Police Detective in Dog-Attack Lawsuit is MIA (Again) After Alleged Assault at Daughter’s Wedding

Cartoon by Phil Fountain.

At approximately 11:45 p.m. on the evening of Oct. 8, a 44-year-old woman called 911 to report that she had been assaulted at a wedding reception in Palo Cedro. The reception, and the wedding before it, took place at a popular events venue located on a remote piece of country property known as Harmon Ranch.

When deputies arrived at around 12:30 a.m. the woman told deputies that a man named “Nate” had struck her in the face and caused her to fall to the ground. Deputies later identified the alleged perpetrator of the reported assault as 45-year-old Etna Police Detective Nathan Mendes. Mendes’s daughter was the bride. The alleged victim was the groom’s aunt.

A confidential source blamed “bad blood” between the bride and groom’s families as a partial explanation for Mendes’s alleged assault upon the woman.

An almost picture-perfect country wedding

As shown in pictures publicly shared on social media, the wedding and reception had a country-western theme. The groom and groomsmen wore black cowboy hats and black suits. They posed for photos on a parched hillside under large oak trees. They toasted each other with cans of beer. 

The bride and bridesmaids wore country western-styled dresses for the 6 p.m. wedding. The bride arrived to the wedding ceremony in a horse-drawn wagon. The bride and groom were married under a trellis decorated with a bull’s skull, a wagon wheel, and dried horsetail reeds. The reception was held in a nearby barn that featured an open bar, but the online invitation encouraged attendees to bring their own “party drinks”.

Ongoing lawsuit involving Mendes

If the name Nathan Mendes sounds familiar, it’s because he’s one of two defendants named in an ongoing North State lawsuit known as Klenk v. City of Etna et al. The lawsuit is based on a September 2021 dog-mauling incident suffered by then-18-year-old Ryder Klenk. The other defendant is Mendes’s friend Brett Letendre. Letendre is an Alcoholic and Beverage Control agent based out of the agency’s Redding office.

Mendes and Letendre both admitted to sheriff’s deputies that they witnessed the severely injured Klenk after he was mauled by at least one dog just steps from Mendes’s Bella Vista home.

Photographs of Ryder Klenk after he was released from Mercy Medical Center. Photographs by Megan Wion.

However, Mendes and Letendre left the scene just minutes before sheriff’s deputies and emergency medical personnel arrived. At the time of the dog-mauling, Mendes had three dogs on his property; two of which were trained law-enforcement K9’s. Letendre later told deputies that he and Mendes had been drinking at Mendes’s home earlier in the evening, prior to the dog-mauling.

Mendes in his law enforcement gear with his K9

Klenk, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, is being represented by The Offices of John L. Burris, a high-profile Bay Area law firm. Klenk’s lawyer, James Cook, said Mendes and Letendre’s actions while they were present on the scene of Klenk’s attack and the fact that they left the scene before sheriff’s deputies arrived, are some of the reasons they are named as defendants in the lawsuit. An eyewitness on the night of the dog-mauling incident said Mendes and Letendre tried to get Klenk into a standing position so the teen could leave the scene before first responders arrived. The witness said Mendes and Letendre told Klenk he would get in trouble if he did not leave, because he was intoxicated. But the witness said that despite Mendes and Letendre’s attempts to make Klenk stand, he was too injured to stand and/or leave the scene. Mendes and Letendre dispute the witness’s version of the night’s events.

Etna City manager declines to comment on the lawsuit

Etna City Manager Adam Cox declined to comment on the lawsuit involving Mendes because it’s a personnel issue. Lori Fleck, former Etna mayor/current Etna City Council Member, also declined to comment. The first courtroom meeting for the lawsuit is scheduled for Feb. 1 in Redding before a magistrate judge.

In addition to working as a detective in Etna, Mendes owns and is head instructor at Combat Base Shasta-Mendes Jiu-Jitsu, in Palo Cedro. Mendes is also employed by two community colleges. He co-teaches courses for the Law Enforcement Academy at the College of the Siskiyous, and is employed as a safety compliance coordinator at Shasta College.

