IDAHO FALLS — A grand jury has indicted an Idaho Falls Police Department officer for shooting a man who was in his own backyard during a February manhunt.
Elias Aurelio Cerdas, a 26-year-old officer who graduated from training less than a year before the shooting, was indicted Friday on a charge of felony involuntary manslaughter. The Feb. 8 shooting left Joseph “Joe” Johnson, a father of four, dead behind his house.
Cerdas was not arrested after being charged but was issued a summons for his arraignment at the Bonneville County Courthouse on Aug. 23. The Idaho Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case after the Bonneville County Prosecutor’s Office handed it over for unspecified reasons.
The manhunt began when a Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office deputy pulled over Tanner Shoesmith, 22, for a broken taillight a few blocks from Johnson’s home on the corner of Tendoy and Syringa drives. The suspect ran from deputies and began jumping fences as more deputies and Idaho Falls Police officers arrived in the area.
Police say a resident on Holbrook Drive spotted the suspect running through a yard and believed he was carrying a gun. That information was then conveyed to officers on their radios. As police searched for Shoesmith, they learned that he had several warrants for his arrest and a violent history with law enforcement, including a warrant for felony battery on an officer.
Another Idaho Falls Police officer spoke with Johnson, saying they were looking for a person who ran from a traffic stop and would be in the neighborhood.
A short time later, GPS coordinates from Shoesmith’s phone placed him in Johnson’s backyard, leading police to surround the home and draw their weapons.
As officers moved in, police said they heard yelling and then found a man — Johnson — in a black shirt carrying a gun.
Little is publicly known about the exact moments of the shooting. The Idaho Falls Police Department has said Johnson was wearing a black shirt — the same color as the suspect — when Cerdas pulled the trigger. Police have also said that Johnson had a gun and that an officer told him to drop it.
Shoesmith was found that night hiding in a shed on Linden Drive, a block over from the officer-involved shooting. He was arrested and booked into the Bonneville County Jail. He later posted bail and was released. Shoesmith has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor resisting arrest charge stemming from the incident. A trial date has not been set.
Cerdas faces up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office said its policy is to not comment on pending cases. The Idaho Falls Police Department issued the following statement following news of the indictment:
“The Idaho Falls Police Department has always and continues to recognize the human tragedy in this incident, especially for the Johnson family. Along with the rest of our community, all of us at IFPD hope and pray for them and wish this had never happened. The Idaho Falls Police Department thanks the Idaho State Police and other law enforcement agencies that conducted the investigation as part of the Critical Incident Task Force. It is a professional, thorough, and unbiased investigation which followed established and proven protocols and procedures and reports the facts.
“While the Attorney Generals Office’s review of the investigation has been irregular and seemingly arbitrary, we have full faith in the criminal justice system and the great people of Idaho Falls who will ultimately decide the outcome of this case. ... Until the process is completed, Officer Cerdas will remain with the Idaho Falls Police Department. He will be on limited duties which do not include public contact or the use of police authority.”
Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper released the following statement:
“As always, we understand the importance of allowing this to work its way through the appropriate legal processes. We put our trust in the American system of justice and are committed to cooperating fully as this case proceeds. We hope that calm and reason can prevail as the facts come out and are deliberated.”