Officer Michael Mellone started working at Antioch police just days after he left the San Francisco Police Department under the shadow of pending disciplinary proceedings. (Courtesy SFPD)

SF officer involved in shooting death of homeless man quit while facing discipline, landed new job in Antioch

An officer who faced discipline for needlessly escalating a confrontation that led to the police shooting of a homeless Mexican immigrant resigned before he could be suspended, newly released records show.

Officer Michael Mellone quit the San Francisco Police Department on Aug. 18, a day before Internal Affairs investigators found he should face a 10-day suspension for improperly firing a bean-bag gun at Luis-Gongora Pat.

Mellone was one of two officers who sparked outrage by fatally shooting 45-year-old Gongora-Pat in April 2016, seconds after finding him sitting near a tent encampment in the Mission District with a knife at his side.

Days after his resignation, Mellone started working as an officer for the Antioch Police Department, which posted a picture of him online wearing his new uniform alongside the local police chief, Tammany Brooks.

Antioch police hired Mellone despite the San Francisco Examiner reporting in June 2019 that the Department of Police Accountability had independently recommended a 45-day suspension for Mellone.

“Gongora had not threatened anyone with the knife,” the DPA found. “It was Mellone’s unilateral decision to escalate the force used and close the distance to Gongora that robbed the officers of the ability to create time and distance under the circumstances.”

Lt. Tarra Mendes said the Antioch Police Department conducts thorough background investigations during the hiring process. If an officer is a lateral hire like Mellone, investigators review any documents in an “applicant’s personnel file that the current employing agency allows us to view.”

“At the time, the shooting had been ruled justifiable by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and there was no decisional document provided to the background investigator that sustained allegations of misconduct,” Mendes said in a statement.

For District Attorney Chesa Boudin, the case is indicative of a problem happening not just in San Francisco but around the nation, where officers resign to escape discipline before moving to a new agency.

“We need to have mechanisms that ensure officers who commit misconduct are held accountable,” Boudin told the Examiner. “In this instance, the timing makes very clear that the resignation was aimed at and was effective at avoiding accountability.”

While Boudin called the problem “serious,” he said it is impossible to measure how widespread of an issue it is because of the lack of transparency around peace officer personnel files under state law.

On Tuesday, he joined Supervisor Shamann Walton in calling for a blanket ban on the San Francisco police or sheriff hiring officers who resigned from other agencies while facing serious misconduct allegations.

The issue also came up at the Police Commission on Wednesday.

“Anytime anybody gets in real trouble in discipline, they resign and they leave,” Commissioner John Hamasaki said.

Hamasaki expressed concern that agencies may not share disciplinary records with one another because California law broadly prohibits their disclosure.

While a new state transparency law recently made certain police disciplinary records available to the public, such as files on police shootings, sexual assault and dishonesty cases are not released unless an allegation is sustained.

“If somebody resigns, there is no finding so there is no transparency,” Hamasaki said. “Nobody knows about the bad conduct that took place.”

That could mean agencies end up with “bad officers” from San Francisco, or “we might end up with bad officers from other departments,” Hamasaki said.

But Hamasaki said the Police Commission was recently advised that it can move forward with imposing discipline, even if an officer quits.

There is no indication that the Police Commission, which must approve suspensions of more than 10 days, has taken action related to Mellone.

SFPD released the Gongora-Pat shooting records to the Examiner on Wednesday under the state transparency law from 2019, Senate Bill 1421.

While both the DPA and IA recommended suspensions for Mellone for Neglect of Duty over his use of the bean-bag gun, Police Chief Bill Scott in December 2019 sided with the DPA, which found he should be suspended for 45 days rather than 10.

But Mellone had already left the department at the time.

Both the DPA and IA also found that Mellone and his partner, Sgt. Nathaniel Steger, acted within department policy by shooting Gongora-Pat.

But the two disagreed over whether to discipline Steger over another issue.

IA found there was insufficient evidence to sustain a charge of Neglect of Duty against Steger for failing to supervise Mellone, his subordinate, while the DPA sustained the charge and recommended a 30-day suspension.

Scott sided with the DPA on that matter, finding that the Police Commission should suspend Steger for 15 days. It is unclear whether the commission took action.

Mellone, a native of San Ramon, worked for the Richmond, Oakland and Antioch police departments before joining the SFPD in 2012, according to Antioch police. He was promoted to sergeant in early 2019 and has won several awards.

An attorney for Mellone did not respond to a request for comment.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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