An off-duty deputy is accused of threatening three men at gunpoint. Does his case belong in veterans court?

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A Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy charged in an off-duty gun incident nearly two years ago now says he belongs in a special court that assists troubled veterans — and eliminates the potential for harsh penalties.

Jerald Alderman, who was discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1991, is asking for counseling and other help for an alcohol problem and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, rather than face his accusers.

But prosecutors, and the victims in the confrontation with the off-duty deputy, are urging Circuit Judge Caroline Shepherd to keep Alderman’s felony case in trial court where prison and other strong punishments are possible.

Alderman, 56, is accused of holding a gun while threatening to shoot three young men in downtown West Palm Beach at 3 a.m. Oct. 12, 2019, a parking lot scene caught on cellphone video obtained by investigators.

“I ain’t gonna lie, I was in fear of my life, I was scared,” one of the men said in a statement that night. “I seen people, shot by the police, so when he pointed his gun at us he hit it on the car, he was like … you guys better leave before I kill you.”

A city police officer who had watched some of this unfold said he spoke to Alderman and noticed the deputy’s breath and body reeked of alcohol.

One of the victims said Alderman had accused the men of hitting his car, but the deputy told cops that the men had been breaking into cars. Police say there was no evidence of any auto burglaries.

Alderman is charged with three felony counts of aggravated assault with deadly weapon, and a misdemeanor offense of using a firearm while under the influence. These charges are punishable altogether by up to 15 years in prison.

Palm Beach County Sheriff's Deputy Jerald Alderman appears in court on Oct. 29, 2019, in this image from WPEC-CBS12.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerald Alderman appears in court on Oct. 29, 2019, in this image from WPEC-CBS12. (WPEC-CBS12)

The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office on Monday told the judge these are serious crimes not suitable for the rehabilitation-based Veterans Court, which oversees pretrial intervention programs. State law does not allow this venue for veterans charged with crimes of violence.

A description of the local program calls it a “very non-traditional approach to criminal offenders who have served both during peace and wartime. Rather than focusing only on the crimes they commit and the punishments they receive, Veterans Treatment Court also attempts to solve some of the participants’ underlying health and psychosocial problems.”

The court has handled thousands of veterans’ cases since it opened a decade ago. If participants successfully complete court-monitored programs, charges can be dismissed.

Thomas J. Ali, lawyer for Alderman, argued his client’s case is “ripe” for the Veterans Court and justified because he faces the misdemeanor count involving alcohol.

Ali said this would avoid an “unnecessary expensive jury trial” while ensuring Alderman gets the therapy he needs for his problems.

David Goudreau, attorney for the victims, says they were traumatized by what happened and want justice by Alderman going before a jury or perhaps in a plea deal.

“We can’t take away the fact that these three men are going to suffer for this for the rest of their lives for having an off-duty officer threatening them with a firearm,” Goudreau said. “You have three victims and they object to Veterans Court.”

“They are victims in a gun crime,” the lawyer told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “But for the self-control and the absolute stillness of my three clients, it could have been a bloodbath … they are fortunate they were not shot and killed.”

An arrest report states a city police officer observed Alderman banging on the trunk of the men’s car. But the more important evidence is the cellphone video, apparently recorded without the deputy’s knowledge.

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“At approximately 15 seconds into the video, Alderman reaches back, with his right hand, and draws a semi-automatic pistol from his waistband and points it at the driver’s door of the vehicle,” while yelling obscenities and repeatedly ordering the men to drive away, police said.

The identities of the men have not been released under Florida’s 2018 Marsy’s Law, a voter-approved constitutional amendment that allows crime victims to shield their name and personal information from the public.

Ali, lawyer for Alderman, said the deputy’s actions can be explained in part by his experience of being a crime victim in a July 2018 attack in West Palm Beach. Alderman was then assaulted by four men and stabbed with a “meat box cutter” multiple times.

In the 2019 case, the off-duty deputy was investigating car break-ins when he “confronted the alleged victims, all of whom were ‘trolling’ or ‘canvassing’ the area (parking lot),” Ali wrote on Aug. 5, calling the men “suspicious.”

Alderman hasn’t worked since he was charged five days after the confrontation. He is on administrative leave without pay, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Teri Barbera.

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