(Editor’s note: Some photographs in this story may be disturbing to some readers.)
Sobering new details continue to surface about Nathan Mendes of Bella Vista. One of the most stunning pieces of Mendes news is that Shasta College recently hired him, despite a host of obvious red flags.
Mendes is one of two law enforcement officials named in a recent lawsuit regarding a dog-mauling incident that occurred in the Crossroads Baptist Church parking lot in Bella Vista last September. As reported a few weeks ago, a high-profile Bay Area law firm filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ryder Klenk, the dog-mauling victim.
The defendants in the case are Nathan Mendes, Brett Letendre, the City of Etna, and the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control.
Legal cases involving law enforcement, canines and deadly force are among the special areas of interest for the Law Office of John L. Burris, the firm that’s accepted Klenk as a client.
Klenk’s mother, Megan Wion, has fought relentlessly for legal justice for her son for nearly a year.
Wion and others close to the case suspect that Mendes and at least one of his dogs were involved in the violent assault and mauling that her son suffered. With no help from the Shasta County Sheriff, the Shasta County District Attorney, and a slew of other law-enforcement agencies, Wion sought legal counsel.
As reported by A News Café in June, Mendes and Letendre admitted to Shasta County Sheriff’s Office deputies that they approached a bloodied and severely injured Klenk in the church field. Klenk, who was 18 years old at the time, suffered a ferocious, horrific attack by a dog or multiple dogs, and was being tended to by his friend and roommate Taylor Merrick. When Merrick had arrived on the property in search of Klenk after his friend hadn’t returned home from spending time with friends at Shasta Lake, Merrick heard moaning and crying. He followed the sounds and found a barely conscious Klenk.
Merrick saw that Klenk’s body was covered literally from head to toe with gaping wounds, deep bites and ragged gashes. Klenk’s clothing was shredded and blood-soaked.
Klenk’s knees were severely damaged, and one of his calf tendons was ripped and exposed. He’d suffered a skull fracture. It’s estimated Klenk was lying alone in the field for at least an hour before Merrick’s arrival.
Mendes lives in a house adjacent to the church. The two properties are divided by a fence. According to Shasta County Sheriff Department reports, at the time of the dog mauling, Mendes had three dogs on his property. Two of Mendes’s dogs were K-9s.
A K-9 — police dog — is a dog specially trained to assist law enforcement personnel.
Lawsuits, alleged excessive use of force, wrongful death accusations
A deeper dive into Mendes’s background and job history calls into question his conduct, integrity and temperament as a law enforcement official.
The 45-year-old Mendes has worked for at least five different law enforcement agencies since roughly 2005 after completing his six years of service with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Since leaving the Marine Corps, Mendes has been named in one wrongful death lawsuit. He’s also been accused of allegedly using excessive force on at least three different occasions – one of which resulted in an out-of-court settlement connected to a lawsuit in which Mendes was one of the defendants.
Mendes started his post-military law enforcement career working as a deputy for the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office. While there, Mendes, as well as Lassen County Sheriff Steven Warren and Lassen County sheriff’s deputy Dean Growden, were named in a wrongful death lawsuit, Basler v. City of Susanville.
The lawsuit’s proceedings alleged Mendes fired his automatic weapon more than 30 times at James Dean Basler after Basler exited his residence on the evening of July 25, 2005. The lawsuit says Basler was investigating a noise, and was killed after walking out of his home and asking, “Who’s there?”
A judge ruled that the plaintiff Rhonda Basler lacked the grounds to sue Mendes and the other deputies because she was legally separated from Basler at the time of his death.
Following Mendes’s 2005 killing of Basler, Mendes left his job in Lassen County and began work as a sheriff’s deputy in Siskiyou County. It unclear why Mendes’s employment with the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office ended.
