Politics & Government

Demotion follows drunken bar brawl for Merced sheriff’s sergeant who serves on city council

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 recently convicted of a misdemeanor in connection with a drunken brawl were demoted this week, according to a public records request.

Kevin Blake, who is also on the Merced City Council, and Dustin Witt were ranked as sergeants on Dec. 15 when they beat another peace officer and a bystander, according to police reports. As of Monday, they have been lowered to the rank of deputy, records show.

Blake was sworn into his second term on the council two days after the fight that apparently got him disciplined.

The demotion came to light this week following a Merced Sun-Star public records request made to the four largest peace officer agencies in Merced County.

Neither Blake nor Witt responded to requests for comment on Wednesday.

Sheriff Vern Warnke declined to discuss the matter, citing personnel privacy laws.

Blake, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office for more than 17 years, was promoted to sergeant in January 2010 and to senior sergeant in September 2015, according to county spokesperson Mike North. Senior sergeants make $74,838 to $91,021 annually plus benefits, according to the salary schedule.

Blake made $85,147 as a sergeant in 2017, the latest numbers available from watchdog Transparent California.

An employee more than 13 years in Merced County, Witt was promoted to sergeant in May 2014, North said. Sergeants make between $71,261 and $86,694, according to the salary schedule.

In 2017, Witt made $80,939, according to Transparent California.

The Merced County deputy position, which Blake and Witt now hold, pays $64,917 to $78,998, according to the salary schedule.

The bar melee was preceded by a Merced County Sheriff’s Christmas party at the Elks Lodge in Merced. Most of the people involved in the fight told police they lost count of how many beers, shots and mixed drinks they had that day.

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 Christmas party and then continued in downtown Merced bars until the fight at about 11:45 p.m.

The fight was sparked during an argument at downtown Merced’s The Partisan before it came to blows a few doors down Main Street outside the Cue Spot Billiards, according to police reports. It involved at least four Merced County Sheriff’s Office employees — Blake, Witt, Deputy Esteven Quintero and Deputy Jose Gomez — and at least one bystander who was unwittingly dragged into the fight, according to police reports.

Records show that Gomez no longer works for the Merced County Sheriff’s Office. He held the bystander as either Blake or Witt punched the man in the face repeatedly, police reports say. Witnesses gave conflicting statements on exactly which of the former sergeants punched that man as the other fought with Quintero.

Blake insisted he only struck Quintero, police reports show.

After the parties were made to leave the Partisan on Dec. 15, they crossed paths again at the Cue Spot. While Merced County peace officers traded verbal jabs, taunted each other and ultimately threw punches, at least one of them turned on the bystander, a Marine veteran who had nothing to do with their drunken argument, according to police reports.

The man told police he was waiting for his rideshare car in front of the pool hall when he was blindsided by the deputies, according to the police report.

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.

Both deputies pleaded no contest on March 20 to one count each of disturbing the peace by fighting, a misdemeanor. They each were ordered to serve 40 hours of community service and attend 10 hours of anger management classes following their misdemeanor convictions. They also were ordered to stay 100 yards away from the three victims as well as the two bars during their private time.

Their three years of probation prevents them from excessively consuming alcohol among other conditions, according to restrictions read in court.

Sun-Star requests for surveillance video used in the case against Witt and Blake have been denied by Merced Police Department and the Mariposa County District Attorney’s Office.

The Mariposa DA’s office took over the case after Merced County District Attorney Kimberly Lewis declared a conflict of interest over a 2013 incident involving Blake.

The sheriff’s roster also shows that Larry Hudec and Erick Macias were named sergeants on Monday, the same day as Blake and Witt were apparently demoted.

Blake was first elected in 2013 to a five-year term in what is now District 4 on the Merced City Council. He won re-election in November.

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