WALLA WALLA -- A 19-year-old area man faces more than three years in prison for participating in a gang-related shoot-out near downtown Walla Walla in September.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Jr. pleaded guilty Monday in Superior Court to second-degree assault while armed with a firearm.
He had been accused of the more-serious crime of first-degree assault, which would have netted him more than seven years in prison if convicted. But had the case proceeded to a trial on that charge, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden would have been required to prove Rodriguez intended "to inflict great bodily harm" on a person.
Most of the victims and witnesses in this case were less than cooperative, Golden said in an interview.
Therefore, he agreed to reduce the charge in exchange for Rodriguez's guilty plea and recommend a prison term of 42 months, which is the midpoint of the standard-range penalty of three years and three months to three years and nine months.
Also as part of the plea agreement, charges of possessing methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia will be dropped.
Rodriguez, of 117 N.E. 11th Ave., Milton-Freewater, will be sentenced later.
Officials said he fired rounds from a semiautomatic SKS rifle near Second and Eagan avenues in Walla Walla on Sept. 20. He was apprehended about 12:10 a.m. that day as he was leaving the scene in a vehicle at a high rate of speed.
He admitted to investigators that he took the rifle to the area and fired rounds in the air to try to scare off rival gang members who were there to fight, according to a police report filed in court. "Rodriguez also stated he was not the only one who fired it," the report says.
One witness reportedly told police Rodriguez fired first at the opposing group, then the two groups exchanged fire and were not shooting above each other's heads. The rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun were recovered near the scene.
Apparently no one was injured.
Numerous callers reported the shots fired about a half-hour after officers had responded to a fight that broke out between two rival gang members during a dance at the National Guard Armory at Colville and Park streets.
The fight moved to the area of Second and Eagan -- where some gang members apparently live -- and eventually involved at least 20 people, according to reports. Up to two dozen shots apparently were fired.