Car-on-cop charges go to district court
By Emma Breysse, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
August 10, 2012
A Jackson man accused of trying to run down a bicycle cop with his car is headed to district court.
The aggravated assault case will advance despite arguments by the defendant’s lawyer that there is little evidence his client’s actions were intentional.
Misrael Rivera-Vargas, 23, faces two felony charges.
At a preliminary hearing in 9th Circuit Court on Thursday, Magistrate Tom Jordan ruled there was enough evidence the crimes occurred to send the case on its way to trial.
Public Defender Elisabeth Trefonas, who is representing Rivera-Vargas, argued that police and prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to prove a swerve that narrowly missed hitting Officer Ryan Nichols was intentional.
Detective Alex Ayling, who testified in Nichols’ stead, said he didn’t know of any evidence aside from Nichols’ word that Rivera-Vargas intended to hit the officer.
According to police, Nichols was on bike patrol Aug. 3 near King Street and Kelly Avenue when he noticed Rivera-Vargas driving in a way Nichols thought was erratic. When Nichols attempted to pull him over, Rivera-Vargas allegedly swerved toward him and Nichols was forced to “take evasive action” to avoid being hit.
In his statement of probable cause for arresting Rivera-Vargas, Nichols said the driver purposely tried to run him down.
Trefonas argued that Nichols’ word alone wasn’t enough reason to charge her client with aggravated assault. Reports indicate Rivera-Vargas swerved several times before he nearly hit Nichols, she said. It’s possible he swerved simply because he was drunk and didn’t deliberately attempt to hit the officer, Trefonas argued. In order to support the aggravated assault charge, prosecutors must prove any danger to Nichols was more than an accident, according to law.
Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Clark Allen said he felt the facts spoke for themselves. Nichols was on vacation and wasn’t in court to testify.
Jordan agreed with Allen that the facts supported the idea that Rivera-Vargas’ actions were not accidental.
“The behavior before the encounter, I thought about that,” Jordan said. “But the behavior after that would indicate the driver knew what he’d been doing.”
After the crucial swerve, police said Rivera-Vargas drove to the Snow King Center and fled on foot, along with two passengers. Nichols reported later that he chased Rivera-Vargas down because he noticed the driver wore a white shirt and the other two runners wore dark ones. Nichols said he found Rivera-Vargas hiding in a bush; the dark-shirted passengers got away.
Speeding off, then running and hiding from Nichols made it seem as though Rivera-Vargas knew he had committed a crime, Jordan said.
The case will go to district court within the next few days. Judge Timothy Day will preside over the arraignment for Rivera-Vargas, who will have a chance at that hearing to hear his rights and enter his plea. That arraignment is not yet scheduled.