2 charged in Vernal police impersonation case

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VERNAL — Two men are facing felony and misdemeanor charges after investigators say the pair claimed to be police officers and threatened neighbors with a pellet rifle.

Wilmer D. Suchite, 28, and Jose C. Herrera, 21, each made initial appearances Monday in 8th District Court.

The charges stem from a 2:30 a.m. incident May 5, near 300 West and 400 North in Vernal. It began when Suchite and Herrera shined a flashing blue light and a spotlight at people who were partying at a neighbor's house across the street, according to charging documents.

The party-goers told police that when they complained, someone standing behind the lights replied, "We are the cops, get over here."

The people said they complied with the order, encountered Suchite and Herrera, and immediately realized they weren't officers. That's when Suchite pointed a rifle with a scope at three individuals, the charges state.

I proceeded to take the gun away from the kid.

–Jason Richens

Jason Richens, the owner of the home where the party was taking place, said he was awakened by his fiancé and told there was trouble outside.

"(I) jumped out of bed — in my underwear — ran across the road, and as soon as I got there, I seen a gun barrel stuck right in my face," Richens said. "I proceeded to take the gun away from the kid."

Witnesses identified Herrera as the man who pointed the gun at Richens before having it taken away. Tests conducted at the Uintah County Jail showed that Herrera had a blood-alcohol content of .195, more than twice the legal limit for impairment in Utah, the charges state.

The weapon the men were accused of using was later determined to be a pellet gun. But Assistant Vernal Police Chief Keith Campbell said the aggravated assault statute makes no distinction between a "real gun" and a pellet gun.

"If that firearm or that weapon were pointed at you, nobody — including the highly trained — would be able to tell at a distance under low light, which was the case here, whether that was an actual firearm, whether that was a pellet gun, whether it was a BB gun or if it was a deer rifle," Campbell said.

Richens said if he had it to do over again and knew there was a gun involved, he might not have gone outside.

Wait a few minutes ... until law enforcement can arrive and deal with the situation accordingly and safely.

–Keith Campbell

"On the other hand, I think I handled it well," he said. "I didn't have no choice. I didn't know if he was going to pull the trigger or not. There wasn't even time for words to be said, it happened so fast."

But Campbell urged caution when confronted by someone with a weapon.

"Wait a few minutes, a short period of time, until law enforcement can arrive and deal with the situation accordingly and safely," he said.

Suchite and Herrera are each charged with two counts of aggravated assault, a second-degree felony, one count of impersonating a police officer, a class B misdemeanor, and intoxication, a class C misdemeanor. Suchite faces a third aggravated assault charge.

Suchite and Herrera are due back in court June 27 for preliminary hearings. Both remain in jail on holds from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.


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Geoff Liesik


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