Politics & Government

2 Merced deputies face criminal charges in bar fight. One of them also is an elected official

Merced City Councilman Kevin Blake is sworn in for a second term Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, at the Merced Civic Center. The Merced Police Department on Thursday was investigating whether Blake, a Merced County sheriff’s sergeant, and other members of the Merced County Sheriff’s Office were involved in a fight that broke out in a Downtown Merced pool hall late Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, officials said.
Merced City Councilman Kevin Blake is sworn in for a second term Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, at the Merced Civic Center. The Merced Police Department on Thursday was investigating whether Blake, a Merced County sheriff’s sergeant, and other members of the Merced County Sheriff’s Office were involved in a fight that broke out in a Downtown Merced pool hall late Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, officials said. vshanker@mercedsunstar.com

Two Merced County Sheriff’s sergeants face misdemeanor public disturbance charges for a downtown Merced fight outside of a bar, investigators said Wednesday.

Mariposa County District Attorney Walter Wall said Sgt. Kevin Blake, who is also a Merced city councilmember, and Sgt. Dustin Witt each face a single misdemeanor charge over the drunken fight from about 11:45 p.m. Dec. 15 outside Cue Spot Billiards on Main Street in downtown Merced.

Wall reviewed the case because Merced County District Attorney Kimberly Lewis declared a conflict of interest going back to a 2013 incident.

Witt and Blake fought with at least two other men, of which at least one is also employed by the Merced County Sheriff’s Office, Wall said. He said Blake and Witt will not be arrested, which is common in misdemeanor cases.

Jane Mackie, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, said prosecutors treated the case like any other review and did not give any special treatment to the men because they are members of law enforcement.

“These charges are about what we saw in the evidence,” she said. “We file what we can prove and I reviewed all the evidence here as I would in any case.”

Two deputies have been on paid administrative leave since the night of the fight, Sheriff Vern Warnke said. They were also involved in the altercation, he confirmed.

The incident occurred after several employees of the Sheriff’s Office continued drinking at the Partisan bar in Merced following a Sheriff’s Office Christmas party at the Elks Lodge, according to a police report.

Witnesses told police they saw a number of deputies “pop off” at the Partisan before the bar’s staff made one group exit the front of the building and the other through the back, according to a police report. Then the fight continued down the street, outside the Cue Spot bar.

One of the deputies, Esteven Quintero, was at the Partisan with his wife, who works at a school, according to witness statements in the police report. The wife, whose name was not immediately available, told Blake his daughter was not smart, according to reports from investigators.

Blake, in turn, called her a “bitch” and told Quintero to get his wife ”in check,” a witness said. Quintero jumped up to defend his wife before they were made to leave. Quintero was seen “snot crying” outside of the bar following the fight, and witnesses said the deputy and his wife were visibly drunk, investigators said in the report.

The witnesses said there were about eight employees of the Sheriff’s Office and said they were familiar with some of them, including Witt and Blake.

From inside Cue Spot, the witnesses said they saw punches thrown while the people cussed at each other, the report says. Blake fought Quintero, and Witt fought another man he thought was with Quintero. Witnesses said the other man was outside because he was waiting for a rideshare car and wasn’t with Quintero, the report says.

Following the incident, one officer said Blake and Witt were visibly drunk, according to the report.

Blake has been with the Sheriff’s Office for about 18 years, and in his second term on Merced City Council.

Chris Loethen, Blake’s defense attorney, said he does not expect the case to reach a trial.

“Kevin never wanted to be in this situation and he’s looking forward to putting the incident behind him,” he said. “We’ve reached a tentative deal with the Mariposa County District Attorney’s Office and plan to resolve the case at the first court appearance.”

Mariposa County prosecutors declined to discuss any potential deal.

Witt’s attorney, Jeffrey Tenenbaum, said he has met with prosecutors but declined to speak in detail about their meeting. Witt started with the Sheriff’s Office as extra help in 2004 and has been full time for almost 14 years.

“We’re waiting to receive some of the reports,” Tenenbaum said. “My client looks to put this behind him as soon as possible.”

Warnke said Wednesday he is limited on what he could discuss in the case, citing personnel reasons. Both sergeants will continue to work while proceedings are ongoing, he said.

“Their ability to maintain a peace officer’s status anywhere in the state has not been affected,” he said on Wednesday.

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office completed an independent administrative review of the incident at the request of the Merced County Sheriff’s Office, but Warnke said he has yet to receive it. He said it’s too early to say if any of the peace officers will face discipline, adding disciplinary action is not necessarily made public for personnel reasons.

“The district attorney’s office had to do what they had to do,” he said.

Both sergeants are set to be arraigned next Wednesday.

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