Attorney General Bonta and Merced Police Department Announce Capture of Suspect in Merced Homicide Case

Saturday, September 10, 2022
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

Multiagency operation results in arrest of alleged killer of eight-year-old Sophia Mason

MERCED — California Attorney General Rob Bonta, along with the Merced Police Department, today announced the arrest of Dhante Jackson for the murder of eight-year-old Sophia Mason. Jackson was arrested on September 10 in Newark, California after a months-long search and an investigation led by the Merced Police Department with assistance by the Merced Area Gang and Narcotic Enforcement Team (MAGNET) and DOJ’s Special Operations Unit.

“The pain of losing a child is unimaginable — especially when that child was a victim of abuse. We grieve with Sophia’s family and loved ones, and acknowledge that she should be here with us now — playing, learning, and growing up,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “Our children should be protected from violence and we must do everything we can to safeguard them. I want to thank the members of my team and our law enforcement partners in Merced for their work on this very difficult case, and hope it brings some measure of comfort to those who loved this young girl to know that those accused of her murder will now have to face these allegations.”

Investigators found Sophia’s body in Jackson’s home on March 11 after the Merced Police Department received a request for assistance from the Hayward Police Department, as part of an investigation into the reported disappearance of the eight-year-old. On March 12, the victim’s mother, Samantha Johnson, who was in custody in Dublin for prior child abuse charges from 2021, provided information to investigators about the cruelty inflicted upon Sophia leading up to her death — including being forced to live in a shed in Jackson’s yard and suffering sexual and physical abuse. The Merced County District Attorney’s Office charged Johnson with child abuse and homicide and issued a warrant for Jackson’s arrest for Sophia’s murder.  

After months of searching for the suspect, investigators located Jackson in hiding in Newark, California and arrested him on Saturday, September 10. Jackson will be charged by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office with homicide. Officers also charged four other suspects, one located in Merced and three in the Bay Area, suspected of aiding Jackson in evading arrest. The arrest and charges come after an investigation by the Merced Police Department, MAGNET and DOJ’s Special Operations Unit. Local law enforcement including the Newark Police Department and the Merced County Sheriff’s Office assisted with operation resulting in today’s arrest.

The Merced Area Gang and Narcotic Enforcement Team (MAGNET) is a multiagency, federally funded task force through the national High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program. It is comprised of members from the California Department of Justice, Merced County Sheriff's Office, Merced Police Department, Merced County Probation Department, Merced County District Attorney's Office, Los Banos Police Department, California Highway Patrol, Drug Enforcement Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Through collaboration, the California Department of Justice’s Special Operations Unit provides statewide enforcement for combating violent career criminals, gangs, and organized crime groups, as well as intrastate drug trafficking. The unit uses the latest technology and advanced investigative techniques to work alongside local law enforcement to enhance investigations into violent criminals and organized crime throughout the state.

# # #