Death investigation after man struggles with Richland police
Jose “Joey” Mercado drove from Texas to surprise some relatives living on Wilson Street in Richland.
But when Candy Eatmon saw the stranger in the normally quiet neighborhood late Sunday, he was drunk, angry and yelling.
The Richland woman said he was looking for a fight as he screamed at a family member shortly before midnight.
Not long after, Mercado fought with Richland police and died at the hospital. Five officers are now on paid administrative leave while the confrontation and his death are investigated.
Eatmon told the Herald on Wednesday she saw Mercado walk half a block to confront the first officer, who was responding to the family fight.
A relative reported that Mercado had assaulted another family member and was throwing beer bottles at the house. He had a knife and was drunk, police were told.
Eatmon said the first officer was smaller than the 48-year-old grandfather and kept backing away as Mercado approached with his hands balled into fists.
When the officer fired his Taser, Mercado laughed it off, pulling out the probes. She said Mercado asked if that was all the officer had.
“I’m impressed the cop didn’t shoot him,” Eatmon told the Herald.
She remembered four more officers arriving and surrounding Mercado, but she didn’t see a physical struggle. Richland officials have said Mercado fought with officers and two of them were treated for minor injuries.
Instead, Eatmon said she saw an officer fire another Taser and Mercado drop to the pavement.
Richland officials have not confirmed a second Taser was used. But they said Mercado became unresponsive while he was being taken into custody.
They tried to revive him, but he was pronounced dead a short time later at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.
An autopsy on Tuesday was inconclusive about the reason for his death, the Benton County Coroner’s Office said. Blood samples have been sent to a private lab for testing.
Mercado’s family in the Tri-Cities told the Herald on Wednesday they need time to grieve before talking about Sunday’s confrontation.
His wife, Sandra Zamora, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that she blames the Richland officers.
“He didn’t have a heart problem,” she told the Star-Telegram. “The police did this to him.”
Family members wrote as part of a GoFundMe campaign that the father of seven and grandfather of seven will be remembered for his love of his family, tejano music and dancing. They are raising money to return him to Texas for a funeral.
Texas Department of Public Safety records show he’d previously pleaded guilty in 2010 to assaulting someone in his home and an officer, as well as resisting arrest. Five years later, he faced accusations of obstructing a police officer.
Five officers named
Wednesday, the police department released the names of the five officers who are on paid leave in connection with Mercado’s death.
They range from 20-year Richland veteran Sgt. Allen Jenkins to relative newcomer Officer Todd Gilbert, who joined the department two years ago.
The others are: Officer Brandon Koe, with Richland for four years and seven years in law enforcement; Officer Ron Schneider, with Richland for 11 years and 18 years in law enforcement; and Officer Jason Lawrence, who has 12 years with Richland and 20 years in law enforcement.
All are on administrative leave, as required by department policies, pending the results of an investigation by the Tri-City Special Investigations Unit.
The special unit is made up of detectives from local departments who look into any injury or death of a person by police or while in police custody. No Richland officers will participate in this independent investigation.
Richland police did not say which of the officers was the first on the scene Sunday.
The five men mostly come from one of Richland’s four patrol squads. Each squad is staffed with seven or eight officers, said Lt. Chris Lee. They are asking other officers to take on overtime to cover for the missing officers.
Mercado’s death came one week after an unknown assailant gunned down Emilio Elizondo, 21, in front of his Goethals Drive home. The early Jan. 14 shooting was the first homicide in Richland in 2 1/2 years.
Police said it was not random, but they have not made an arrest or named a suspect in the young father’s death.
Lee said that murder investigation will not be hampered by having five officers on leave.
A 56-year-old Grandview man died later in the day after a four-hour standoff with deputies and state troopers. A Taser also was used to shock him while trying to arrest him in a rural area near Prosser.
He stopped breathing during the struggle and couldn’t be revived, said Benton County sheriff’s officials. The special investigations unit is also investigating that incident.