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The Region

Suicide Victim Had 2 Strikes

Man who killed himself in a San Bernardino County sheriff's station could have been jailed for life if convicted of shooting a deputy.

December 23, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

The San Bernardino man who allegedly shot a sheriff's deputy last week, and then stunned investigators by pulling out a handgun and killing himself in a Sheriff's Department interview room after his arrest, was facing a third-strike felony charge and a possible life sentence if convicted, authorities said Monday.

San Bernardino County Sheriff Gary Penrod also said investigators found that the suspect, Ricardo Alfonso Cerna, 47, had two bullets in his .45-caliber handgun and could have shot additional officers.

"Our administrative investigation will reveal ... where fault lies, and we'll then take appropriate action," Penrod said. "[The gun] was obviously missed, for lack of, or not a very good, pat-down."

While arrest procedures will be reviewed, Penrod said, the sheriff's deputies deemed responsible for failing to find the large handgun on Cerna will not be subject to termination, or even suspension.

Penrod said "a small army" of sheriff's deputies took over custody of Cerna from San Bernardino police officers in the "excited" minutes after he was first apprehended Friday for allegedly shooting Sheriff's Deputy Michael Parham, 31.

Parham had attempted to conduct a traffic stop on Cerna, when Cerna briefly led the deputy in a car chase before crashing. Cerna jumped out of the car and fired as many as six shots at the deputy and was later arrested by San Bernardino police.

Parham, who was shot in the abdomen, underwent surgery and remained in the intensive care unit of Loma Linda University Medical Center on Monday.

"We don't know if [San Bernardino police] did a pat-down, but when we accepted [Cerna], we exchanged handcuffs on him [with the police] and placed him in a sergeant's car," Penrod said. "I'm not going to shun responsibility here. We should've done a pat-down on him before transporting him [to headquarters], one that was good enough to find that gun."

In a sheriff's interview room, Cerna was uncuffed for nearly 10 minutes as he was briefly questioned by Sgt. Bobby Dean, who heads the department's homicide unit. During the brief, polite exchanges between Dean and Cerna, a second sheriff's investigator entered the room.

Penrod said he realizes the potential for tragedy inside headquarters was high.

Not only had Cerna shot a deputy, Penrod said, he had a "long record of narcotics violations and jail time, and 10 aliases." Penrod said the shooting could have been Cerna's third strike.

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