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Deputy Shooting Suspect Kills Himself at Station

Authorities say a San Bernardino man still had a gun at the sheriff's headquarters. He used it to commit suicide, officials say.

December 20, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

A man who shot a San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy Friday and was arrested with an undetected gun still in his pocket fatally shot himself at sheriff's headquarters when he was left unhandcuffed in an interview room.

"It's obviously a large mistake," sheriff's spokesman Rick Carr said. "It's a rarity when something like this happens."

At about 9:30 a.m., Deputy Michael Parham, 31, tried to pull a driver over for a traffic violation on West Adams Street in an unincorporated area northwest of San Bernardino, Carr said. But the car had sped away, authorities said, and the brief chase ended when the driver lost control while making a left turn in the 2300 block of California Street, driving over a curb and flattening the front tires.

Getting out of the car, the driver fired a .45-caliber handgun twice, sending one bullet through Parham's windshield and another through the hood of the squad car, authorities said. Parham remained in the car as the gunman ran past, firing.

Two residents said they heard six shots.

Carr said at least two bullets struck Parham, one glancing off his bulletproof vest and the other penetrating his abdomen.

Parham, a six-year veteran, was in critical but stable condition at Loma Linda University Medical Center after surgery for non-life-threatening injuries.

Jess Carrillo said he went outside his California Street home after he heard the shots, watching neighbors and then law enforcement officers rush to Parham, who slumped forward in his car. He said he saw a man rushing from house to house through yards, apparently looking for an open door.

A woman who had been outside holding her 2-month-old when the shooting happened said she rushed inside and locked her back door just as the man tried to charge inside. She said he took off his gloves, jacket and shirt in her backyard and fled.

A block north, resident Sergio Quintero, 21, said the man, in Spanish, offered him $10 for the shirt Quintero was wearing. Quintero obliged. "He also asked me for a rake and shovel, and he began raking in my frontyard," Quintero said.

As sirens neared, Quintero said, the man "told me the police wanted him for too many tickets." The arriving officers, he said, "asked me if he lived here. I said, 'No,' and they grabbed him."

Carr said sheriff's deputies and San Bernardino police did a cursory pat-down of the suspect's legs and torso. Quintero said he didn't see that. "They just grabbed him and took him into the police car," Quintero said. "I tried to watch more, but a police officer in my house said to stop looking out the window."

News photographs of the arrest show a bulge in the suspect's left pocket. A deputy at the scene said the suspect's gun was "outstanding" in the minutes following the arrest.

"It's typical to pat them down, but a strip search is not typical procedure," sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers said. "We don't know how thorough the search was."

Carr said the suspect, Ricardo Alfonso Cerna, 47, of San Bernardino, was driven to sheriff's headquarters in that city and taken to an interview room, where the head of the sheriff's homicide unit, Sgt. Bobby Dean, was to interview him. He was not screened by metal detectors, Carr said. Cerna's handcuffs were removed, and he told Dean in Spanish that he didn't speak English.

What happened next was recorded on videotape, and Sheriff Gary Penrod allowed reporters to see and hear it.

Dean used his cell phone to call for an interpreter. When told the interpreter was one hour away, Dean asked Cerna, "Coffee? Pepsi? Agua?"

A second detective briefly entered the room, chatting with Dean as Cerna sat in a chair and rested his head against his arm on a table. Dean turned his back to Cerna once, while Cerna, looking depressed and tired, shifted positions. Dean then escorted him to a fingerprint-scanning machine. But it wasn't working, so they returned to the room just before 10:50 a.m.

Cerna breathed heavily as Dean turned his back to leave the room again. Cerna then stuck his left hand into his pocket and withdrew a large handgun, pressed the barrel to his left temple and fired.

"It's just been a tragic day, and this could've been much more tragic," Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Cadell said.

As to why the gun wasn't detected, Carr said: "We had an officer down. We had no idea if there were one or two suspects. San Bernardino police caught him, and we took him into custody. I don't know who did the cursory search, but emotions were running hot and we missed the weapon.

"We will conduct an investigation from every aspect, from the stop to the suicide.... It was not a defect in training."

Dean declined to comment.

Beavers of the Sheriff's Department said: "We are all very aware of what could have happened in here today, and we are all very grateful that no one else was hurt. We will investigate this thoroughly."

Carr said the sheriff's internal affairs unit will submit the results of its investigation to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office.

"I don't know how or why it happened, but it happened," Carr said.

Michael Risley, an assistant district attorney, said he did not "believe there are any grounds for us to investigate what happened inside the department as a criminal investigation. I don't see any criminal laws broken. It was just a tragic set of events."

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