Bodycam: Pierce County Deputy Shoots Car Thief Suspect in the Back By Cochran Douglas on February 21, 2024

By Matthew Smith and Katie McDowell - FOX 13 Seattle | Follow this link to access the online article

Body camera footage from Pierce County deputies shows a suspected car thief trying to avoid arrest by driving a motorcycle through his neighbors’ field, when one deputy opens fire, striking the man in the back.

Moments earlier, a sergeant ordered commands saying: "Stop or I’ll shoot," before ultimately deciding not to take the shot.

The second deputy to arrive put his car into park, and within a matter of seconds, fired three shots, dropping the suspect from the motorcycle—paralyzing the man.

The shooting, which took place on May 12, 2022, was deemed "justified and lawful," following a Pierce County Force Investigative Team (PCFIT) investigation and a review by the county’s prosecuting attorney.

Bryan Galeana Mendoza, the man who was shot, is now looking to take the county to civil court. His attorney tells FOX 13 News he also wants the attorney general’s office to launch its own independent review.

The shooting caught on camera

Galeana Mendoza was trying to avoid arrest, driving a stolen motorcycle off-road away from investigators, when Deputy Brian Johnson opened fire.

Deputy Johnson was not the first to arrive. Sergeant Ed Roberts was already chasing Galeana Mendoza; the suspect jumped out of the stolen BMW while it was still rolling to a stop, before he jumped onto his motorcycle parked in front of his home and began to drive away.

Sgt. Roberts can be heard shouting commands.

"Stop, or I’ll shoot you," Sgt. Roberts calls out, as Galeana Mendoza continues to move away from Roberts and toward a neighbor’s field.

Deputy Johnson is the second to arrive. His body-worn camera, obtained through public record requests, shows him throw his cruiser into park, open his door, get into a shooting stance, and fire three rounds at Galeana Mendoza in eight seconds. The final shot hit Galeana Mendoza in the spine, knocking him to the ground, and doctors later said it paralyzed him.

What is unclear is whether Deputy Johnson ever heard Sgt. Roberts yelling at him, repeatedly saying "don’t" in an effort to stop Johnson from taking the shot.

In a report filed by the lead PCFIT investigators, Sgt. Roberts explained that he was concerned that deputies remained on the main road in the direction where Johnson may have been firing – he did admit that Johnson may have had a different viewpoint.

Sgt. Roberts, however, appears to have stopped short of calling the shots justified. Instead, the report indicates "his belief that deadly force may have been warranted."


Post-Shooting Reaction

David Sweeney, who worked in law enforcement for more than 30 years, regularly testifies in courtrooms on use-of-force cases, both for and against police departments on a case-by-case basis.

FOX 13 News contacted Sweeney and asked him to review the case for a perspective outside of Pierce County’s traditional path of investigation. He was provided with both body-worn camera angles and a dash cam that showed everything leading up to shots being fired. We also obtained and provided the 11-page PCFIT report that found the shooting to be justified.

"If you’re looking at it with 20-20 hindsight, it’s much easier to sit-down and look at this case," noted Sweeney. "When I initially saw this and I thought it was just a pursuit suspect, that I thought he was trying to flee from police, I thought, ‘Why shoot this guy? What’s the huge threat?’"

According to Sweeney, the shooting didn’t appear good at first glance. However, as he dove into the PCFIT report he found himself changing his opinion.

"When I first saw this, the words I used were ‘bad shooting, bad shooting,’ but I didn’t have all the information," Sweeney explained. "I didn’t know the level of crimes the suspect was accused of being part of, and I didn’t know they’d been armed with a firearm. That made a total 180 for me, and now when I look at it I realize the danger level the suspect posed to the public."

What Led Up to the Shooting

The shooting that left Galeana Mendoza didn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact, he was being chased after he rammed multiple cars in an effort to avoid arrest.

According to reports filed by the PCFIT investigators, the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task had plans to monitor the silver BMW that day. A team in unmarked deputy vehicles were following Galeana Mendoza, in hopes that they could identify the stolen car and move in when he parked and left the car unattended.

