Prosecutors are trying to iron out a plea deal with Efrain Martinez, the illegal Mexican immigrant accused of initiating a shootout with former Mesa City Council candidate JT Ready, defense attorney Garrett Smith said.
Nonetheless, Martinez will appear today in Mesa City Court to face charges of assault, threatening and intimidation. He has been in jail awaiting trial since March 9, when Ready said that Martinez shot at him. Ready admitted shooting back in selfdefense and was never charged.
Smith, a courtappointed lawyer, said prosecutors have raised the possibility of dropping the threatening and intimidation charges if Martinez agrees to plead guilty to providing false information to police. When arrested, Martinez gave detectives a false name.
So far, Martinez has been in jail for 43 days and, if a deal is struck, he would probably be released for time already served and then be deported to Mexico.
Smith said Wednesday a plea agreement probably would not be possible if the police had done a better job investigating the allegations.
Smith didn’t know late Wednesday if his client would take the deal.
“As a prosecutor, I’d look at this and say there are some problems,” he said.
Smith said there are two big flaws in the investigation: A language barrier and Ready’s credibility as a witness.
MEXICAN MAN’S RIGHTS WERE READ IN ENGLISH
Martinez was interviewed by police and was read his Miranda rights in English, even though he warned them he couldn’t speak it well. Police failed to bring in a translator despite having Spanish speakers on staff.
In addition, Ready is a member of several civilian border patrol groups and a concealed weapons instructor. He has admitted to following a red truck full of what he described as “Mexican gangbangers” because he felt they were suspicious — something several local activists call “vigilantism.”
Marisol Perez, an attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said Arizona is a “hotbed” for civilian border patrol groups that try to take the law into their own hands. That creates a dangerous situation because vigilantes generally aren’t trained in law enforcement, she said.
Ready could not be reached for comment.
These issues have captured the attention of several civil rights groups, including the National Action Network, Latino Community Services and Mesa private investigator Marvin Woodworth, who has worked with Smith on the case.
“(Martinez) had no business talking to the officer in English because he cannot effectively communicate on the key parts,” Woodworth said. “The key parts need to be spoken in Spanish.”
The police department has 166 employees who speak some Spanish, about 13 percent of the 1,325 officers and administrators on staff, a city spokeswoman said.
Police have said they did not feel the need to question him in English and that they didn’t have any Spanish speakers available at the time of Martinez’ interrogation. They also didn’t read his rights in Spanish.
“Officer (Kevin) Albrecht in his judgment did not feel that a translator was needed to get his side of the story,” detective Tim Gaffney wrote in an e-mail. “Our officers and detectives interview people every day. If they feel there is a language barrier where we are unable to communicate effectively, then a translator is used.”
Mary Bauer, director of the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, called the situation “constitutionally problematic.”
“What is the point in documenting in English rather than Spanish if they have people who speak Spanish?” she asked.