A 16-year-old Yakima boy’s future hangs in the balance while a judge decides whether he should be tried as a juvenile or an adult in the October shooting death of a 26-year-old man. After two days of hearings in Juvenile Court on the troubled life of Daniel Perez Jr., who, according to court records, began a criminal path at age 11, Yakima County Superior Court Judge Richard H. Bartheld said he wanted more time to deliberate without indicating when he would make a decision.
After two days of hearings in Juvenile Court on the troubled life of Daniel Perez Jr., who, according to court records, began a criminal path at age 11, Yakima County Superior Court Judge Richard H. Bartheld said he wanted more time to deliberate without indicating when he would make a decision.
Perez, who police say is a known gang member, is accused of gunning down Octavio Rangel on Oct. 23, 2012, on East Chestnut Avenue just yards from the Yakima Transit Center. They say Perez shot Rangel, who belonged to a rival gang, four times at close range, twice in the torso and twice in the back of the head as he was face-down.
Police said Perez was with fellow gang member Irving Alvarez when Rangel, upset over drug money Alvarez supposedly owed him, became aggressive toward Alvarez. Perez, they say, acted without provocation. He has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm in Rangel’s death.
If the case remains in Juvenile Court, Perez, if found guilty, would be incarcerated until age 21. But if the case is moved to Superior Court, he would face anywhere from 10 to 18 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.
Prosecuting attorney Quinten Bowman argued that even though Perez was only 15 at the time of the shooting, the case meets the legal test for charging him as an adult.
“Mr. Perez is making adult decisions to get involved in an altercation that is not his and ending it in the most violent way you can,” Bowman said.
Meanwhile, defense attorney Tygh Lybbert argued that Perez lacks the judgment of an adult, and that his extensive use of methamphetamine has impaired him cognitively. He said Perez’s best chance for rehabilitation would be in the juvenile justice system, where there is one counselor for every four youths.
“Daniel is a 15-year-old boy,” Lybbert said. “He’s not sophisticated, he’s not paying his own bills, he’s not taking care of himself. He’s going to need somewhere structured to help him learn how to make (better) decisions.”
Perez sat quietly in the courtroom both days, often glancing worriedly at his attorney. Under his right eye, he bears a tattoo of a single dot. Four more dots are tattooed under his left eye, symbolizing the number 14, which represents his gang. His parents were present at the hearing.
According to court records, Daniel Perez followed his older brother into gang life and had several brushes with the law. His criminal history and the problems caused by his gang lifestyle are detailed in an 18-page report prepared by juvenile probation officer Steve Driscoll. The report recommends that the case be moved to Superior Court to try Perez as an adult.
As Perez’s life seemed to veer toward increasing violence, his parents twice filed an at-risk youth petition with the juvenile court in hopes of getting their son, who had not been to school for two years, under control, according to the report.
On several occasions, the report states, Perez’s parents complained to authorities that he was constantly running away and using drugs and alcohol. They thought the justice system and the school district could have done more to make their son realize the consequences of his actions.
“The parents suggest that Daniel has been misguided and grew up loving fast food and cartoons only to become victim to peers that are involved in the gang culture,” Driscoll wrote. “The parents also felt that Juvenile Court, law enforcement, the Yakima School District and the community in general failed to adequately protect and service their son.”
According to the report, Perez’s first known brush with the law came in 2008 when he was 11. He was accused of striking another boy in the face with brass knuckles in Bend, Ore. Police found the boy bloodied and bleeding from his mouth.
Authorities said the victim gave Perez’s friend a dirty look and that Perez intervened when he thought the two were going to fight. The case was later dismissed by Deschutes County Juvenile Court because of Perez’s age and his residence in Washington, the report said.
Perez’s gang life started after the death of his older brother, Leonardo Perez, who was gunned down in a 2009 gang shooting. Perez took it hard, according to the report. His older brother, an active member of the La Raza Norteños, went by his street name Listo, Spanish for “ready.” After his death, Perez emerged as Lil Listo. And his brushes with the law became more frequent.
He began using meth and a kid once described as “chunky” lost a lot of weight quickly. Driscoll testified that Perez weighed about 215 pounds before dropping about 50 pounds in a few months.
In March 2011, he was arrested for criminal trespass, public intoxication as a minor and possession of marijuana. The report said he broke into a house through a kitchen window. Broken glass was found on the floor, blood on walls and the resident found Perez asleep in her bed. Perez served five days detention and accepted a diversion agreement, which would have kept the offenses off his record if he paid restitution, attended a victim impact panel and obtained a drug and alcohol evaluation. Months later, the agreement was terminated because Perez had not followed the terms, the report said.
He was arrested again one month later after he and a friend attempted to break into an apartment. Armed with a BB gun that looked real, he and two of his friends kicked in the front door with the resident still inside, the report said. He pleaded guilty to attempted burglary and was placed on probation for one year and served five days in detention.
Then in June 2011, Perez moved to Wyoming to get away from the area after his parents filed an at-risk youth petition and authorities filed a contempt charge for his failure to abide by the terms of his probation. Authorities allowed the move, and he was assigned a probation officer in Wyoming. But after a few months, Perez returned to Yakima and again failed to comply with terms of his probation and complete his diversion requirements. In late 2011, he pleaded guilty to failing to comply.
In May 2012, he was arrested on suspicion of fourth-degree assault and third-degree malicious mischief for allegedly pushing his mother while attempting to steal his family’s television because he needed money, the report said.
Perez was on probation for a year beginning May 2011. During that time, he was brought before the court several times, five warrants had been issued for his arrest, and he was found to have violated the terms of his probation on three separate occasions, the report said.
Bowman, the prosecutor, said Perez received the maximum penalties for his past crimes. But he said that state laws aren’t tough enough on juvenile crime until a serious offense is committed.
“Our office is only executing the laws that the Legislature makes,” Bowman said.
• Phil Ferolito can be reached at 509-577-7749 or email@example.com.
This report has been updated correct the location of the fatal shooting.