. A Merced officer, who has not been named, fired back with a single round from a rifle.

The man could be seen slumped over in his car, investigators said, so SWAT sent in a robot to take a closer look at the scene. Officers then pulled Mathis from the car.

First responders attempted life-saving efforts but Mathis was pronounced dead at the scene, according to investigators.

“I want to start by thanking law enforcement,” District Attorney Kimberly Lewis said in the release. “Because of their fast thinking and excellent work, no citizens or responding officers were injured during this incident.”

Mathis worked with Dos Palos Police Department since 2014. He was a Merced County Sheriff’s Deputy for about 14 years before that, according to Merced Sun-Star archives. Though it remained unclear why on Thursday, authorities have confirmed he was on leave at the time of the incident this month.

The officer had a complicated past having been decorated in 2009 by the Sheriff’s Office with the Medal of Valor and also investigated in 2010 for an on-duty allegation of domestic violence.

He was also accused of police brutality multiple times from 2004 to 2006, costing taxpayers more than $400,000.

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.