In a deadly gunfight between Merced police and an off-duty cop, the DA makes a ruling

Body cam footage shows what went down in killing of off-duty police officer in Merced

Body-worn camera footage has been released in the incident of a Merced police officer killing an off-duty Dos Palos officer in February 2019. The Merced officer has been cleared of any wrongdoing,
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Body-worn camera footage has been released in the incident of a Merced police officer killing an off-duty Dos Palos officer in February 2019. The Merced officer has been cleared of any wrongdoing,

The Merced officer who killed an off-duty Dos Palos police officer in February has been cleared of any wrongdoing, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office said Monday.

Merced Police Officer Nate McKinnon was one of several law enforcement officers who responded to the 1800 block of Lopes Avenue in Merced on Feb. 12. The standoff there between police and off-duty Dos Palos Officer Johnny Mathis ended with Mathis being shot a single time in the head, prosecutors said in a news release.

Mathis, a 46-year-old former Merced County Sheriff’s deputy, did not follow orders on the night of the shooting, investigators said. Police and deputies followed Mathis in a non-patrol car to the home on Lopes Avenue before he crashed the car into a garage around 8 p.m.

Mathis fired seven shots into the house, three into his car’s interior and another four out of the window, the report says. A single round struck McKinnon’s patrol car.

“(Officer) McKinnon was in actual fear for himself and for others. Based upon the circumstances at the time he fired his weapon, his fear was not only actual, it was reasonable,” according to a statement from the District Attorney’s Office.

McKinnon, who has been an officer in Merced since 2005, told investigators he feared for his safety and for the safety of other officers, according to the report from investigators. “It scared the (s---) out of me,” the 43-year-old told investigators.

Suspicious vehicle

Someone reported a suspicious vehicle in the 2100 block of Highway 140 that day, according to investigators, and deputies found Mathis standing outside of his non-patrol car on the side of the road. Deputies began to question Mathis, noticed the car was damaged and said he “displayed symptoms of intoxication.”

Seven minutes passed between the initial suspicious vehicle report and the deadly shooting, according to the District Attorney’s Office. McKinnion was on the scene for less than two minutes before firing the lethal round with a scoped rifle.

“The potentials for grave harm in this case were numerous, yet the only fatality was to the assailant and the only round fired by law enforcement was the fatal shot,” according to the District Attorney’s report.

Merced Police Chief Chris Goodwin said the incident was a tragedy on all sides, but was pleased with the district attorney’s decision on the officer-involved shooting.

“The whole situation is tragic for everybody involved — our officers, Johnny (Mathis), and then the family. Now everybody’s impacted,” he said. “What I’m pleased with is how well we worked together with the other agencies, and how disciplined our officers were.”

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.” Police can be heard in body-camera video pleading with Mathis to give himself up.

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.

The toxicology report showed Mathis had a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher. The legal limit to drive is 0.8.

Employment history

Mathis had 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. He was on leave at the time of the incident.

Mathis had no letters of discipline during his time with the Dos Palos Police Department, according to Chief Richard McEachin. The chief said Tuesday “out of respect to both the Mathis family and the officers involved” he declined to comment on the case.

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.

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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.