Cleared for the fatal shooting of Hornbrook man
In December of 2009, the Siskiyou County District Attorney cleared Mendes and fellow deputy Mack McDonald of a fatal July 9, 2007 shooting of Shawn Troy Prado, a 41-year-old Hornbrook man. Mendes and McDonald responded to a home invasion call at Prado’s sister’s residence. After clearing the home, Prado reportedly approached the deputies on the street in front of the house while carrying a knife, before he was shot and killed. Reports about this incident raised questions as to why Prado was killed.
Excessive force allegation
In December of 2008, about a year and a half after Mendes and McDonald fatally shot Prado, a lawsuit filed by Clarence Harold White III alleged that Mendes, while still employed as a Siskiyou County sheriff’s deputy, used excessive force while arresting White. According to White, Mendes broke department protocol when Mendes used pepper spray and restraint holds, and battered White with Mendes’s department-issued radio. Mendes was exonerated of any wrongdoing.
At some point after the 2008 lawsuit that named White as the plaintiff, Mendes started work as a detective for the Etna Police Department. He also began employment as a special agent with the California Department of Justice.
According to a 2017 court summary, on Jan. 19, 2012, Mendes and Letendre helped law enforcement officials in Humboldt County raid the home of Jason Call, a suspected marijuana grower. When law enforcement officials approached the home, Mendes grabbed a skateboard on the porch and used it to shatter a window on the front of the house. The shattered glass cut Call; an injury that led to an out-of-court settlement between Call and Mendes in March of 2017. The settlement between Mendes and Call was connected to a larger lawsuit known as Jason Call v. SA Matt Badgley, et al.
Around 2017, sources say Mendes was also employed as a Bureau of Land Management special agent in a position he no longer holds.
In 2019, Mendes, Mike O’Dowd, and MZ Tactical were named as the defendants in a lawsuit after two law enforcement officials from outside northern California were severely injured during a self-defense training course taught by Mendes and the other defendants. O’Dowd is a nine-year veteran of the Navy Seals and the founder of Defense Strategies Group, a high-profile entity that provides defense training to military veterans and other services. Mendes was reportedly protected from the lawsuit by the Department of Justice.
California Narcotics Officers’ Association
In addition to the many law enforcement jobs Mendes has held, he has also served as a board member for the local chapter of the California Narcotics Officers’ Association. Mendes formerly served as the chairman of the CNOA. He now serves as the vice chairman, and Letendre, who formerly served as treasurer, now serves as chairman.
As part of his CNOA affiliation, Mendes has trained law enforcement officials along with his friend and business partner Carlos Zapata, a well-known North State alt-right extremist.
As has been well-documented, Zapata and Mendes once co-owned a strip club in Tampa, Florida, known as the Player’s Club.
Real estate records listed Mendes and his wife as owners of a home in the Ybor Heights neighborhood in Tampa near the strip club. The home’s address is the same one listed as the headquarters for Tampa Bay Venture Group LLC, a company both founded and reportedly dissolved in 2021 by Mendes and Zapata.
Most recently, on Aug. 12, the CNOA led a training session at Redding’s city hall for law enforcement officials to learn more about Fentanyl and other controlled substances. Mendes’s California Department of Justice email and job title, which were listed on previous CNOA fliers for training sessions, were not listed on this particular session’s flier. Previous fliers also listed Mendes as HIDTA/NSMIT, which suggests Mendes was working in some capacity with the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program and North State Major Investigation Team.
Law enforcement K-9 connections
Becky Hayslett is the CNOA’s new treasurer. Her son is Trinity County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Hayslett. In December of 2019, Becky Hayslett shared photos on her Facebook page of some Trinity County sheriff’s deputies, including her son Justin, and his fellow deputy Nathan Trujillo.
Trujillo, like Mendes, is a K-9 handler.
On June 24, 2021, less than three months before Klenk suffered a life-threatening dog-mauling, Mendes publicly shared on his Facebook page a photograph of an unknown black-and-brown dog.
