Kevin Blake’s bar-brawl case is now over. But regaining Merced’s trust has just begun

Councilmember Kevin Blake, a Merced County Sheriff’s sergeant, looks at the election results one a big screen TV in Merced on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. He’s running for District 4.
Councilmember Kevin Blake, a Merced County Sheriff’s sergeant, looks at the election results one a big screen TV in Merced on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. He’s running for District 4. tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

It is disappointing when a law officer happens to break the law. It is doubly so when that same officer is also a local elected official.

Yet that is precisely the place where Kevin Blake finds himself. A Merced County sheriff’s sergeant, Blake is also a Merced city councilman who has pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of public disturbance following fights at two downtown bars.

Now he faces the humbling challenge of earning back the trust of the greater community as a lawman for the county, and similarly, the city as councilman. He will have to work at that with all diligence and self-control, traits that were sorely lacking in Blake last Dec. 15, when the brawls occurred.

While the no-contest plea is one that does not imply guilt, the facts of the case are not in dispute, and Blake’s attorney said his client “is looking forward to putting this behind him.”

By Blake’s own admission, what fueled the unfortunate night of carousing was heavy alcohol consumption. Thankfully, Blake and fellow defendant Dustin Witt, another Merced County sheriff’s sergeant who took the no-contest plea, will be on probation for three years, and one condition is to keep from heavy drinking.

To recap: Blake and Witt began drinking at a home around 5 p.m. that December day. Around an hour later, they arrived at the sheriff’s annual Christmas party and continued to drink. From there they went to bars downtown. Party-goers told authorities they lost track of the beers, shots and mixed drinks that were consumed.

Shortly before midnight, the scuffling began. Blake got into an argument with the wife of a fellow deputy. They had bad history: She had once made disparaging remarks about Blake’s daughter.

Taunting among the men led to fighting that carried from one bar to another. In the melee, a Marine veteran got punched; he was a bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Fast forward to March 20, when Blake and Witt entered their pleas in Merced County Superior Court. Besides the probation term, they must complete 40 hours of community service and attend 10 hours of anger management classes.

Sheriff Vern Warnke is yet to receive an administrative investigation by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. But several conclusions can be immediately reached:

As a sheriff’s sergeant, Blake is held to a high standard for personal conduct. Law officers are to exhibit exemplary self-control under pressure, as they must enter into some of society’s toughest situations. They are also entrusted with the use of deadly force when necessary. A night of drinking and fighting calls into question Blake’s fitness for the job.

Council members are also entrusted by the voters to make right decisions on city issues. Sometimes that means sorting out spending priorities; sometimes it involves personnel matters with top administrators. Blake has to regain Merced’s trust following this case. He has to demonstrate he can act with good judgment.

Fortunately, Merced County residents are forgiving. They will be willing to give Blake a chance if he shows determination in improving himself.

He does not have to look far for a great role model. His father, Bill Blake, served nearly 40 years in the sheriff’s employ and two terms on the City Council. He is renown for his leadership, dedication and good nature.

“He has, over the years, really left a lasting impression on many young lives,” said an admirer when Bill Blake died in 2016.

That admirer was son Kevin Blake. If there was ever a time for him to work on his own last impression, that time is now. His current image is not a good look.