However, when Galeana Mendoza was spotted driving at a high speed, it was determined that a marked unit should be brought in to attempt a stop. That was how Deputy Johnson was brought into the picture.

Deputy Johnson tried to pull over Galeana Mendoza once, but he sped off. It was determined that there wasn’t enough probable cause to give chase, so the team let him leave while they continued to monitor the area. Johnson stumbled back upon Galeana Mendoza at a stop light in traffic, so he exited his patrol car with his flashlight and ordered Galeana Mendoza to get out of the vehicle as he smashed the window in.

Galeana Mendoza once again tried to get away, this time ramming cars to clear a path, and running over Deputy Johnson’s foot in the process.

Sgt. Roberts, according to dash cam video obtained by FOX 13 News and statements made by multiple deputies, determined that there was probable cause to chase Galeana Mendoza since he’d visibly rammed vehicles with innocent bystanders inside.

Sgt. Roberts was the lead on the chase, while Deputy Johnson got back into his cruiser and followed him.

Before they arrive at the home of Galeana Mendoza, Deputy Johnson stated: "Hey, this is their hideout, guys, they like to shoot cops."

According to the PCFIT investigation, that statement can be tied back to a Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force detective who had called Deputy Johnson earlier in the day. He told investigators that he noticed Johnson was in the area, so the pair spoke over the phone.

In Johnson’s written statement, he wrote: "The detective told me that the house where the vehicle was parked was a gang hideout."

"He said they were the same gang associated with numerous armed robberies across the region. The gang was also associated with the shooting of an off-duty Federal Way police officer."

It’s unclear if Galeana Mendoza was ever connected to that shooting, as it took place in 2021, and he was never charged. However, use-of-force expert David Sweeney told FOX 13 that assuming Johnson believed that a connection existed – along with the information being spread about the crime spree in the days leading up to the chase – likely played a factor.

What Comes Next

Attorney Loren Cochran told FOX 13 News that his next move is to approach the attorney general’s office for an independent review.

"I am concerned about the overall review of force," said Cochran. "I don’t think anyone could fairly read the recommendation from the Pierce County prosecutor, Mary Robnett, and say there’s been an impartial look at the facts of this case."

Reached via email, a spokesperson for Robnett’s office told FOX 13 News they would not discuss the case, stating "because the letter we issue on these are so detailed and the reasoning is spelled out clearly, our policy has been to not give interviews on them."

That meant FOX 13 could not ask questions about the PCFIT investigation, nor the letter sent by the prosecuting attorney. Among the questions that remain unanswered: Why the final letter from the prosecuting attorney states that Sgt. Roberts "believed that the use of deadly force was warranted," while a report filed by a PCFIT investigator stated that Sgt. Roberts believed deadly force "may have been warranted."

The prosecutor’s letter does note that Deputy Johnson’s statement seemed to misremember when his foot was run over during the initial attempt to stop Galeana Mendoza at the traffic light.

"This discrepancy in sequence is understandable and is not critical to this analysis," the prosecutor wrote.

However, later it quoted Johnson about the moments before the shooting at the second scene, saying that Galeana Mendoza was, "coming directly toward him on the motorcycle before he suddenly changed directions."

Video evidence does not appear to show Galeana Mendoza ever drive toward Sgt. Roberts or Deputy Johnson.

In the end, the prosecutor focused more on the fact that Deputy Johnson chose to shoot while Sgt. Roberts did not. She wrote that the two officers had different sight lines, and that they had differing levels of knowledge about the circumstances of how that day played out: "Under these circumstances, we find Dep. Johnson’s use of deadly force was justified."

"There was no criminal investigation as to what Bryan did prior to this shooting," said Galeana Mendoza’s attorney. "So, there’s been no court of law, no jury of his peers, not even formal criminal charges at that particular time against him. The sentence for Bryan is that he will be permanently disabled, that he is paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life."

According to Cochran, Galeana Mendoza’s pregnant girlfriend—who was initially in the stolen BMW with him during the chase—lost their unborn child. They now blame the actions of that day for her miscarriage.

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