Prosecutor Assails “I Thought He Had a Gun” Cop


Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter has sharply criticized the fatal shooting of a burglary suspect, but he will not charge the off-duty police officer who opened fire.

In a letter to Westminster, Co., Police Chief Dan Montgomery, Ritter questioned Officer Karl Scherck’s decision to confront a 47-year-old ex-convict who came at him with a board without help from other police officers. At the same time, Ritter said there is insufficient evidence to prove that Scherck violated the law.

The shooting happened Sept. 22, when Scherck, who he noticed the man, later identified as Sergio Medrano, acting suspiciously, and was concerned because there had been burglaries in the neighborhood. Scherck swore during a phone call with 911 dispatchers and said, “He tried to come after me. I shot him. Shots fired.” The officer later told investigators peeked into a garage after hearing a noise; Medrano was about 10 feet away from him, standing in darkness, with a white 1-by-4 board in his hands, Scherck said. Medrano took two steps forward and put his hand in his pocket. “I’m thinkin’ the guy’s got a knife, he’s got a gun,” Scherck said during a videotaped interview with police. As it turned out, there was no weapon.

Montgomery praised Scherck for what he characterized as a split-second decision to get involved.

Ritter blasted the officer for putting himself and the suspect “at an unnecessary and unacceptable risk.” Noting that Scherck had been involved in a similar case less than six months earlier, Ritter said, “This was another ‘I thought he had a gun’ case. To put this in context, in the 10 years I have been the Denver district attorney, there have been 79 officer-involved shootings. . . . Of those, there have been only three ‘I thought he had a gun’ cases. I am unaware of any Denver police officer in the last 30 years who has been involved in two ‘I thought he had a gun’ cases during his or her entire career.”


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