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Proceedings against attempted murder, arson suspect put on hold to evaluate competency

Court proceedings for a man charged with attempted murder, arson and vandalism in an incident in which the Department of Human Services building in Delano was damaged were suspended Monday when his defense attorney raised doubts about his client's competence to stand trial.

Hearings were put on hold until Oct. 12 for defendant Alejandro Rodriguez Mendoza, 30, to be evaluated by a doctor, Assistant District Attorney Joseph Kinzel wrote in an email.

The defendant was booked into the Kern County Sheriff's jail with the last name Rodriguez. But he was charged using the last name Mendoza.

According to Delano Police Department reports filed in Kern County Superior Court, Mendoza hurled rocks at the glass windows of Delano’s Department of Human Services building, causing them to shatter. Police stated that he walked inside and warned everyone to leave because he was going to “burn the place up,” according to the report filed in court. He watched two people flee and began dousing the lobby in gasoline, the documents said.

Then, Mendoza used napkins to start a fire, the documents say. 

The police report noted Mendoza sought to start the fire to trap employees and ensure escape was impossible. Investigators also claim Mendoza had the “means to create an incendiary device,” the court documents said.

The whole office — about 25 employees — escaped uninjured, said Jana Slagle, the public information officer for the Kern County Department of Human Services. Front office staff members witnessed the attacks, altered everyone to evacuate and called 911, she said.

A nearby California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer detained the suspect before a Delano police officer arrived, according to court documents. The building sustained substantial damage and is closed for repairs, Slagle said.

“It was quite … shocking that someone would do that,” Slagle added.

The Kern County Fire Department Arson Unit will assist with the investigation, according to a Delano Police Department news release.

Mendoza claimed he targeted the building because he had problems with the government, according to the Delano Police report filed in court. Additionally, he warned police that if let go, he would target the DMV and set it on fire, the documents said.

Though no employees suffered any physical injuries, several workers — especially the workers who witnessed Mendoza’s actions firsthand — still needed time to process their emotions, Slagle said. Human Services had a critical incident stress management, or a peer support group meeting, the next workday, Slagle added.

“They were shaken up,” Slagle added. “It was scary for them to see that. It was very healthy and healing for them to get all that out.”

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @idesai98 on Twitter.