Crime

Merced County sheriff’s deputies convicted in misdemeanor bar fight. Will they be disciplined?

Merced councilmember convicted of misdemeanor in bar fight

Two Merced County Sheriff’s sergeants — one of whom is an elected official — pleaded no contest Wednesday, March 20, 2019, to public disturbance charges following a bar fight.
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Two Merced County Sheriff’s sergeants — one of whom is an elected official — pleaded no contest Wednesday, March 20, 2019, to public disturbance charges following a bar fight.

Two Merced County Sheriff’s sergeants — one of whom is an elected official — pleaded no contest Wednesday to public disturbance charges following the beating of another peace officer and a bystander who was unwittingly dragged into an altercation, according to witnesses.

Merced City Councilmember Kevin Blake, who is a sergeant, and Sgt. Dustin Witt were each ordered to serve 40 hours of community service and attend 10 hours of anger management classes following their misdemeanor convictions. They are also ordered to stay 100 yards away from the three victims as well as the Partisan and Cue Spot, the locations in downtown Merced where the drunken altercations took place.

Their three years of probation prevents them from excessively consuming alcohol among other conditions, according to Merced County Commissioner Donald Shaver.

Blake’s attorney, Chris Loethen, said his client wanted to get past the incident. “I’m very happy for my client. Kevin wanted to put this behind him,” he said. “It was very important to resolve this quickly so that he could move forward and not be distracted any longer.”

The Dec. 15 fight followed a Merced Sheriff’s Office Christmas party. Several employees of the Sheriff’s Office continued drinking at the Partisan, where an argument between Blake and the wife of another deputy broke out. Surveillance video showed Blake taunting Deputy Esteven Quintero and his wife, April, with his middle finger as others intervened, according to the police report.

The community service must be completed in Blake’s off time and none of his work as a law enforcement officer or city councilmember will count towards his 40 hours, Loethen confirmed.

Witt admitted to pushing Quintero at the Partisan, reports show, saying he wanted to separate him and Blake. The fight continued down the street a few minutes later.

“Sgt. Witt is very sorry this happened,” his attorney, Jeffrey Tenenbaum, said. “He’s looking forward to putting this behind him and he’ll be fully compliant with the court’s orders. And he’s looking forward to getting back to work.”

After the parties were made to leave the Partisan, they crossed paths again at the Cue Spot, which is a few doors away on Main Street.

While Merced County peace officers traded verbal jabs, taunted each other and ultimately threw punches, at least one of them turned on a Marine veteran who had nothing to do with their drunken argument, according to police reports.

Quintero and the other victim waited outside the pool hall for their rides, according to police reports. The sergeants inside the Cue Spot threw up their arms and otherwise taunted Quintero, according to police reports.

Quintero’s wife lifted her skirt, baring her backside in a “kiss my butt” gesture, police reports said. All of the parties were described by witnesses as being visibly drunk.

The sergeants then dashed out the doors. Blake and Witt fought with Quintero and the second victim, who witnesses said wasn’t involved with the initial argument or subsequent taunting.

The man described feeling frustrated for days after he was blindsided by the attack, the report says. Deputy Jose Gomez held him in a bear hug from behind as either Blake or Witt punched him repeatedly. Witnesses gave conflicting reports on which sergeant struck the man, according to the police report.

Gomez told police he believed he was helping the man from getting a worse beating, reports show.

The man was waiting for his rideshare car in front of the pool hall when he was blindsided by the deputies, he told police. Witnesses said he shouted “Who hit me?” after the fight was broken up.

Police recorded scrapes and swelling on one knee, marks and lumps on his head, and redness in the area he was punched. A blood vessel in his eye also burst.

The man said he was afraid the beating wouldn’t stop, the report says.

The case was prosecuted by the Mariposa County District Attorney’s Office. Merced County District Attorney Kimberly Lewis recused herself due to ties to a 2013 incident involving Blake.

“I’m glad that they’re being held accountable,” Mariposa County Deputy District Attorney Jane Mackie said on Wednesday.

Blake was insistent he only struck Quintero, after he argued with the deputy and his wife, April. The wife had worked with Blake’s daughter in some agricultural education effort and had said disparaging remarks about the girl, reports show.

Blake said he told the woman “f--- you,” but the woman said he called her a “stupid dumb bitch.”

Both Witt and Blake described a night of heavy drinking that started about 5 p.m. at a house, continued after 6 p.m. at the Sheriff’s Office Christmas party and then continued in downtown Merced bars until the fight at about 11:45 p.m.

Most of the party-goers told police they lost count of how many beers, shots and mixed drinks they had that day.

Sheriff Vern Warnke said Wednesday he could not comment on whether the convictions or the incident would be affecting the employment of any of the parties involved. He is waiting on an administrative report from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, he said.

“For me to comment on that would be premature before I ever got the administrative review handed to us,” he said.

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