Plea deal under scrutiny

Pete Valdez III plead guilty to assault on a police officer with

Just days after Pete Valdez III agreed to a plea deal for
allegedly trying to shoot a police officer in 2007, city officials
and those involved with the case have offered starkly different
reactions to what some have called a light punishment. Full
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Just days after Pete Valdez III, the son of a former Gilroy City Councilman, agreed to a plea deal that included a 12-year prison sentence for allegedly trying to shoot a police officer in 2007, city officials and those involved with the case have offered starkly different reactions to what some have called a light punishment.

“I’m disgusted,” Councilman Bob Dillon said Wednesday. “I think it should have been 25 years to life.”

Valdez agreed to a plea deal Monday that dropped an attempted murder charge after prosecutors learned the gun he used in a Nov. 15, 2007 run-in with Officer John Ballard of the Gilroy Police Department may have been modified on purpose to prevent it from firing. Valdez reportedly pointed the .25-caliber hand gun in Ballard’s face and pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed, according to court documents.

Two hours after Valdez’s arrest, GPD Officer Jose Barrera asked, “Would you do it all over again?” Valdez replied “I will,” according to court documents. When Barrera asked, “You would?” to clarify, Valdez repeated his previous response.

When asked if he thought Valdez, 32, would pose a risk to the community once he was released from prison, Dillon said, “I think we can safely assume that.”

“That kid needs to go away for a long, long time. He should not be tolerated in this community.” added Dillon, who said he knew and sympathized with Valdez’s father, Pete Valdez Jr.

Steve Lowney, a Santa Clara County deputy district attorney, said Monday the attempted murder charge was dropped because if the case had gone to trial, a jury could have been convinced Valdez modified the gun ahead of time to jam intentionally.

Valdez said it was his intention to elicit gunshots from police as a suicide attempt, according to court documents.

Stuart Kirchick, Valdez’s attorney said he didn’t think Valdez would pose a risk upon his release. He said Valdez at times suffered from depression but had been taking medication to combat his condition.

Kirchick maintained he was “not a psychologist,” but said, “(Valdez) has just had a serious case of depression. Most depressed people aren’t a danger to others, but they can be a danger to themselves. And he was a danger to himself because he tried to commit suicide by cop.”

Doctors found Valdez incompetent to stand trial in 2009, but that decision was later reversed at a April 9, 2010 private hearing.

Councilman Peter Leroe-Munoz, a deputy district attorney in San Benito County, said Wednesday he understood why prosecutors made the offer.

“The defendant actually has to have a specific intent, for example, to commit murder,” Leroe-Munoz said. “There is at least a plausible argument to be made he either wanted to scare the officers or draw fire from the officers.”

He added, “You don’t offer a plea without considering one, was there a crime committed, and two, what can we prove in a court of law?” Leroe-Munoz said. “With something like this, there’s a plausible argument to be made that he intentionally tampered with the firearm. I think it’s a very understandable offer that they made.”

Ballard is still with the GPD, now as a detective.

For the GPD, not much is expected to change in the wake of the Valdez case, officials said.

“Even though it’s not what we had hoped for, we’re glad the case was resolved,” GPD Sgt. Chad Gallacinao said Wednesday. “We’re glad Detective Ballard can put this behind him and continue to move forward with his career.”

When asked to elaborate on what the department had hoped for, Gallacinao said, “When we booked him into jail, we booked him for the attempted murder of a police officer. Through the lengthy court process, it was determined that an assault with a deadly weapon charge was more appropriate.”

He said the department would likely discuss safety issues related to Valdez’s potential return to the community at Valdez’s parole hearing “in the distant future.”

Dave Aceves, Gilroy Police Officers Association representative, said the plea deal hadn’t incited any noteworthy reactions from officers. He said he had spoken with Ballard “on a daily basis,” and Valdez had never been a discussion topic.

“That’s the way business is done, as far as what the DA charges and what they prosecute,” Aceves said. “Deals can be made with everybody.”

He added, “I’m sure everybody’s got their personal opinion about it, but whether they voice it or not is another thing.”

When asked if he had an opinion on the Valdez case resolution, Aceves said, “Not that I want to share, no.”

Councilman Dion Bracco said he was surprised to hear Valdez was sentenced to only 12 years “given that he tried to shoot a police officer.”

He said Valdez would likely be a different person when he is released from prison.

“Hopefully he’s changed by the time he gets out,” Bracco said.

Councilman Perry Woodward said he had never personally met Valdez, but the incident itself was enough to cause the city to consider the risks of him returning.

“Any time somebody who assaults a police officer in such a serious manner and then is released back into the community, that’s a matter that should give us all pause,” Woodward said. “Someone who would do that to a police officer could do it to anyone.”

Valdez will be sentenced at 9 a.m. Aug. 29 in Dept. 110 of the South County Courthouse in Morgan Hill.

About 3 a.m. Nov. 15, 2007, Ballard noticed Valdez biking east on West Eighth Street on the wrong side of the road and without a headlight, police said. When Ballard tried to stop him, police say Valdez sped away.

Ballard caught up with Valdez a few blocks later, and a foot chase ensued. During the chase, Valdez punched and kicked Ballard, then pulled a handgun loaded with seven hollow-point bullets, according to police.

Police said Valdez aimed the gun at Ballard’s face, repeatedly pulling the trigger. The gun jammed and did not fire, and Ballard resumed fighting with Valdez while GPD Cpl. Justin Matsuhara arrived and helped subdue and arrest Valdez, police said.

But prosecutors never definitely learned the gun may have been altered ahead of time until several months ago, Lowney said, partly because focus was shifted from Valdez to other cases as they waited to learn if he would be declared competent.

“All of those early discussions are taking place when we don’t even know if we have a defendant,” Lowney said Monday. “He’s not high on our list.”

It’s not uncommon for felony cases such as Valdez’s to take years to resolve, especially when questions over a defendant’s mental health arise, Leroe-Munoz said.

“Each case really is it’s own entity. They’ve all got their own issues,” he said. “Sometimes you do lose a month or six months or a year. That’s unfortunately an issue that came up here.”

Leroe-Munoz added, “The bottom line is: Justice is a long process sometimes.”

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