Gang members laugh as judge sends them to prison for shooting Merced police officer

Jaime Caudillo and Steven Rincon smiled and laughed Monday as a judge sentenced them to serve life sentences in connection with the 2015 shooting of a Merced police officer.

Merced Police Officer Ryan Rasmussen read an impact statement, nearly four years and five months after he was shot by the 35-year-old Caudillo during a traffic stop in Merced.

Jaime Caudillo, pictured here, and Steven Rincon were sentenced to at least 50 years to life in prison on Monday, Aug. 19, 2019, after being found guilty of attempted murder in a 2015 Merced incident where Caudillo shot and disabled Merced police officer Ryan Rasmussen. Courtesy Merced County Sheriff's Office

“(Caudillo) stripped me of my career,” Rasmussen said.

Judith Rasmussen, the former officer’s mother, said neither defendant seemed to have any remorse. Merced County Judge Carol Ash also said neither Caudillo nor Rincon expressed remorse.

“I pray that they ask God for forgiveness,” she said, as Rincon was seen laughing and shaking his head.

Rasmussen conducted a vehicle stop on Caudillo and Rincon on Feb. 28, 2015, in the 2100 block of H Street, police said.

Caudillo opened fire, hitting Rasmussen at least twice. Fellow officers Brian Rinder and Joseph Opinski returned fire, hitting Caudillo at least once.

Rincon then drove away and crashed in a nearby alley, police said. Rincon fled the scene and sparked a 10-hour manhunt before he was captured.

A jury on May 22 found Caudillo guilty of shooting Rasmussen, and Rincon of being the getaway driver. Both were charged with attempted murder with weapons charges and aggravating circumstances, including being in a gang that viewed police as “the enemy” and that killing an officer would be a badge of pride.

Courtesy Merced County Sheriff's Office.

Caudillo received 50 years and eight months to life in prison. Rincon, a third strike defendant, was sentenced to 80 years to life in prison.

Rincon already was sentenced this summer to more than 50 years to life in prison for the jailhouse murder of Aaron Bonilla, according to court records. Rincon and fellow gang members Reyes Carrillo and Alfonso Martinez attacked Bonilla for “a long period of time” and killed him, authorities said.

Rincon’s attorney, Dominic Falasco, and Caudillo’s attorney, Chris Loethen, both said their clients were appealing their sentences and convictions, claiming the nature of some circumstantial evidence wasn’t properly considered by the jury during the trial.

The 11-day trial was prosecuted by Merced County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Nicole Silveira and Deputy District Attorney Katie Gates. One of the trial days was cut short after authorities suspected Caudillo and Rincon were consuming drugs in the jail during the trial, according to court records.

“We’re glad it’s over,” said Merced Police Chief Chris Goodwin. “We’re glad it went this way and glad the system worked, the process worked.”

The case not only took the police department’s physical and financial resources, Goodwin said, it took an emotional toll among Rasmussen’s fellow officers.

Rasmussen lost his right pinky finger and had to retire from police service, Goodwin said. Rasmussen was recently hired as an investigator with the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

After Caudillo and Rincon were sentenced, one of the defendants’ relatives apologized to Rasmussen’s mother outside the Merced Superior Courthouse. Judith Rasmussen embraced the man.