Public defender for Rifle man shot by police: ‘His hand wasn’t on the gun when he was shot’ |

Public defender for Rifle man shot by police: ‘His hand wasn’t on the gun when he was shot’

Garfield County Public Defender Elise Myer argued in district court Thursday that her client’s hand was not on his handgun when a Rifle Police officer and a Garfield County Sheriff’s deputy shot him.

“I don’t think this case is straightforward and that the affidavit speaks for itself,” she said. “Ultimately, the trier of fact will make that determination.”

Ninth Judicial District Judge Denise Lynch on Thursday denied a request by Myer to reduce Jacob Noel Cerda’s current $5,000 cash bond to $2,000. Lynch, however, granted Myer’s request to change Cerda’s cash bond to a surety. This allows Cerda to seek a bail bondsman to get out of jail.

Cerda, who turned 29 in the Garfield County Detention Center on Christmas Day, was arrested in September after he was accused of pulling a 9mm Taurus G3 handgun on officers originally responding to a domestic disturbance.

Shortly after midnight Sept. 24, Rifle Police Officer Michael Pruitt and Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Lester Gherardini unloaded five rounds at Cerda near the 400 block of Munro Avenue in Rifle.

Though his condition after he was shot was not made clear in Cerda’s arrest affidavit, Myer told Lynch that Cerda was shot in his hand.

“He does not have his cast off but the court can see he’s handcuffed around a brace,” Myer said. “He does have a large scar across his hand from the procedures and the medical attention he’s already received for the injury to his hand.”

Myer used the term “suicide by cop” to describe the September incident and said that Cerda’s mental condition was deteriorating leading up to the shooting.

“I think we can clearly state that it’s mental health-related,” Myer said, “and, ultimately, I think (it’s) a suicide-by-cop-type of situation that we had here, which is difficult for law enforcement, unquestionably.”

Myer argued that Cerda is right now in medical segregation at Garfield County Jail and that this isolation is further causing deterioration to his mental state. 

“We don’t want him to end up in that situation again,” Myer said. “If he’s on medications, I think that’s going to help with his suicidal ideation significantly, which are still continuing.” 

Prosecutor Heidi Bauer argued that Cerda’s bond was already set “extremely low” for a felony offense so serious.

“This is an incident that involved firearms, this is an incident that involved a potentially very serious injury to law enforcement,” Bauer said. “This is an incident that involves very serious injury to Mr. Cerda himself because of his actions.

“This is someone who is very clearly a danger to the community.”

Online records show Cerda was first booked into jail on Nov. 11 and was charged with first-degree felony assault on a peace officer, possession of a weapon by a previous offender and misdemeanor prohibited use of a weapon. When Cerda was a minor, he was arrested in 2009 with felony aggravated sexual assault on a child in Mansfield, Texas. He later pleaded no contest to the charge. 

Bauer said the affidavit in Cerda’s most recent incident was “very clear.”

“This occurred in a neighborhood. This didn’t occur in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “Other people could have been harmed.”

On the night he was shot, Cerda was suspected of becoming intoxicated and breaking items inside his Rifle residence. He was carrying a handgun in his pants at the time, a Glenwood Springs Police arrest affidavit states.

A family member eventually called the police on Cerda, who continued being loud outside in the backyard. A Rifle Police officer later discovered Cerda sitting on a hillside on the east side of Munro Avenue. 

The responding officer initially had his duty weapon in his hands but put it in his holster a few seconds into the contact.

Gherardini and Pruitt showed up moments later, and Pruitt soon unholstered his duty weapon and pointed it at Cerda.

“Cpl. Pruitt gave Jacob several commands to stop moving. Jacob initially stopped and pointed down, stating ‘it’s a hill,’” the affidavit states. “Jacob is told to get down on the ground or he will be shot.”

It is at this moment Cerda is accused of reaching toward his hip and gripping the right handle of his handgun and officers opening fire.

The incident prompted a three-month investigation by District Attorney Jefferson Cheney, which also included Rifle Police Chief Deb Funston, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario and a Glenwood police detective. 

On Dec. 13, Cheney concluded that the officers were acting in self defense and declined to make any criminal charges against them.

Cerda goes before Judge Lynch again at 8:15 a.m. Feb. 28.


See more