Back to the wedding: Deputies arrive

Shasta County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Erik Starkey, Deputy Travis Ridenour, Deputy Gerry Maul, and K9 Garin responded to the Palo Cedro wedding location to investigate the alleged assault committed by Mendes upon his new son-in-law’s aunt. A News Cafe submitted a records request to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office for information about the incident. In a subsequently obtained report written by Starkey, the groom’s aunt appeared to be heavily intoxicated when the deputies arrived. Starkey reported that the woman’s speech was slurred, and she was unsteady on her feet. The report said that the woman admitted to the deputies that she she was drunk. The report said she declined medical attention.

Photographs of Mendes at the wedding reception wearing a black vest and white long-sleeve shirt with back turned to camera.

Starkey said it was difficult to obtain a statement from the victim because of her advanced level of intoxication. However, while still at the scene, the victim told Starkey that her husband, the groom’s uncle, had witnessed the assault. She then identified a man who was being assisted by two men into a vehicle as her husband.

Due to the apparent intoxication of her husband,” reported Starkey, “I did not attempt to obtain a statement from him at that time”.

The sheriff’s office report did not contain any further details regarding what happened to the alleged victim’s husband at the wedding, or if he had been involved in some kind of altercation.

The groom’s aunt told Starkey that Mendes was wearing an “open carry handgun holster”. She said that although a firearm was not used in the alleged assault against her, she was afraid of an armed Mendes. Photographs taken at the reception and shared publicly on social media confirm Mendes was wearing a holster that contained what appears to be a firearm. Mendes did not respond to A News Cafe’s request for comment regarding the gun holster at his daughter’s wedding.

As previously reported by A News Café, Mendes possesses an exposed weapon firearm permit and a California Security Guard license.

Nathan Mendes at the wedding wearing a holster with what appeared to be a handgun.

Deputies appear; Mendes disappears

Starkey reported that after he and the other deputies learned that Mendes was the alleged suspect, they were unable to locate Mendes. Starkey said it was difficult to obtain further information about the alleged assault committed by Mendes because the wedding attendees were too intoxicated. Another reason Starkey gave for why the deputies had problems learning what happened was that wedding attendees were unwilling to provide any information.

Even so, some wedding attendees said that Mendes was inside the main residence on the property. However, that tip resulted in another dead end for the deputies.

I responded to the residence at the venue and attempted to contact Mendes to obtain a statement,” Starkey wrote in the incident report. 

Starkey continued: I knocked on the front door of the residence, searched the back of the residence, and looked through the visible windows of the front door of the residence. I located Mendes’s vehicle at the residence, but was unable to contact Mendes.”

Still at the wedding site, after failing to locate Mendes inside the residence, Starkey tucked a Shasta County Sheriff’s Office business card in the driver’s side window of a vehicle that was registered to Mendes. Starkey’s card included a hand-written message that requested Mendes contact him. After Starkey couldn’t find Mendes, he tried to find the alleged victim, but failed at that attempt, too, as she had reportedly left the reception.

Starkey’s report stated that in the days following the wedding incident, he attempted to contact the alleged victim several times by phone and subsequent voicemails. The alleged victim did not respond to Starkey’s phone messages. Likewise, Starkey reported that he was unable to meet with the alleged victim in person in the days following the wedding because she and her husband had returned to their Colorado home. Starkey did not attempt to get in touch with the alleged victim’s husband after the wedding. It is unclear how Starkey learned that the alleged victim and her husband had left Northern California, or that they lived in Colorado.

A News Cafe reached out to the alleged victim and her husband regarding the incident. The alleged victim declined to comment, and her husband did not respond.

However, a confidential wedding insider told A News Cafe that some people who witnessed Mendes’s interaction with the woman are afraid to come forward for fear they will be targeted by Mendes.

Mendes ignores deputy’s requests

In addition to leaving his business card on Mendes’s car window, Starkey made several additional telephone attempts to contact Mendes, including voicemail messages that requested that Mendes respond. A News Cafe’s most recent sheriff’s department information confirms that Mendes had still not complied with the deputy’s multiple requests.

