Voters approved a proposition last November to keep violent illegal immigrants behind bars, but somehow a 23-year-old man facing a kidnapping charge fell through the cracks and is now accused of killing his cousin.
Authorities and court officials admitted that a breakdown in communication led to the release of Ruben Perez Rivera, an illegal immigrant now hunted by authorities in the stabbing death of his cousin.
“We all owe the victim an apology,” said Maricopa Superior Court Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell.
At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Mundell said a series of missteps led to Rivera’s release. She said prosecutors didn’t note Rivera’s immigration status during the preliminary hearing and didn’t ask for the paperwork to be processed quickly. She further stated that the clerk of court didn’t deliver the paperwork detailing $10,000 bond until after March 16, when Rivera was released.
The voter-approved measure in question — Proposition 100 — took effect Dec. 4, when Gov. Janet Napolitano signed it into law. Now, anyone who is here illegally and commits a Class 4 felony and above should be held without bond if there is compelling evidence that he or she committed the crime.
On March 5, Mesa police had arrested Rivera on allegations of kidnapping and assaulting his ex-girlfriend, Karol Nieves, the night before outside Club Cabo, 30 S. Robson.
Nieves had been at the Mesa club with her friends when Rivera arrived, grabbed her by the hair and dragged her outside. He forced her into his car and at one point, according to a police report, “Ruben slapped her face with his hand and asked her why she was playing him.”
After an hour and a half, he stopped the car in Chandler, then yelled at her to get out.
Kidnapping is a Class 4 felony and Rivera, due to his illegal status, should’ve been held without bond. However, the slow movement of paperwork allowed for his release March 16.
Police say that late Tuesday night, Rivera went to the Verona Park Apartment Homes, 1666 S. Extension Road, and stabbed to death his cousin Theodore Cruz Perez, 23. Cruz Perez was at Nieves’ apartment.
Rivera had lived with Nieves at the apartment for about a year, according to a police report. They have a 2-year-old son.
Neighbors say Nieves has since been evicted from the complex, which requires its tenants not to be involved in criminal activity.
Apartment managers confirmed she doesn’t live there anymore. Nieves couldn’t be reached for comment.
Mesa Police Chief George Gascón said the issue of Rivera’s release goes beyond immigration. “The system broke down because the system is broken,” Gascón said.
Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, authored Proposition 100 and said he holds judges responsible for ensuring that people who are here illegally and who have a criminal propensity are not released.
“Now, we have somebody that’s dead. Who do we hold accountable for that?” Pearce said. “We have somebody that shouldn’t have died — shouldn’t have died if the judge had done their job.”
Mundell said she wants court, prosecution and law enforcement agencies to come together and review their procedures to prevent the future release of someone who should be held without bond.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office is going to start staffing initial appearance courts – the place where judges set bail ‑ 24 hours a day to make sure judges comply with Proposition 100.
Office spokesman Barnett Lotstein said the county attorney is responding to statements made last week by the Arizona Supreme Court and Maricopa County Superior Court officials, who said that judges that set bail often lack information because no prosecutors are present to offer it.
Lotstein said prosecutors have never been present for the initial appearance of defendants because police officers fill out paperwork that the judges use to set bail. This paperwork has always been sufficient until Proposition 100 came along, he said.
In the case of Rivera, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office believes he should have been held without bond the first time he went before a judge and when he was indicted by a grand jury.
However, court documents state that both times Rivera was in court, judges set bail at $10,000 — and each time they were informed, through a warrant fact sheet, that he was in the country illegally.
Rivera’s case was not the first instance where the county attorney has accused judges of failing to abide Proposition 100.
Earlier this month, Jocabed Dominguez Torres, a Mexican national, ran a red light in Peoria and collided with a car, killing 20-year-old Robert Christopher Miller.
A judge knew Torres was here illegally but set bail at $150,000. A second judge lowered it to $50,000.
Judge James Keppel, who until last week was the county’s lead criminal court judge, overruled the previous judges and ordered Torres to be held without bail, according to court records.