District attorney not charging Rifle officer, Garfield County deputy involved in September shooting

A Rifle police officer and Garfield County sheriff’s deputy who fired five rounds at a suspect accused of drunkenly inciting a domestic dispute are not being charged with any criminal citations, Garfield County’s district attorney stated in a Tuesday letter.

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Jefferson Cheney conducted an investigation that lasted nearly three months after the shooting took place in Rifle. Fellow investigators included Rifle Police Chief Debra Funston, Glenwood Springs Police Det. Kyle McElroy and Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario.

In a letter obtained by the Post Independent on Tuesday, Cheney declined to file any criminal charges against Rifle Police Officer Michael Pruitt and Garfield County Sheriff’s Deputy Lester Gherardini. An affidavit states that Pruitt and Gherardini shot 28-year-old Rifle resident Jacob Noel Cerda on Sept. 24. 

Cheney, however, is charging Cerda with first-degree felony assault on a peace officer, possession of a weapon by a previous offender and misdemeanor prohibited use of a weapon.

“I conclude that both officers who fired their duty weapons at Mr. Cerda were justified in order to defend themselves and others from a (reasonable) belief that Mr. Cerda was about to imminently use unlawful and deadly force,” Cheney said in the letter.

Jacob Noel Cerda
Garfield County Detention Center

Body camera footage, police reports, photographs, multiple interviews and more were analyzed and used in the investigation, Cheney said. He also said the officers adhered to Colorado self-defense laws. 

“I further conclude that officer Pruitt and Sergeant Gherardini were ‘peace officers’ performing their official duties and at the time each had reasonable grounds to believe that each was in imminent danger of being killed or of receiving great bodily injury,” Cheney said in the letter.

Cheney went on to say that he could not release further details of the case because formal charges against Cerda are still pending. Meanwhile, the arrest affidavit itself never revealed Cerda’s condition after he was shot. 

The arrest warrant affidavit written by McElroy says that Cerda was initially contacted by police over the domestic dispute. Just before midnight on Sept. 23, Cerda was accused of breaking property inside of his house while intoxicated and armed with a 9mm Taurus G3 handgun in his pants.

The affidavit states that Cerda arrived home from work earlier that day and told a family member that “it was the weekend” and “he was going to have a couple beers.”

Around 11 p.m., Cerda got into an argument with a family member for being too loud. Cerda responded by asking the family member if she would even cry if he died by shooting himself. The affidavit also stated, “Jacob made no physical threats and committed no violence to other family members in the home.”

Fed up with Cerda’s behavior, a family member ordered him to go outside to the backyard, where Cerda continued to act disorderly and eventually started banging on a sliding door, demanding a lighter. It was then a family member decided to call 911.

Shortly after midnight, on Sept. 24, Rifle Police Officer Jaime Jaramillo discovered Cerda sitting on a hillside on the east side of Munro Avenue.

“Jacob is ordered by Ofc. Jaramillo to keep his hands up and Jacob complies,” the affidavit states. “Jacob responded that (Jaramillo) is on his property and accused Ofc. Jaramillo of threatening him. Ofc. Jaramillo initially had his duty weapon in his hands but put it in his holster a few seconds into the contact.

“Jacob asked Jaramillo why the police were called.”

Moments later, Pruitt and Gherardini approached Cerda from the north.

“Jacob turned his attention towards Cpl. Pruitt and Sgt. Gherardini and began walking down the hill towards Ofc. Jaramillo. Cpl Pruitt pulled his duty weapon out and pointed it at Jacob,” the affidavit states. “Cpl. Pruitt gave Jacob several commands to stop moving. Jacob initially stopped and pointed down, stating ‘it’s a hill.’

“Jacob is told to get down on the ground or he will be shot.”

Moments later, Cerda is accused of reaching toward his right hip and grabbing the handle of his handgun. This is visible in Pruitt’s body worn camera and confirmed by a family member in an interview, the affidavit states. It was then Pruitt and Gherardini fired five shots at Cerda.

“Jacob fell to the ground and drops the gun which is visible in Officer Jaramillo’s body worn camera. Jacob slides down the hill to the edge of the street with his hands extended in the air,” the affidavit states. “Ofc. Jaramillo begins to approach Jacob and as he does he points out the gun on the side of the hill.”

After securing Cerda’s weapon, officers began performing life-saving measures on Cerda.

“Sgt. Gherardini requested an ambulance and retrieved a personal use ‘chest seal’ from his All-Hazards Response Team kit in his patrol vehicle a short distance away,” the affidavit states. “The Taurus G3 would later be cleared by Ofc. Jaramillo.

“The weapon had a round in the chamber and a loaded magazine.”

Cerda was later booked into the Garfield County Detention Facility on Nov. 11. His bond was $5,000.

Cerda’s previous criminal history includes a felony charge of aggravated sexual assault on a child in 2009. Cerda later pleaded no contest to this charge.

Cerda is scheduled for his arraignment in Garfield County District Court at 8:15 a.m. Dec. 29.

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