ELYRIA — A man looking to kill an Elyria police officer was not the Ronald Palmer known by friends and neighbors.
Yet police say the 58-year-old man reacted violently when an officer showed up at his home at 326 W. 18th St. That officer was James Kerstetter, who was the first to respond to a 911 call about a naked man exposing himself to a neighbor’s child and kicking out her window. Kerstetter, a 15-year veteran of the department, arrived alone and walked into the modest two-bedroom house.
Moments later, he was shot and radioing for help.
When other officers arrived, Palmer was standing outside his home and, after refusing to stop when ordered, was shot and killed by Elyria police. Details of what happened inside Palmer’s home that led to the shooting haven’t been released.
On Tuesday afternoon, members of the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office were at the house, going over the crime scene while others talked to friends and neighbors who knew Palmer.
“He was quiet, kept to himself and tried to stay out of trouble, out of everyone’s business,” said George Price, a longtime resident of 18th Street. “Everybody’s got a few issues, but old Ronnie didn’t bother no one.”
But those who knew Palmer well said he’s had a long-standing problem that might explain what happened Monday night.
“He was bipolar, and when he went off his meds was very delusional,” said Steve Wonder, 42.
Wonder worked with Palmer at the Ford Motor Co.’s Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake and also owned the home next to Palmer. His tenant called police about Palmer exposing himself and breaking her window.
“No one knew about it, and when he was off his meds he didn’t come to work,” Wonder said.
The only paper trail of Palmer’s condition stems from an incident on March 26, 2009.
Ronald Palmer called 911, saying his wife, Garnetta Palmer, was threatening to shoot herself. When cops arrived, Ronald Palmer was naked, clutching his wife in a bear hug and saying that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. The couple was separated without incident and Garnetta confided in police that she believed her husband was going to kill her and then shoot himself.
Officers removed a loaded .38-caliber handgun from the home.
Palmer was arrested on charges of domestic violence, aggravated menacing and unlawful restraint in the incident. He eventually pleaded no contest on all three charges and was found guilty of disorderly conduct after the domestic violence charge was changed and the rest dismissed. He received a suspended 30-day jail sentence.
Police Chief Duane Whitely said the information in that year-old report was probably not known to Kerstetter when he went to Palmer’s home shortly before 10 p.m. Monday.
He said he still hasn’t listened to the police radio traffic of the incident, but he said Kerstetter obviously didn’t feel he was in danger.
“When we go on a call, we react to what we know is happening — not what we think is going to happen,” he said.
Joyce Price, wife of George Price, remembers the 2009 incident involving Ronald Palmer.
“We had never seen that side of Ronnie before,” she said. “The man worked and came home to his wife, and she liked to work in her yard. They have been together since they were teenagers and were the type of people who you didn’t have to speak to first. They always spoke.”
Wonder said there were a few things that would set off Palmer. He loved his home and was particular about his property. Police said the catalyst to Monday’s deadly chain of events may have been that neighborhood children had come into Palmer’s backyard and were playing with his fish pond.
Joyce Price said she saw Palmer talking to a bunch of kids around 5 p.m. Monday. He was agitated and parked in the middle of the street, leaving little room for her to maneuver her car.
“I didn’t think much about it until later in the night,” she said. “He’s the type of person who would have moved over.”
Until Monday, Palmer appeared to be a guy everyone liked.
Fellow co-workers at the Ford plant were stunned to learn of Palmer’s involvement in the shooting.
“He was a very happy-go-lucky guy,’’ said a co-worker who asked not to be identified. “He was a nice guy — he treated people with respect. He wasn’t a person that was a troublemaker at work.’’
He said Palmer was known for bopping around the plant on jazz night, when the crew would turn the radio to a jazz station while they worked.
The co-worker said Palmer, who hadn’t been at work lately, was known to have had a domestic problem with his wife late last year, and that Palmer said he was seeing a counselor to work out their problems.
But as to what happened Monday night?
“Never, ever would I think that it would be that guy,’’ he said.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.