A Fresno County sheriff’s detective pleaded not guilty Thursday to fatally shooting his colleague, Sgt. Rod Lucas, while talking about gun safety inside a sheriff’s office near Fresno Yosemite International Airport last October.
Jared Mullis, 34, was surrounded by family and friends when he entered his plea in Fresno County Superior Court to a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter. Lucas’ family also attended the hearing.
If convicted, Mullis faces up to 14 years in prison.
After accepting the plea, Judge W. Kent Hamlin allowed Mullis to remain free on his own recognizance until his next court date on Sept. 14.
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After the brief hearing, Fresno defense lawyer Roger Wilson, who is defending Mullis, described his client as being “very nervous.” He said Mullis and Lucas were good friends and that Mullis is innocent because the shooting was an accident.
“When an accident occurs, generally no crime is involved,” he said.
Wilson said he could not comment on the evidence because he had just received investigative reports and videos in connection with the shooting. He said it was his understanding the Sheriff’s Office started the investigation of Mullis and the District Attorney’s Office took it over.
Because Mullis’ and Lucas’ families remain friends, Wilson said, “It’s a bad situation for everyone.” If the case goes to a trial, Wilson said, “it will be a emotional case” because both families “will have to relive this tragedy.”
Sheriff Margaret Mims said Lucas, the married father of four children, was killed in front of colleagues gathered in a room at the sheriff’s special investigations office in east-central Fresno on Oct. 31.
At a news conference after the shooting, Mims declined to name Mullis as the shooter. But the sheriff said Lucas and a colleague, described then only as a detective, were discussing the safety of backup weapons when the detective’s gun – a Smith & Wesson M&P 45 Shield – accidentally went off.
The bullet struck Lucas in the chest. The 20-year veteran died later at Community Regional Medical Center. Neither Lucas nor his colleagues were wearing bulletproof vests when the incident happened, the sheriff said.
Prior to filing the criminal complaint against Mullis, District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp met with Lucas’ family to advise them that criminal charges were forthcoming. Sheriff’s officials said Mullis is still an employee of the Sheriff’s Office and is on paid leave.
Lucas grew up in Tranquillity in western Fresno County. He was athletic, playing football at least through community college (he was on the 1990 roster at then-Kings River, now Reedley College) and winning a gold medal in boxing at the 1997 California Police Summer Games in Fresno.
As a member at Riverdale Assembly of God Church, Lucas spoke at chapel services for the church’s K-12 school and volunteered with outreach programs in the community’s poorer neighborhoods.
Wilson said Thursday that Mullis also is an upstanding citizen in the community, working for the Sheriff’s Office for 10 years without a blemish on his record.
After the shooting, the California Occupational Safety & Health Administration said the Sheriff’s Office had no policy for safely securing secondary guns. In a Cal-OSHA report to the county, it was recommended that the county put a backup holster policy in effect. The recommendation is to have a policy on how to secure a secondary weapon; finding the correct holster for it; and undertaking training in how to use it.