Finally, on Oct. 18, 10 days after the wedding, Starkey drove to Mendes’s Bella Vista home in an attempt to speak with Mendes in person, with no luck, no Mendes. 

Mendes’s disappearing act at the wedding is eerily reminiscent of the way he seemingly vanished from the scene of last year’s dog-mauling incident near his home, minutes before the sheriff’s deputies arrived. Deputies knocked on Mendes’s door so they could question him regarding any information he might have regarding the teenager who was nearly killed by a dog or multiple dogs in the nearby field. There was no answer. The deputies left. 

The Crossroads Baptist Church field where Ryder Klenk was found. The field is near Nathan Mendes’s home. Photo by Shawn Schwaller.

Wedding case closed

On Oct. 19, after several unsuccessful attempts to reach Mendes, Starkey closed the alleged wedding assault case with his final report. Starkey detailed several reasons why he would not request that criminal charges be filed against Mendes. First, Starkey said that the alleged victim declined to pursue criminal charges. Second, Starkey said the alleged victim had no visible injuries. Third, Starkey said that the alleged victim was uncooperative with the deputies, and would not provide additional information after repeated attempts to reach her. 

A News Cafe contacted Mendes for comment regarding his account of the wedding, but Mendes failed to reply. 

Mendes’s law enforcement career reveals recurring violence 

Almost from the beginning of Mendes’s law enforcement career, he’s been plagued by multiple reported acts of excessive force and violence. Mendes started his law enforcement career as a Lassen County Sheriff’s Deputy shortly after being discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps around 2005. Mendes had served in the Marine Corp for six years, and was deployed to Ar Ramadi and Iraq. He refers to himself as a combat veteran.

A news article features Mendes while he served in the U.S. Marine Corp.

Shortly after starting his Lassen County job, Mendes was named in a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that he fired his automatic weapon more than 30 times, killing James Dean Basler at his Susanville residence. The lawsuit was dismissed because the plaintiff had legally separated from Basler before he was killed.

Following the dismissal of the Basler lawsuit, Mendes left his Lassen County deputy position to become a  Siskiyou County sheriff’s deputy. But trouble soon followed Mendes into Siskiyou County, too. In 2009, Mendes was cleared for his role in the killing of a 41-year-old Holbrook man named Shawn Troy Prado. Prado allegedly approached Mendes and a fellow deputy in an aggressive manner while they investigated a home-invasion call at Prado’s sister’s house.

By 2009, after having worked in law enforcement for just a few years, Mendes had already fatally shot two people.

A year and a half after killing Prado, Mendes was named as the defendant in a lawsuit alleging he used excessive force while detaining a man named Clarence Harold White in Siskiyou County. Mendes was accused of breaking department protocol by using pepper spray and unauthorized restraint holds while detaining White. Mendes was also accused of battering White with his department-issued radio. Mendes was exonerated of any criminal charges.

In 2017, Mendes settled out-of-court with Humboldt County resident Jason Call, who accused Mendes of injuring him when Mendes violently broke a window during a 2021 home raid at Call’s home. Mendes was participating in the raid with other law enforcement officials. The settlement was connected to a larger lawsuit known as Jason Call v. SA Matt Badgley, et al.

In 2019, a few years before the dog-mauling incident, Mendes and others were named as the defendants in a lawsuit after two law enforcement officials who work and live outside of Northern California were severely injured during a self-defense training course taught by Mendes and the other defendants. Mendes was reportedly protected from the lawsuit by the Department of Justice. 

Mendes, who has also worked in various other law enforcement positions, has managed to avoid facing serious charges for any of the violent actions that have followed him and his law-enforcement career.

Mendes’s other passion

On Nov. 19, Mendes posted an edited video on Instagram of him teaching jiu-jitsu. The video clip contains footage of Mendes pinning other men to the ground in his jiu-jitsu studio. The song “Devil’s Eyes” by the Sacramento-based EMD group Hippie Sabotage plays over the video. Lyrics in the song speak of being so “golden” that one can never be broken down by any opponents. On his personal blog, Mendes writes about jiu-jitsu almost as if it is a religious tonic that helped give purpose to his life after the Marines.

