Defense claims man accused of firing at federal agents in Costa Mesa standoff is delusional

A unit of a business complex at 1760 Monrovia Ave. in Costa Mesa was in disarray following the standoff.
A unit of a business complex at 1760 Monrovia Ave. in Costa Mesa was in disarray following the Oct. 7, 2022 standoff. Luis Mendez Jr., owner of a business there, is unfit to stand trial in the incident, according to his public defender.
(Zach Korhonen)

Friends and relatives of a man accused of shooting at police and federal agents during a standoff in Costa Mesa testified Tuesday that he believed he was a descendant of Jesus being unfairly treated by the government during a hearing to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.

California Department of Justice officials assisted by Costa Mesa police had attempted to serve a warrant on Oct. 7 at a metalworking shop on the 1700 block of Monrovia Avenue owned by Luis Mendez Jr., 50, of Whittier. They suspected he had firearms that he was prohibited from possessing due to a prior conviction for domestic violence.

Mendez allegedly opened fire at authorities who tried to enter the building. An eight-hour standoff ensued, but he eventually surrendered. No injuries were reported.

Since his arrest, Mendez has claimed that his case should be dismissed due to a discrepancy regarding the spelling of his name on official documents and has refused to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty in response to the charges filed against him, Richard Cheung, the public defender assigned to represent him, said during a hearing at Orange County’s North Justice Center in Fullerton Tuesday. He also declined to be interviewed by court appointed mental health experts.

Dr. John Richard Slosar was supposed to conduct that interview. He was present in court when the defendant, his mother and some of his friends gave testimony. Based on what he saw in court and written statements he had received earlier, he told Judge Michael A. Leverson he believed Mendez was delusional and incapable of assisting in his own defense.

During the hearing, Mendez made frequent out-of-turn outbursts in response to statements made by witnesses. And when he was called to testify, he repeatedly said he had been “railroaded” and unlawfully arrested. He also claimed he had acted in self-defense.

Deputy Dist. Atty. David McMurren argued that Mendez’s claim of self-defense suggested he had a functioning understanding of the legal proceedings he was involved in. He added that the defendant’s request for a new lawyer to represent him was an example of him participating in his own defense, even if he disagreed with his current attorney’s handling of the case.

But during testimony, Slosar pointed out, “It’s not a matter of whether he can understand some of these legal concepts. He can’t work with others and can’t plan a rational defense.”

He added that he believed any issues Mendez was experiencing with Cheung would likely “carry over to the next attorney,” if he was assigned a different one.

The first person Cheung called to testify was a longtime friend of the defendant, Johnathan Bruce Lipson. The two were hunting buddies, and Lipson described the defendant “the best pathfinder in California, just nobody knows it.”

Lipson and the defendant’s mother, Rosemary Mendez, also said he repeatedly claimed to be a direct descendant of Jesus Christ whose lineage had been persecuted since ancient times. He and others who testified said the defendant believed he had some sort of destiny to fulfill, ascribed to “conspiracy theories,” was distrustful of the government and was prone to mood swings.

Another one of the defendant’s friends called to the stand was retired patent attorney Bill Rooklidge, the owner of a private classic car shop down the street from Mendez’s metal fabricating business. He said Mendez told him a former romantic partner was dating a member of the state Department of Justice who was attempting to incriminate him. However, when the defendant’s friend inquired with the agency, he was told “flatout, no such person exists.”

The hearing was scheduled to continue Wednesday.

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