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Merced, Calif. Police Officer Killed During Traffic Stop

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April 15, 2004

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Merced, Calif. Police Officer Killed During Traffic Stop

Officer Down: Stephan Gray - [Merced, ]

City's First Officer Killed in The Line of Duty

By David Chircop, The Merced Sun-Star

A Merced policeman was killed Thursday evening, marking the first time an officer was killed in the line of duty since the Merced Police Department was founded in 1889.

The man suspected of the shooting remained at large late Thursday evening.

Officer Stephan Gray was shot after pulling over a vehicle in his unmarked patrol car in the 1900 block of Glen Avenue in central Merced at 7:23 p.m.

The seven-year veteran of the department, assigned to the special operations unit, worked on street-level narcotics and gang violence suppression.

Gray made contact with a male passenger of the vehicle, believed to be 21-year-old Tahua "Tao" Rivera.

Witnesses at the scene said they talked for some time, but when Gray attempted to search him, the suspect ran.

Police did not say who the driver was.

"Officer Gray pursued the suspect on foot when the suspect turned and fired an unknown caliber weapon at Officer Gray, striking (him) twice," said Norm Andrade, a commander with the department.

Jenny Zinser, who lives near the crime scene, was standing about a half-block east of the site when Gray pulled the car over. Because the police car was unmarked, she thought it might have been more than a routine stop.

After Gray spent some time talking with the passenger, she said she saw the man start to run before turning around and shooting the chasing officer twice.

Jenny Zinser said she was speaking to Gray, who could not reply.

"I was telling him to stay with us," she said. "He didn't say anything but you could tell he was still alive; he was trying to breathe."

The shooting prompted an aggressive multiagency hunt for the suspect.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter aided other law enforcement agencies in the search as it circled over central Merced, shining its spotlight to the ground late Thursday and continuing into the morning hours.

Neighbors near the crime scene stood by as police officers cordoned off the block and conducted interviews and gathered evidence.

Rivera is Hispanic, 5 feet, 8 inches tall, weighs 190 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. He has tattoos on his right forearm "MGC," and "2DAS" on his left forearm.

Rivera had a criminal history dating back to October of 2000 when he was booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. He stayed at the Merced County Jail until March 2001.

He was booked again in August of 2001 and was once again jailed until March of 2002 for being in possession of a controlled substance. He was then sent to state prison.

Gray is survived by his wife and three children.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said his department is taking on a "100 percent support role of the Merced Police Department as this tragedy that has befallen the entire law enforcement community."

Pazin said the Merced County Sheriff's Department's STAR team and additional deputies have been deployed to help apprehend the shooter.

"We will be working feverishly to track this thug down, who shot the officer in cold blood," Pazin said.

Several years ago, Merced police officer Bob Gilbert was slightly wounded at the conclusion of a vehicle chase which began near the Merced County Fairgrounds and ended in the dead-end block of West Main Street. A suspect in that case was apprehended.

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