Screenshots from the Combat Base Shasta-Mendes Jiu-Jitsu Instagram page.

Mendes Fighting Arts “Bucket of Ass Whippins’” image shared on social media.

Suspicious text messages

Megan Wion, the mother of dog-mauling victim Ryder Klenk, has fought tirelessly to obtain justice for her son following the horrific incident where Klenk was left for dead in an empty field. But her advocacy has had unpleasant consequences. Not long after the first story was published on A News Café about her son’s dog-attack experience, Wion began to receive disturbing text messages from a phone number she didn’t recognize.

What made the messages especially chilling for Wion was the fact that A News Cafe’s dog-mauling story was based solely upon interviews with her, and information found in the sheriff’s office incident report, as well as Mercy Medical Center’s medical records after Klenk was transported to the hospital. What bothered Wion was that the anonymous text messages referred to information not reported anywhere. 

Anonymous text messages sent to Megan Wion.

You’re lucky he wasn’t shot dead,” said one text message to Wion. “Your kid was drunk, disorderly, and on private property,” said another.

The text messages caused Wion to fear for her and Klenk’s safety. She wondered if the messages’ author had inside information, or maybe that person was actually present before, during and after the dog-mauling. Perhaps they knew the truth about what happened to Klenk the night of the dog attack, since the teen was found unconscious. Most of all, she wondered how the texter had gained that information. After all, there were no reports that suggested that Klenk had been disorderly in the moments leading up to the dog mauling. In fact, as stated in the sheriff’s report, there were no known eyewitnesses to the dog mauling.

Enter Mendes, who, despite living adjacent to where the attack occurred, told sheriff’s deputies he did not hear Klenk being attacked. Mendes and Letendre both told sheriff’s deputies that they did not know what happened to Klenk before they arrived at the scene of the dog mauling.

Mother’s report of text messages goes nowhere

Shortly after receiving the the disturbing text messages, Wion reported the text messages to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office. According to Wion, the sheriff’s office refused to file a report regarding the text messages.

The day after Wion called the sheriff’s office to report the text messages, she visited the sheriff’s office for an in-person follow-up. There she met with with Shasta County Sheriff’s Deputy Tim Estes. When Wion showed the text messages to Estes, he said that the sheriff’s office would not file a report about the text messages because it was against the wishes of Klenk. Wion disagreed. She told Estes this was not true, and called Klenk during her meeting with Estes. Wion put Klenk on speakerphone so he could tell Estes that he did indeed wish to file a report regarding the text messages.

While on speakerphone, Estes told Klenk that Lieutenant Jason Barnhart would call him in the near future. Estes then reiterated to Wion that the sheriff’s office would not file a report on the text messages she received. The following day, two days after Wion’s first call, Wion and her son visited the sheriff’s office together. Upon their arrival, they were told that the only person who could meet with them was Deputy Kody Bodner. Wion and Klenk did not wish to meet with Deputy Bodner because he was the primary author of the original incident report regarding the dog mauling. A sheriff’s office employee reportedly told Wion and Klenk that all of the other deputies were busy.

Wion and Klenk left the sheriff’s office without filing a report.

Unsubstantiated reports that Mendes’s dogs were poisoned

Nathan Mendes and his K9 Bolt.

As unanswered questions continue to mount regarding the role played by Mendes in the dog mauling attack suffered by Klenk, other questions have arisen regarding Mendes’s dogs. For example, shortly after the second dog-mauling story was published on A News Cafe, Wion said that Etna Police Chief Josh Short told her that Mendes’s dogs were poisoned. 

With this information, A News Cafe made several ultimately unsuccessful attempts to contact Chief Short for confirmation or clarification about the alleged dog-poisoning. On Nov. 25, an Etna Police Department employee, accessed via a private Facebook message on the Etna Police Facebook page, recommended that A News Cafe’s reporter should call and leave a message for Chief Short. Two unreturned calls were made by A News Cafe. More recently, on Dec. 7, A News Cafe attempted to reach Chief Short via a private message on the Etna Police Departments Facebook page. A return message reported that Chief Short was on vacation and would return the call soon. No such call arrived. 

