By Jariah Moore
MODESTO, CA – At a preliminary hearing here last week in Stanislaus County Superior Court, witnesses Jeff Martin and Officer Jacob Mertz highlighted the “apprehension and fear” former Modesto Police Officer Joseph Lamantia experienced during the shooting in 2021 that led to the officer being criminally charged with voluntary manslaughter.
Martin provided testimony regarding the totality of circumstances surrounding the shooting, and suggested the officer’s fear of the victim may have had some influence on his decision to fire his weapon at the victim.
He said this fear may have been partially invoked by the officer safety bulletin posted about the victim, said Officer Mertz, who testified, “The most compelling is the statements about, uh, ‘A good cop is a dead cop,’ and, ‘All I want for Christmas is another dead MPD officer.””
Officer Mertz noted the victim claimed to have ties with Hell’s Angels, a motorcycle gang that has historically been “armed or extremely violent.”
Given this information, Officer Mertz testified, “This, to me, would indicate that he potentially would become violent with the police if he was contacted.”
According to Martin, though, it would not have been the sole reason why the accused officer shot the victim.
He added, “When you add it [his hostile statements against the police posted on social media] into everything else, it starts raising an officer’s…it can start raising an officer’s, um, level of apprehension or fear, and belief that this person might be intending to actually, um, use death or serious bodily injury against somebody.”
During cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Rick Mury, it was just Martin’s “opinion” that the accused officer acted upon the implied intent of the victim to cause great bodily harm or death during the incident.
Because the victim was running with both arms down against his sides with his hands out of view, Martin theorized it was reasonable for Officer Lamantia to believe that the victim was reaching for a gun.
By contrast, he agreed with the District Attorney’s statement that the victim may have been “holding his pants up…he could also be somebody just trying to keep something in his pouch or belt there.”
Martin added there was a wall nine feet away from the accused officer during the incident, but his failure to conceal himself behind the wall for his own safety should not necessarily be held against him.
He further noted that there are times in which providing a suspect with warning that the officer may shoot may pose issues for the safety of the officer.
He explained that giving warning before shooting “takes time,” time that the officer may not have before he is shot by a suspect.
Martin conceded, however, that a reasonable officer, given the totality of the circumstances, would not have seen the victim as an “imminent threat.”