WALLA WALLA - A 19-year-old area man was sentenced Monday afternoon to three-and-a-half years in prison for participating in a gang-related shoot-out near downtown Walla Walla in September.
Jose Luis Rodriguez Jr. was ordered to serve the midpoint of the 39- to 45-month standard-range penalty he faced after pleading guilty Feb. 22 to a charge of second-degree assault while armed with a firearm.
Rodriguez was contrite before Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann imposed the sentence.
"I'd like to apologize to the court and the people I put in danger by my actions the night I committed the crime," Rodriguez said.
His attorney, Gail Siemers, added that Rodriguez was called to the area the night of the shooting to help some friends who might be in danger, but now realizes he should not have acted as he did.
In handing down the sentence, Lohrmann went along with a prosecution recommendation. He gave Rodriguez credit for the 169 days he'd served in the County Jail since his arrest and placed him on 18 months of community custody, a form of probation, when he's released from prison.
Lohrmann warned Rodriguez that after he's released, any gang affiliation will not be tolerated in this community.
Officials said Rodriguez, of 117 N.E. 11th Ave., Milton-Freewater, 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.
Rodriguez 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 Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden agreed to reduce the charge, citing an anticipated problem with uncooperative victims and witnesses had the case proceeded to trial.
Also as part of the plea agreement, charges of possessing methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia that Rodriguez faced were dropped.