Once again, this reporter attempted to contact Mendes for information about the dog-poisoning mentioned by Chief Short to Wion. Mendes did not respond.

A News Cafe’s recent records request to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office produced zero reports of any dogs being poisoned in Bella Vista at any time after the September 2021 dog-mauling attack, up through December of 2022. 

Carlos Zapata goes ballistic–again.

A few days after the wedding, local far-right celebrity Carlos Zapata discovered that A News Café was investigating the reported alleged assault committed by Mendes upon a woman. Zapata and Mendes have a long history as friends, fellow Marines, and business partners, such as their previous Tampa Bay strip club venture. Mendes and Zapata both possess black belts in jiu-jitsu, and they’ve co-taught self-defense courses for law enforcement officials. Zapata formerly owned what’s now known as Mendes’ jiu-jitsu studio.

Top: Nathan Mendes (left) and Carlos Zapata (right) in their U.S. Marine Corps uniforms; Bottom: Mendes and Zapata posing in their jiu-jitsu outfits and appearing in an advertisement for their martial arts courses.

Zapata’s outrage over A News Cafe’s inquiries into an alleged assault by Mendes at his daughter’s wedding resulted in a series of Zapata’s angry, accusatory, threatening Tweets.

Woke fucking ways’ 

Red, White & Blueprint founder Carlos Zapata.

I’ve had it with you and your fucking cronies trying to destroy good lives because we are opposed to your woke fucking ways,” said Zapata in the second message. “Leave us alone and we will leave you alone. It really is that simple. You can call this a threat, it’s not. It’s a warning that I’m not going to sit idly and watch you destroy lives”. 

Zapata’s raging Tweets were delivered the same night that Zapata left a violence-laced, expletive-ladened telephoned death threat to a Redding resident who had joked about Zapata on social media.

The next day, on Oct. 12, Zapata sent a toned-down one-sentence Tweet: “I think you should contact Mendes and talk to him to get the facts.” That suggestion proved a bad piece of advice. Mendes has refused to answer A News Cafe’s questions.

The truth hurts: Different rules for law enforcement

Since the September 2021 dog-mauling, Mendes has demonstrated a pattern of evading deputies’ requests for information. Three times deputies have knocked on doors where Mendes was thought to be, but without a response. In the latest instance, at Mendes’s daughter’s October wedding, Mendes’s car was actually still on the premises as deputies “searched” for him. The deputies didn’t have far to look, because several wedding attendees directed deputies to the residence at the wedding venue where they said Mendes had gone. But yet, once again, Mendes did not respond to the deputies’ knocks. So the deputies left without speaking to Mendes, but not without leaving a business card on Mendes’s car window.

The truth of what happened between Mendes and his son-in-law’s aunt may never be known, just as the real story of the September 2021 dog-mauling of a teenager may never be known.

So many questions.

Why are people like Mendes–and Zapata for that matter–seemingly given a pass by law enforcement? What would happen if a regular citizen–one without Mendes and Zapata’s law-enforcement connections–was accused of an assault, or suspected of being present at the scene of a possible crime? And what if that citizen refused to return calls, and even ignored deputies’ repeated knocks upon their door?

Many witnesses and victims are afraid to come forward because they fear retaliation, which makes sense. They fear–perhaps rightfully so–that should they suffer retaliation, they may not receive justice.

How many more acts of violence will people like Nathan Mendes commit without consequences?

If you appreciate Professor Shawn Schwaller’s reporting and commentary, please consider contributing to A News Cafe. Thank you!


Shawn Schwaller

Opinion writer and reporter Shawn Schwaller grew up in Red Bluff, California. He is an assistant professor in the History Department at California State University, Chico and holds a Ph.D. in history and an M.A. in American studies. Schwaller specializes in North State stories about law-enforcement corruption and far-right politics. He can be reached at schwaller.anewscafe@yahoo.com and welcomes your story tips.

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