Four gang members who broke the jaw of a 21-year-old man who had resisted joining them have pleaded guilty to assault. Three of them already have been released from jail, worrying the victim's family.
"These guys are out now and we fear retaliation," said the mother of the victim. "My son could be killed or another family member hurt."
Four men who belong to a Sureños gang offshoot called RAW — an acronym for Ready and Willing — each pleaded guilty to a felony third-degree assault charge in exchange for having second-degree assault charges that would have carried mandatory prison sentences dropped, Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Nick Geil said.
Demetrio Hernandez, 24, Orlando James Chavez, 24, and Juvenal Adan Vega, 23, entered their guilty pleas in Jackson County Circuit Court last week. Ramon Guadalupe Rodriguez, 19, who lists a Coos Bay address in court records, entered his plea Monday.
Hernandez, Chavez and Rodriguez each were sentenced to 30 days in jail, but given credit for time served.
Each had been arrested in early to mid-April and held in jail awaiting resolution in the case. Chavez spent 40 days in jail, Hernandez 56 days and Rodriguez 51 days.
All will be on probation for three years and are barred from contact with one another, other gang members or the victim, Geil said.
They must pay the victim's medical bills, as well as other fees assessed by the court.
Vega, who has past convictions for fourth-degree assault, resisting arrest and unlawful possession of a handgun, was sentenced to 60 days and not given credit for the 56 days he spent in jail awaiting trial.
"We hold them each accountable for a serious violent felony," Geil said.
Still, he said he understood the fears and frustrations of the victim's family.
"These guys are a dangerous group," he said of the Sureños.
Geil said the victim had met the gang members at a party in early 2008 and they had asked him to join their gang. He refused. They then beat him up, but he didn't contact police.
His mother said her son had hoped to avoid conflict with gang members and thought that by keeping quiet and staying away from them he would be safe.
In March, RAW members discovered where he lived with his girlfriend and 10 to 15 of them waited outside the home in east Medford, calling him out, Geil said. When he came outside, the gang members attacked, hitting and kicking him. Police reported that some of the attackers used metal bars or bats, but Geil said witnesses, who were initially reticent in coming forward, offered conflicting statements on the weapons.
Prosecutors charged the four identified assailants with second-degree assault because of the serious injury the victim suffered — a broken jaw that required surgery — as well as various cuts and bruises, Geil explained. However, they agreed to drop that charge as incentive to get the men each to plead guilty to the third-degree assault charge linked to the assault of one person by a group.
"We have to get the best out of the situation that we can," he said.
Geil said that he had explained to the victim that whenever a case goes to trial, prosecutors risk losing on all counts, which would leave the suspects free of any restrictions. A plea bargain that results in a conviction, even on a lesser charge, ensures the criminal will face sanctions, including probation and orders to stay away from the victim.
"Hopefully this will provide protection for the victim and his family," Geil said, noting that the felony conviction also lays down a foundation for more serious sanctions if criminal behavior continues.
"If you don't do anything, it gets worse," he said, noting that such a strategy had failed the victim the first time he was assaulted. "People coming forward is what lets us, the state, hold gang members accountable."
The victim's mother said she was still scared and angry that authorities hadn't done more.
"It's not just about us," she said. "It is about other families, too."
She said she worried that Medford would no longer be a good place to raise children if the community didn't take a strong stand before gang problems grow.
"It should have been up to a judge and jury," she said.
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.