DA to consider charges against teen in soccer ref’s death

Posted at 8:46 PM, May 06, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY -- The district attorney will screen charges against a 17-year-old boy accused of punching a soccer referee, who later died.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office would begin screening charges on Tuesday, contemplating whether to charge the teen as an adult in connection with the death of Ricardo Portillo.

"His passing away certainly changes the complexion of our case and what we'll be looking at," Gill said in an interview Monday with FOX 13.

Portillo, 46, was refereeing a game a week ago when police said he gave a yellow-card to the 17-year-old goalie for pushing another player. That's when police and witnesses say the teen punched Portillo in the head.

Portillo spent a week in a coma before being taken off life support and passing away on Saturday. At a vigil Sunday, his daughter, Johana, urged common sense to prevail.

"I just want people to think before they do something stupid, because they hurt my whole family," she said.

The teen was arrested two days after the attack and has been housed in a juvenile detention facility on suspicion of aggravated assault. Potential charges the district attorney could file against him range from homicide by assault to negligent homicide or manslaughter.

Gill refused to address specifics of the case before his office makes a determination in what charges to level.

"Because it involves a juvenile, there are very narrow limitations we have in terms of how we address that," said the DA.

Gill told FOX 13 the teen was "on the cusp" of being 18, when he would have been an adult in the eyes of the legal system. If prosecutors elect to charge the teen as an adult, a juvenile court judge would have to approve the measure. At hearings, the teen's criminal history (if any) would be considered, as well as his family situation.

Prosecutors could not likely directly file adult-level criminal charges against the teen because of how narrow Utah's Serious Youth Offender law is worded. It allows for direct file in crimes with aggravating circumstances -- such as murder or sex offenses. The circumstances in the attack on Portillo do not appear to fall under the definition of that statute.

Gill said ultimately he was seeking to balance justice for the family of the victim, as well as the best interests of a young man.

"We do have the death of a person, and whenever that happens that raises the issues for us, understandably. I have a family that is mourning their loss and I've got a family who's got a juvenile," Gill told FOX 13. "So we have to balance the whole purpose of somebody who's a juvenile and whether we want to move from a juvenile to an adult system."

If the teen is charged on Tuesday, he is expected to make his first appearance before a juvenile court judge on Wednesday.