A suicidal man allegedly took aim at deputies attempting to check on his welfare Thursday. The man, Jeffrey Hernandez, was shot with less-lethal beanbag rounds fired from a shotgun — narrowly avoiding being hit with a live round from an AR-15 when that weapon malfunctioned.
“We’re all very lucky … the defendant wasn’t killed or wounded. It’s also equally lucky the officers weren’t,” Montrose County Judge Ben Morris said Friday, in rejecting Hernandez’s bid for a personal recognizance bond.
Hernandez was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, felony menacing, reckless endangerment and prohibited use of a weapon. Formal charges are due Dec. 1; Hernandez’s public defender on Friday expressed doubt that the attempted murder allegation could be sustained by the available evidence.
On Nov. 18, Montrose County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Paul Southern responded to a home on Gunnison Road, upon reports that Hernandez was there and threatening suicide through text messages to a woman who had recently broken off their relationship.
Those text messages reportedly said “he would kill himself or get into a shootout with us,” Southern wrote in an arrest affidavit.
Southern responded to the home with deputies who included a certified hostage negotiator. Multiple attempts were made to reach Hernandez and his father, who was in the home along with Hernandez’s foster daughter.
Deputies reached the elder Hernandez, who explained he is bedridden and could not confirm where his son was.
Southern then positioned his patrol vehicle in the driveway and began calling out via its public announcement system.
Hernandez refused to come outside, the affidavit says. After more than an hour, he spoke by phone with a deputy.
Hernandez “advised he wished to die and if he came out, it would result in a gunfight,” Southern wrote. “Jeffrey further stated when he did come out he was going to shoot us if we did not shoot him first.”
Southern and others on scene determined Hernandez was in a detached garage, while the other family members were inside the home.
Southern had everyone back off “to help encourage Jeffrey to come out peacefully,” while advising him “numerous times” that he hadn’t at the time broken any laws and wasn’t going to jail.
“This had no effect on his decision-making process,” Southern wrote.
As Southern backed away with Deputy Ty Shaffer standing on his vehicle running boards, Hernandez reportedly stepped out of the garage with a .45 caliber Springfield XDS in hand.
Southern stopped the vehicle and shouted at Hernandez to put the gun down.
“ … he responded by pointing the gun directly at us,” Southern said.
Southern then fired a Super-Sock beanbag round from his 12-gauge, striking Hernandez in the leg, but Hernandez remained standing until Southern fired another round.
Hernandez was first taken to the hospital and then to jail.
Later Thursday, Southern learned Shaffer had tried to fire his AR-15, but it malfunctioned. Investigators also recovered the .45, which the affidavit says had a round in the chamber and six more in its magazine.
“Though less-lethal force was used, this was in response to a lethal threat due to Deputy Shaffer and me feeling the firearm, aimed in our direction and after the threats made by Jeffrey, would be used to kill us or seriously injure us,” Southern said in the document.
Southern said that because Hernandez knew law enforcement was there and “had the forethought” to threaten to shoot them, then emerged and pointed a gun, the allegations of attempted murder and felony menacing were appropriate.
“It was really close to an officer-involved shooting,” Sheriff Gene Lillard said Friday. “Really, it was a miracle.”
At Hernandez’s advisement hearing Friday, public defender Kori Zapletal argued for a personal recognizance bond or at least, a low cash or surety bond.
Hernandez, a veteran who spent 23 years in the military and who now works in the National Guard, has no criminal history at all, she said. Although he lives in Wyoming, he has transportation to get back to Montrose for court proceedings. As well, his father and sister live in Montrose and Hernandez was in town to help his sister care for the older man, Zapletal said.
The evidence supporting the initial allegations is “questionable,” she also said, and the overall circumstances support releasing Hernandez on his own recognizance.
Prosecutors pointed to the serious nature of the allegations, as well as said Hernandez is a risk to himself and to the community, according to Morris’ summary of their written bond position statement.
The judge also noted Southern and Shaffer wanted bail kept at the $150,000 that it was at the time of the arrest.
“This was a very tense situation,” Morris said.
The judge cited serious concerns for Hernandez’s safety, as well as for “anyone he might encounter” if he again enters a similar frame of mind.
Morris said Zapletal had a point about the attempted homicide allegation and that this might not be among formal charges when they are filed. “But the risk is still apparent,” he said, leaving bail at $150,000.
Hernandez is set for court again Dec. 2. A new bond hearing is to be held that day.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.