Julie Trujillo – deputy Nathan Trujillo’s wife – posted a public comment to Mendes about the dog: “She needs to come live at my house!!!”
“You can have her. Been trying to find her a home,” replied Mendes.
Law Enforcement Academy at College of the Siskiyous teaching position
Mendes also co-teaches classes as a part-time faculty member for the Law Enforcement Academy at College of the Siskiyous. Mendes started teaching at the College of the Siskiyous in the summer of 2021.
On Sept. 24, 2021, barely two weeks after Mendes left an injured Klenk in the Bella Vista field near his home before first responders arrived, Mendes co-taught a one-day course for the Law Enforcement Academy with several other law enforcement officials.
During the winter of 2022 intersession, Mendes co-taught an officer training course with Etna Police chief Josh Short, Abner Weed (Siskiyou County Sheriff Office Sergeant), Frederick Alves (Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office Deputy), James Andrus (Siskiyou County District Attorney, and Sheriff’s Office Deputy), Monty Cervelli (retired Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office Deputy), Darrel Frost (retired Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant), Ray Boutin (Yreka Police Lieutenant), (retired Mt. Shasta Police Department Officer and current firearms instructor), and Keith Ericson (retired California Highway Patrol officer and firearms instructor).
Mendes also co-taught a patrol rifle course in the winter of 2022 with Louis Mero (Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant), Ronald Quigley (Siskiyou County Deputy Director of Emergency Services), and Joshua Tharsing (Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant).
In the spring of 2022, Mendes co-taught a reserve-officer certification course, a basic police academy course, and a course that provides legal, procedural, and tactical updates relative to law enforcement responses. Mendes co-taught the spring courses with the same law enforcement officials with whom he’d co-taught the winter 2022 courses.
It’s an understatement to say that Mendes is extremely well-connected with multiple branches of the North State law enforcement community.
Shasta College hires Mendes
On May 12, a little more than a month before A News Cafe published its first story about the dog-mauling suffered by Klenk, Mendes started yet another job; this time at Shasta Community College as a compliance coordinator.
(Editor’s note: Shasta College is a significant A News Cafe advertiser.)
As of Friday, According to one Shasta College spokesperson, Mendes was currently employed by the college. The full-time compliance coordinator position pays a 12-month annual salary of $70,196.88.
Despite the fact that Klenk’s family was previously told by Etna Police Chief Josh Short that Mendes had retired from the force, Mendes was employed as a Detective-Lieutenant by the Etna Police Department when he was hired by Shasta College. A News Café contacted the Etna Police to ask Chief Short a few questions. An Etna Police Department staff person told A New Café that Chief Short was unavailable, but would return the call. Chief Short never called back.
What does the compliance coordinator do?
The compliance coordinator at Shasta College reports to the Chief of Campus Safety and works collaboratively with various offices at the college to ensure the institution’s compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy, the Campus Crime Statistics Act, and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. The compliance coordinator also develops, maintains, and updates the Shasta College emergency operations plans and coordinates associated drills and training.
The Clery Act is a federal policy that requires colleges and universities to report campus crime data, as well as support victims of violence.
On Sept. 3, 2021, Mendes failed to support a victim of violence — Ryder Klenk — when Mendes walked away from a severely injured Klenk as the incoherent teen lay bleeding in a field about 5 miles east of Shasta College on Highway 299.
Likewise, as was reported in the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office incident report, not only did Mendes demonstrate a disinterest in helping Klenk, but Mendes attempted to make Klenk get up and move – potentially exacerbating the teen’s injuries – while Klenk’s friend Merrick was on the line with a 911 dispatcher. Merrick, in fact, reported that Mendes and Letendre insisted that he and Klenk leave the scene.
Both Mendes and Letendre dispute Merrick’s claim.
