Judge is concerned hearing could reveal details about man accused of killing Newman cop

See web of suspects tied to the shooting of Newman Police officer

These eight people face charges in connection with the death of Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh.
Up Next
These eight people face charges in connection with the death of Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh.

A Stanislaus County judge is concerned that a public competency hearing will reveal details of a mental health evaluation for Paulo Virgen Mendoza, who is accused of killing Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh.

Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova said Monday that there will be “plenty of discussion” about a sealed doctor’s report in a competency hearing in open court. Córdova will schedule that hearing on Thursday.

Mendoza is accused of shooting Singh during a Dec. 26 traffic stop in Newman. Mendoza is still identified in Stanislaus County jail records as Gustavo Perez Arriaga, an alias. But he’s referred to in court by his given name.

Authorities say Mendoza shot Singh shortly after the police corporal pulled him over near the intersection of Merced Street and Eucalyptus Avenue on suspicion of driving under the influence. Mendoza was captured near Bakersfield after a 55-hour manhunt.

The case against Mendoza has remained suspended since early January, when Stephen Foley, Mendoza’s attorney, told the judge that he had some doubt about his client’s mental competency. The attorney based his doubt on the brief conversation he had with Mendoza before that hearing.

But Foley returned to Córdova’s courtroom three weeks later and asked the judge to reinstate the murder case. On Monday, Foley said he believes Mendoza is capable of understanding the court proceedings and assist his attorney in his legal defense.

Paulo Virgen Mendoza Stanislaus County Sheriff's Dept.

The defense attorney asked the judge to declare that Mendoza is mentally fit to face charges and reinstate the criminal case without the doctor’s report.

But the judge said he cannot issue a ruling on competency without basing his decision on the doctor’s report.

“I cannot judge somebody’s competence just by looking at them,” Córdova said.

Deputy District Attorney Jeff Mangar argued that due process rights require that mental health experts determine whether someone’s competent and submit a report to the court. He told the judge that granting the defense attorney’s request would jeopardize the outcome of this case.

“If we get a conviction, we don’t want that conviction to be overturned by what happens here today,” Mangar argued.

DF Newman Officer Services 2.jpg
Newman Police Cpl. Ashley Williams is pictured with Sam, Ronil Singh’s K-9 at the West Side Theatre in downtown Newman, Calif. on Friday morning January 4, 2018. A viewing was held in Newman this morning for Singh, the police corporal that was killed during a traffic stop on December 26th. Deke Farrow

Death penalty

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office has filed a criminal complaint against Mendoza, charging him with murder and a special circumstances enhancement that makes the case eligible for the death penalty. Prosecutors have not announced whether they will seek the death penalty.

Judge Córdova has said that the report contains limited information about Mendoza’s version of events surrounding the shooting.

On Monday, the judge said the doctor’s report will remain sealed from the public. Córdova also offered to issue a ruling on Mendoza’s competency based on the doctor’s report without any discussion about what was said in the evaluation.

The defense attorney doesn’t want to stipulate to the doctor’s report. He said he’s concerned about how the doctor came to her conclusion in her report. Foley in February argued that the Jan. 24 evaluation and its subsequent report violated his client’s due process rights.

So, Córdova reluctantly announced that the mental competency hearing will be held in open court. Revealing details about the report could create issues in Mendoza’s murder case, the judge said, and he’s worried that those details could violate attorney-client confidentiality.

Related stories from Modesto Bee

Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.