A Date with Destiny

Jace Herndon is a hard guy to feel sorry for. He was a tweeker, a meth addict, a junkee. He was also a thief, a violent four-time felon. He spent time in prison, sentenced for holding a stolen AK-47. He’d attacked police. All you have to do is look at the mug shot that ran in all the local media to see he was about as nasty an individual as one would care to meet.

Herndon must have been a bad seed. Born on March 1, 1971, he’d begun his run-ins with police by 1991. He met his clichéd end in a hail storm of bullets on the Friday afternoon of May 18, 2012—a beautiful spring afternoon, 73 degrees, blue skies and no breeze.

Reno police did the deed, but it’s not hard to imagine that if it wasn’t them, it would have been some other police agency. He didn’t know it, but he already had a date with destiny, as an off-duty detective from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office had gotten word (apparently from a “friend” of Herndon’s) that Herndon was on his way to exchange a stolen Pontiac Grand Am for $100 and an ounce of meth. The deputy had communicated this information with his supervisor and the Reno Police Department.

A Reno detective, Jason Daniels, intercepted him before he reached the Reno Royal Motel on West Street between Third and Fourth streets. Daniels caught up with him on Second Street heading toward Arlington Avenue. With Daniels behind him, Herndon turned south. Daniels called for backup, and soon officers Joey Deal, Jason Stallcop and Adam Blount were also on Herndon’s tail.

Herndon must have been freaking. In fact, his shadows could see how agitated he was, either moving or hiding something while he drove. The stolen, maroon Grand Am had serious problems. Its front was bashed in, and it had already died once on Herndon and the friends he was with, Julie Dempsey and Ken Norton. He made it about 20 feet west on Court Street before it died again, then another hundred feet before he pulled behind a parked car. Suddenly, he was boxed in by vehicles, sirens and lights.

“Reno Police Department; please show me your hands,” Daniels ordered, according to Washoe County sheriff’s deputy Joe Bowden’s report. “He [Daniels] noticed the female front passenger and male rear passenger put their hands up; however, the driver (Jace Herndon) did not put his hands up. Detective Daniels was concerned because it was a stolen vehicle, the driver was not complying with orders, his hands could not be seen, and he had previously seen him moving in the front of the vehicle and that he possibly was in possession of a weapon. Detective Daniels also noticed the other officers were also yelling ’Police,’ and, ’Show me your hands.’

“Herndon then stated, ’Fuck you, you’re going to have to shoot me.’”

It’s been said that the three deadliest words in the English language are “Go ahead, shoot.” Herndon once again showed himself the norm that proves the rule. On the crime scene, there were 11 empty casings found near the suspect vehicle, nine of which were .40 caliber and two were 9mm. There was also one live 9mm casing found, two intact bullets and one bullet jacket.

Dr. Ellen Clark of the Washoe County Medical Examiner’s Office found 15 bullet wounds on Herndon’s body. They included trauma to the chest, abdomen, right back shoulder, front right chest, left upper arm, left elbow and left index finger and back of left hand. There were seven intact bullets and four fragments consistent with .40 or 9 mm bullets taken from his body. It seems every bullet fired found a home.

In the car, two knives and a baseball bat-shaped club were found. One of the knives was designed to look like a revolver with brown wooden grips, a trigger guard and a hammer and a flip-out blade.

He’d literally brought knives to a gunfight. Herndon seems like one cliché after another. A bad guy comes to a bad end, betrayed by a friend. A junkie gets his just desserts. But peeking through the police and media reports with the two mug shots, that gaunt, gaunt junkie face and the much younger one with the blackened eye is the mystery, the unknowable back story of a guy who wasn’t all bad.

Surely, his two children, a boy and a girl, must have loved him. He had other family, too. He had a wife. He laid tile for a living. He had friends—he had two with him when he was killed. Pastor Danny Rost of A Voice in the Wilderness, that street church on East Second Street, counted him among his flock. That’s a church that specializes in people who crave redemption from drugs and alcohol.

Hard to say whether Jace Herndon was on his way to becoming a better man. But if he wasn’t trying, why was he in church? What is nearly certain is that he was on his way to a hundred bucks and an ounce of meth in a stolen car.

Pastor Rost was a bit taken aback to hear Jace Herndon’s name after almost two years.

“I loved Jace,” he said. “He was a good brother in the Lord. [After the incident], he was horribly misrepresented in the media. Jace had been a member of our fellowship for about three, three and a half years, during which time he led worship. He also taught several Bible studies. He headed up several different outreaches, mostly musical outreaches. He was the lead singer of a local Christian band named Risen. Played biker outreach events, played park outreach events, played concerts at various churches. He ministered up at Jan Evans Juvenile Facility for a while. He did a lot of good things around the community.”

Herndon was struggling with his addiction, Rost said, trying to be the man that he knew he was, and to come up and out of the garbage that he’d allowed to once again entangle him.

“For several months before the incident happened, he’d give me a call, and I’d go meet with him wherever he was at, whether it was a motel room or a park. We’d pray, and he’d bare his heart, tell me the struggle that was going on, always asking for prayer. The situation that he found himself in at the very end just really shocked me. I know he had a past. There was nothing unfactual in regard to the record, but the man that he was, I have a hard time reconciling with the way the situation went down.”

And it’s those questions combined with the haunted look in those shrunken and drug-addicted eyes in the mug shots that make it a little easier to feel sorry for a man who could have been something besides a cliché and a statistic.

Six days after the death, on May 24, 2012, Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick ruled the homicide justified, and this is one where few, if any, would second-guess the determination.

A partial police report and findings of justification can be read at bit.ly/1e892oX