The high-speed chase that reached 105 mph was over in a flash of gunfire.
Ceres police officer Ross Bays was out of his patrol vehicle in less than three seconds after pulling up to the black Lexus he had been chasing. He issued no commands and immediately fired more than a dozen shots as 15-year-old Carmen Spencer Mendez ran into an orchard of young almond trees.
Authorities say Mendez had dropped and picked up a handgun as he got out of the Lexus and ran. Bays shot him in the back. The autopsy report shows Mendez was shot twice — once in the back and once in his right upper arm.
The fatal encounter on Aug. 18, 2018, near Sperry and Service roads in a rural area several miles east of Ceres was captured on Bays’ body camera. Ceres released the footage Monday evening.
The footage is among the records the city has begun releasing in response to a Modesto Bee Public Records Act request. The release comes after a $2.1 million civil settlement was reached in the shooting. Mendez’s family sued Ceres in federal court.
Police Chief Richard Collins said in a Tuesday interview that he would not speak about the shooting until the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s office had concluded its review of the shooting.
He said the district attorney’s office told him the shooting still is under review. Collins said his department’s internal affairs investigation is awaiting a final review. But Collins said he has been briefed, and the investigation found no violations of department policy.
“I will just say this (as a general statement),” Collins said. “We have to make split-second decisions based on situations, which are right then and there. It’s easy for anybody to come in and say, ‘I would do that, or this, or that looks horrible.’ But we were not in the officer’s shoes when it took place.”
Attorney Bruce Praet, who represented Ceres in the federal lawsuit, has said the shooting needs to be looked at in its entire context. The incident started with a report of someone in a black Lexus brandishing a handgun at a Ceres park.
That may not have been Mendez. The victims in the park described the young Latino who brandished the gun as wearing a black shirt and jeans, according to records from Ceres. Mendez was wearing a white top and red shorts.
The Lexus driver was then involved in a felony hit and run and led police on a high speed pursuit before stopping on Sperry Road north of Service Road, police say. Mendez was a passenger in the car. Praet has said Bays still had four suspects in the car when Mendez ran off.
Ceres officers found a handgun about five feet from Mendez’s body, according to records from the city, and two rifles in the Lexus’ trunk.
But Modesto attorney Adam Stewart and Sacramento attorney Mark Merin, who each represented Mendez family members in the lawsuit, have said Bays had nonlethal alternatives instead of immediately opening fire on Mendez.
They said Bays could have commanded Mendez to surrender, waited for more officers to arrive to set up a perimeter, or set loose the police dog in the back of his vehicle to chase down Mendez. “He was running away,” Stewart has said of Mendez, “fleeing the scene. At no time did he approach the officer.”
This was Bays’ second fatal officer-involved shooting in about 10 months. Bays and Sgt. Darren Venn fired on Nicholas Pimentel in October 2017 after the 27-year-old Modesto man had led Ceres police on a high-speed chase. The district attorney’s office later ruled the shooting was justified.
Pimentel’s family sued Ceres in federal court, and the lawsuit recently was settled for $2 million. This and the Mendez settlements were paid by the city’s insurance.
Collins has said Bays is on medical leave and declined Tuesday to say more. Bays is a law enforcement veteran. He worked for the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department from 2004 to 2011 when he left to join the Ceres department.\\\
Bays’ former neighbors in Modesto have said and public records show he moved to the Boise, Idaho, area a few months ago.\\\
Bays declined to comment Tuesday when reached by The Idaho Statesman. (The Statesman and The Bee both are owned by McClatchy)\\\
“Unfortunately, as much as I might like to do that,” he said, “we have a policy against me commenting because I am still a city employee.”