A former Ceres police officer on Friday told a jury he intended to kick a suspect on the inside of his leg but missed and kicked the suspect’s groin.
Christopher Melton is charged with misdemeanor assault stemming from an incident while on duty last year. Authorities say Melton kicked the suspect in the groin after he had surrendered and was lying facedown on the ground.
The incident occurred about 3:50 a.m. April 13, 2013, along Norwood Heights Lane, just north of Evans Road in Ceres.
Daniel Reagan, spotted leaving the area of a reported armed home-invasion robbery, stopped his mountain bike and lay down on the sidewalk. His arms and legs were spread as Ceres police officer Ross Bays held him at gunpoint.
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Melton testified in his trial Friday, saying he kicked Reagan because he saw the suspect move his head and look over his shoulder. Melton said he thought Reagan was trying to determine where the officers were and might try to resist arrest.
“The suspect can still be a possible threat,” Melton said about Reagan lying facedown on the ground with his arms and legs spread.
Bays has testified that he told Reagan to turn his head away from him, and the suspect complied. He also has said that Reagan did not move until after Melton kicked him in the groin. The suspect rolled to his side and groaned in the fetal position after the officer kicked him.
Melton told the jurors he jogged toward Reagan and did not slow down before kicking the suspect like he was kicking a ball. He said his intent was to use a “distraction strike” used by officers to disrupt a suspect’s thought process before he attempts to run away or fight back.
The defendant said he accidentally left out some details of the incident while writing a report a few hours after Reagan was taken into custody.
Melton said he wrote in the report that he used a distraction kick to the inside of Reagan’s leg; he didn’t mention in the report kicking Reagan in the groin. The defendant also said he forgot to write in his report that Reagan was moving his head before he kicked him.
During cross-examination, Melton said he wrote in his report that Reagan was not complying with Bays’ commands. The defendant testified that he didn’t hear Bays give Reagan any verbal commands.
Bays has testified that Melton that night was chuckling when he said, “Did you see me kick that guy in the nuts?”
Melton told the jury that he remembers only asking Bays if he needed help with paperwork or evidence after Reagan was taken into custody. He said he doesn’t remember saying anything else to Bays that night.
Ceres police officer Joshua Klinge has testified that Melton that night mentioned he had kicked one of the suspects. Klinge said Melton seemed to be happy about kicking the suspect. “In a way, kind of bragging about it,” he said.
Melton said Friday that he doesn’t remember saying that to Klinge, but it’s possible he did. The defendant said officers are known to talk shop with other officers about incidents they’re involved in, sometimes humorous incidents.
Melton testified that he possibly could have handled the kicking incident better, but he did not intend to punish Reagan that night. He said he didn’t know Reagan.
Reagan remains a fugitive, suspected of participating in a Modesto home-invasion robbery that occurred more than a year after the incident with Melton. Two other people, suspected of conspiring with Reagan in the Modesto robbery, have been taken into custody.
Melton started his career with the Ceres Police Department in October 2004, and his training officer was Sam Ryno. In January 2005, a gunman shot Ryno and Sgt. Howard Stevenson. Melton helped pull the badly wounded Ryno to safety. Stevenson was killed.
A few months after the shooting, Melton received a medal for his lifesaving efforts. Melton described the incident for the jury on Friday. He was emotional on the witness stand when explaining how Ryno and Stevenson were shot.
Melton told the jurors that because of his prior experience with guns while on duty, he had a heightened alertness in the kicking incident eight years later. In March, Ceres police officials said Melton no longer works for the department.
Testimony in the trial concluded Friday afternoon. The jury will return Tuesday to hear the attorneys’ closing arguments in Stanislaus Superior Court.