As the compliance coordinator, Mendes is also tasked with overseeing the writing and publication of the campus safety report for Shasta College. This would seem a dubious task for Mendes, a law enforcement official who failed to report to his then-Etna Police Department superior that he was on the scene of a potential crime the night that Mendes and Letendre approached Klenk and Merrick and saw all the evidence of a brutal, bloodied attack upon a teenager.
Professional opinion: ‘Serious number of red flags’
Dr. Lindsay Briggs, a Chico State University, Chico, faculty member in the school’s Department of Health and Human Services Administration, isn’t shocked that Mendes’s questionable employment history contains no serious consequences.
“It’s not surprising that Mendes was hired by Shasta College despite the serious number of red flags that follow him,” Briggs said.
“The North State has a very tight network of law enforcement, politicians, and administrators that all seek to cover for another to help maintain the status quo,” she said.
“While the majority of the country thinks of California as being a mix of Berkeley hippie liberal/progressive/permissive political types, the North State more closely resembles The Old Wild West, where powerful men have a tight grip on the system from top to bottom.”
The identity of one of Mendes K-9s
Evidence discovered online points to the fact that one of Mendes’s K-9s is a male Belgian Malinois named Bolt. Born on Nov. 4, 2017, Bolt — short for Bolt Vom T17 — was one of three dogs that resulted from a “planned breeding” between two K-9s conducted by a Northern California business known as T17 Working Dogs.
T17 Working Dogs is operated by former U.S. Marine Jeremy Freidman. The business breeds and trains K-9s for law enforcement officials across the country. T17 Working Dogs was contacted by A News Café but did not respond for comment. The website for T17 Working Dogs is no longer available.
Freidman trained Bolt to be a K-9 for the first few years of the dog’s life. Mendes acquired Bolt around September of 2018 when the dog was 10 months old.
On Sept. 17, 2018, the T17 Working Dogs Facebook page shared a video of Freidman visiting and playing with Bolt. Friedman said Bolt’s owner brought the dog for a visit.
“His family is doing such an amazing job with him,” Freidman said. “I couldn’t help myself and had to pick up the leash and work with him a bit. I LOVE this dog and couldn’t be more proud of his family.
“He lives with two young kids and he’s great with them, and on the flip side is bringing a ton of power and seriousness into his bite work,” Freidman wrote under the video of him playing with Bolt.
“I love this boy! His owners are doing amazing, especially for first-time working dog handlers.”
Mendes and his wife did indeed have two children when the video of Freidman and Bolt was shared on Facebook.
On Sept. 23, 2020, Freidman shared a picture of a group of California Department of Justice officials standing with Bolt on the T17 Working Dogs Facebook page. The faces of the men dressed in tactical gear are blurred out in the photograph, but the man standing next to Bolt and holding the dog’s leash appears to be Mendes. The gear the figure who appears to be Mendes is wearing and the CADOJ patch just below his left shoulder matches that seen in other pictures of Mendes. Bolt was almost 3-years old at the time.
“Everyone go follow our Bolt vom Y17 @boltthecanine” said the comment posted with the picture of Bolt. T17 had linked the same Instagram handle for Bolt elsewhere, and it matched the same Instagram handle seen in a picture of Mendes with Bolt. The Instagram page for Bolt now opens to an account that only contains pictures of a tan Labrador. It’s unknown why Bolt’s previous Instagram page was edited to remove pictures of the dog.
After learning details contained in this story about Mendes, it begs the question: Why would Shasta College hire someone with such an extensive history of wrongful-death and excessive-force allegations as their compliance coordinator?
But that inquiry pales in comparison to an even more pressing question: Why were Mendes, his dogs, and Letendre so woefully under-investigated by the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office and the Shasta County District Attorney after Klenk was mauled and left for dead?
The answer to these questions may never come to light. However, the upcoming lawsuit — Klenk v. City of Etna et al. — is a potential means to finally obtain justice for a scarred young man who has yet to see it.
(Editor’s note: This story was edited for clarity and corrections today at 8:45 a.m. and at 10:15 p.m.)