A jury on Tuesday found a former Ceres police officer guilty of using excessive force while detaining a suspect.
Christopher Melton was convicted of misdemeanor battery under the color of authority. Authorities said Melton kicked Daniel Reagan in the groin after Reagan had surrendered.
Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden sentenced Melton to five days in jail, 100 hours of community service and three years of informal probation.
“We rely on police officers to keep us safe, not harm citizens, even someone believed to have committed an egregious crime,” the judge said while sentencing Melton.
The jury of five women and seven men started deliberating Tuesday afternoon. About two hours later, the jurors notified the bailiff that they had reached a verdict.
The incident occurred about 3:50 a.m. April 13, 2013, along Norwood Heights Lane, just north of Evans Road in Ceres.
Daniel Reagan was spotted leaving the area of a reported armed home-invasion robbery. After he tried to evade police, Reagan 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.
Bays testified that Reagan told him, “I’m done,” as he surrendered. He told the jury that Reagan did not move again until Melton kicked him. He said Reagan then turned onto his side and groaned in the fetal position.
Melton testified in his trial that he kicked Reagan because he saw the suspect move his head and look over his shoulder, but he didn’t include those details in his written report. Melton said he thought Reagan was trying to determine where the officers were and that he might try to resist arrest.
“Officer Melton reacted to a situation that he thought was threatening,” Melton’s attorney, Nicole Valentine, told the jury Tuesday morning during her closing argument.
Melton says he intended to kick the suspect on the inside of his leg but missed and kicked the suspect’s groin. He wrote in his report that he kicked Reagan’s leg; and didn’t mention kicking him in the groin.
The prosecution believed Melton’s kick to Reagan’s groin was no mistake, so his actions were unlawful.
“The defendant acted purposely, and he admitted that to you,” Deputy District Attorney Blythe Harris argued.
Bays has testified that Melton that night was chuckling when he said, “Did you see me kick that guy in the nuts?”
Ceres police Officer Joshua Klinge testified that Melton that night mentioned he had kicked a suspect. Klinge said Melton seemed to be happy about kicking the suspect. “In a way, kind of bragging about it,” he said.
The prosecution recommended that Melton be sentenced to 30 days in jail and community service. Harris told the judge that the District Attorney’s Office had offered a pretrial plea deal of 90 days in jail, but the defendant declined the offer and went forward with his trial.
The prosecutor mentioned that someone who is not a police officer and is convicted of kicking someone in the groin likely would be sentenced to a few days in jail. Harris told the judge that Melton should receive more, because he committed the crime while on duty.
Valentine told the judge that community service alone would be a more appropriate sentence for her client, because he has a long history of public service as a police officer and an Army medic. She said Melton plans on moving to Oregon to restart his career as a medic.
Judge McFadden told the attorneys that sentencing in this case is difficult, because Melton has no prior complaints of misconduct as an officer. She also referred to testimony in the trial of Melton’s efforts to pull a fellow officer out of harm’s way.
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.
But the jury decided Melton acted without lawful necessity, and he was in a position of trust while wearing a police officer’s uniform, McFadden said. One kick, however, wouldn’t warrant a lengthy jail sentence, the judge concluded.
It will be up to the Sheriff’s Department to determine how much time Melton will spend in jail. He is scheduled to surrender at the jail Dec. 16. In the meantime, Melton can apply for a jail alternative work program.
Reagan on Tuesday afternoon remained in custody at the Lake County Jail. He was identified as one of three suspects in an armed east Modesto home-invasion robbery that occurred more than a year after the incident with Melton.
Reagan was a fugitive for about two months before he was found and arrested in Clearlake on Sept. 4. He is charged with resisting arrest, heroin possession, drug paraphernalia possession and violating parole. It’s unclear when Reagan will be returned to Stanislaus County to face charges in the Modesto robbery.