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Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot man near Healdsburg killed a suspect as Clearlake officer

The Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot a man in a creek bed east of Healdsburg shot and killed another man in 2016 when he was employed as an officer with the Clearlake Police Department.

Deputy Michael Dietrick, along with another deputy present at the time, has been placed on paid administrative leave following the July 29 killing of David Pelaez-Chavez of Lower Lake.

The 36-year-old Lake County man had been holding a cantaloupe-sized rock, a hammer and a garden tool similar to a pickaxe when he was fatally shot, according to police.

Dietrick and fellow Deputy Anthony Powers were standing about 10 to 15 feet away from Pelaez-Chavez when Dietrick fired three shots, according to the Santa Rosa Police Department, which is investigating the incident.

County protocol requires in-custody deaths be investigated by an outside agency.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office will also review the case to determine whether either of the deputies will be held criminally culpable.

In the moments before he was shot, Pelaez-Chavez “started making the motions to throw” the rock at the deputies, but the rock never left his hand, said Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Chris Mahurin, a department spokesman.

Powers deployed a stun gun, but it was unclear whether the darts hit Pelaez-Chavez, according to Mahurin. He added that it also was unclear how many bullets struck Pelaez-Chavez.

Dietrick, a five-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, left the Clearlake Police Department in 2017 where he’d worked since 2013, officials said.

Clearlake Police Chief Andrew White confirmed on Wednesday that Dietrick was involved in a fatal shooting while he worked there.

The Lake County District Attorney’s Office determined in 2017 that Dietrick was justified in the killing.

The man he shot, Joseph Louis Melvin, 46, had attacked Dietrick with a foot-long steel flashlight when Dietrick, fearing for his life, opened fire, according to a report from Lake County District Attorney Don Anderson.

Dietrick had responded to a burglary alarm just after midnight, encountered Melvin crouched near a Park Street residence and a struggle ensured during which Melvin hit Dietrick several times with the flashlight, according to authorities. The officer shot Melvin three times in the chest and once in the neck, killing him.

At the time of his death, Melvin had a high level of methamphetamine in his system and a loaded .357-caliber pistol, according to the district attorney’s report.

Sgt. Juan Valencia, a spokesman for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, declined to comment on Dietrick’s previous fatal shooting, citing confidentiality rules that govern some police personnel records.

During last week’s incident, the deputies followed Pelaez-Chavez into the bed of Franz Creek after a series of crimes he was suspected of committing that morning. Those included an attempted break-in at a home and the theft of two vehicles, according to police.

Dietrick fired at Pelaez-Chavez during their encounter in the creek bed, on private property about a mile from a home in the 5600 block of Thomas Road.

A paramedic airlifted to the scene pronounced Pelaez-Chavez dead at about 10:30 a.m., roughly 30 minutes after he was shot.

Powers, the other deputy, has been with the Sheriff’s Office for five months. He joined the county agency after three years and nine months as an officer with the San Francisco Police Department.

Staff Writer Colin Atagi contributed to this article.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera.

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