Embattled deputy focus of 3 lawsuits

MERCED — A Merced County Sheriff's deputy who faces domestic abuse charges for allegedly shoving his wife against a wall inside the main jail while on duty has been involved in civil lawsuits that cost the county more than $400,000 in settlements.

That's according to court documents and the county counsel.

Deputy Johnny Mathis was a defendant in three civil lawsuits and a government claim, all of which alleged he used excessive force while on duty from 2004 to 2006.

The cases were settled out of court, according to the county counsel's office.

The settlement amounts weren't available for two of the cases late Friday, so the county's cost may be higher.

The fact that there was a settlement doesn't necessarily mean the county admitted any fault or liability, said County Counsel James Fincher.

"The county considered and evaluated the allegations of the plaintiffs, Mathis' response to those allegations, the law which applied to the case and the amount of damages sought; the county's ultimate potential for liability and the cost of going to trial, regardless of which party prevailed," said Fincher.

The Sheriff's Department had no comment on Mathis' involvement in any of the cases.

Mathis' union, the Merced County Deputy Sheriff's Association, couldn't be reached for comment.

From 2004 to 2006, Mathis was a subject in lawsuits that claimed he used excessive force. One centered on an incident that took place while he was off duty. One alleged he used steroids. Two claimed he used force without cause.

The first case, a claim against the county, involved an incident in Santa Cruz in 2004. The claim alleged that Mathis had his police dog with him when the dog attacked a bystander, Mark Kremenetsky. Mathis was off duty.

The case was settled out of court for $4,500.

In a civil case filed in 2004, Marcus Aue and Jason Haugen claimed they were assaulted and beaten without cause at the county fair by two deputies who were allegedly on steroids.

Deputy Bryan Ferreira and Mathis arrested Aue for allegedly being drunken in public, according to documents. During the arrest a crowd gathered and saw Aue being assaulted. Haugen, among the crowd, told the deputies Aue was no longer resisting arrest. At that point Mathis allegedly knocked Haugen to the ground.

Case cost $340,000

Two months after the incident, Sheriff Mark Pazin admitted that four deputies had used steroids. He didn't say who they were. Lawyers for Ferreira and Mathis told them not to answer questions about steroid use or Ferreira's departure from the department. Aue settled out of court for $325,000 and Haugen for more than $15,000.

A 2005 federal civil lawsuit filed by Peggy Red alleged that Mathis pointed a gun at her, detained and arrested her without cause and broke the frames of her eyeglasses in the process. She settled out of court for $50,000.

The county, on behalf of Mathis, denied all charges.

A 2006 civil suit filed by Stefano Evans accused Mathis of attacking him as he was leaving his driveway. Mathis was in pursuit of someone and came upon Evans, told him to stop the car at gunpoint and allegedly fired a Taser at Evans, dragged him from the car and arrested him. Evans settled out of court for $22,500.

All charges were denied.