For the week of August 4, 1999  thru August 10, 1999  

Assault charge dropped in school knife incident

Merely an invitation to fight

Express Staff Writer

A charge of aggravated assault has, for the time being, been dropped against an 18-year-old man who allegedly pulled a knife on a student at Wood River High School.

Jose L. Dominguez and a 16-year-old juvenile were arrested shortly after the alleged incident on July 7. A preliminary hearing on the felony charge against Dominguez was held before Magistrate Judge Robert Elgee in Fifth District Court on Friday.

Dominguez is in custody at the Blaine County Jail under a hold from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Following testimony by John Casey, the 15-year-old student allegedly threatened by Dominguez, and by Hailey police officer Rob Namer, Elgee ruled that insufficient evidence existed to charge Dominguez with aggravated assault. However, Elgee pointed out that Dominguez’ conduct may warrant one or more misdemeanor charges.

Casey told the court that as he exited a classroom after a math class, he was told by fellow students that "some guys were looking for me with bats." Casey said he saw the 16-year-old defendant, identified in court by officer Namer as Diego Pizarro. approaching him from down the hall with a baseball bat. Casey said he turned to exit the building through another door, but that he then saw Dominquez approaching from that direction.

Casey said Dominguez walked up to within about five feet of him, pulled from his pocket a large butterfly knife and opened it. A butterfly knife is a type of pocket knife that can be flicked open quickly.

Casey testified that Dominguez then said, "Come on, fool—I didn’t come here for nothing. Let’s go outside and do this."

According to Casey’s testimony, Dominguez put the knife back in his pocket, then turned to go outside. Casey said he followed him briefly in an attempt to persuade him to talk things over. He said Dominguez then turned back and shoved him before being ordered to leave by a teacher who came upon the scene.

Upon questioning by Blaine County deputy prosecuting attorney Jim Thomas, Casey said he tried to ask Dominguez what the problem was, but that Dominguez did not answer.

Dominguez’ attorney, Dan Dolan, argued that the aggravated assault charge did not fit the circumstances of the incident.

"There never was a threat to do violence at all," Dolan said. "There was an invitation to go fight. At no time does he do anything to indicate that violence is imminent."

Elgee agreed with that assessment.

"Once the blade was exposed, he did not advance with the knife or make a gesture to use the knife," Elgee said. "A huge factor in my mind is, does the defendant get any credit for exercising good sense and folding up the knife and putting it in his pocket?"

Elgee added that Dominguez could perhaps be charged with misdemeanor offenses of exhibiting a deadly weapon in a threatening manner or carrying a weapon on school grounds.

However, in a subsequent interview, Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Doug Werth said he would file a motion to ask Elgee to reconsider the aggravated assault charge.

"I’m troubled by this ruling," Werth said. "We’re going to try to persuade Judge Elgee that under the facts and the law, this is a case that should be sent to a jury. A preliminary hearing is not a jury trial. It’s probable cause at a preliminary hearing, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Werth said he considers the fact that the alleged incident occurred at school to be a "significant aggravating factor," but that he believes the circumstances to warrant an assault charge no matter where the incident had occurred.

"It’s an incredibly traumatic event for an average person to have a knife or a gun pulled on him," he said.

According to information from the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Pizarro is in custody at the Blaine County Juvenile Detention Facility in Twin Falls, and is also under an INS hold.


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