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Witnesses describe San Quentin prisoner’s arrest at Paso Robles Taco Bell

Posted at 6:55 PM, Dec 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-30 02:37:00-05

A prisoner who escaped from San Quentin State Prison is back in custody after he was captured at a Paso Robles Taco Bell Saturday.

Shalom Mendoza, 21, was reported missing from the prison in the northern part of the Bay Area late Wednesday night.

Early Saturday morning, there were reports he was spotted in northern San Luis Obispo County, including at a dollar store in San Miguel.

Later that afternoon, tips about Mendoza’s whereabouts led law enforcement to arrest him at a Taco Bell located at 24th and Riverside in Paso Robles.

Shalom Mendoza
A photo taken just after Mendoza’s arrest Saturday. (Photo Courtesy: San Quentin State Prison)


Customers who were there say he was eating tacos at a booth when officers approached him and asked for his name.

One customer says she noticed Mendoza sitting in the booth behind her.

“The same gentleman that was on the news, I recognized him with that tattoo symbol,” said Crystal Vernoy, a Paso Robles resident who witnessed Mendoza’s arrest.

Vernoy says Mendoza didn’t try to hide his distinguishing face tattoos, including a noticeable one over his right eyebrow.

“Gang Unit Task Force comes in and he had his hand on his gun and he told the gentle man, ‘Don’t move! Whatever you are doing don’t move,'” said Vernoy.

She said the inmate then lied about his name, telling officers it was “Andrew” when they asked for it.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, someone told officers they had spotted Mendoza.

Agents of the special service unit found Mendoza inside the fast food restaurant and then handcuffed him without any trouble.

“It was very lowkey, I almost missed it,” said Chris Ercoli, a resident of San Francisco who was traveling through Paso Robles and witnessed the arrest.

Customers say Mendoza looked calm, dressed in a black shirt and dark sweats, enjoying a few tacos.

Now Mendoza is back behind bars, transported to Salinas Valley State Prison.

“I’m glad that they caught him, they found him, and he’s off the streets and hopefully he won’t endanger anyone else,” said Vernoy.

The search was a joint effort with local law enforcement patrolling the area all day Saturday.

Mendoza was serving a five-year sentence for use of a deadly weapon during a carjacking and evading or attempting to evade an officer while driving recklessly.

Investigators say he’s the suspect in a carjacking at a Home Depot near San Quentin State Prison. The car taken in the carjacking was found in Paso Robles.

Mendoza’s case is now under review by the Marin County District Attorney’s office.