Two firefighters are dead. The teens accused of setting the fire cannot be tried as adults in California.

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PORTERVILLE, Calif.- Two suspects accused of starting a deadly fire that claimed the lives of two firefighters earlier this week cannot be tried as adults, and the town is outraged.

Tuesday afternoon, firefighters responded to a fire at the Porterville Public Library. Capt. Ramon “Ray” Figueroa, 35, and firefighter Patrick Jones, 25, lost their lives in the blaze.

As news of their deaths spread across the community, located in central California, word began to circulate that the fire may have been deliberately set.

 

The fire, which was reported at 4:35 p.m. raged into the night before it was finally extinguished, according to the Sacramento Bee. It took dozens of local and state fire departments to put out the fire.

Two 13-year-old boys were seen running from the scene, and they were later arrested and were being held at a juvenile detention center, according to the Associated Press.

According to Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward, the reaction of the community to the arrests were “unusually swift and strong.”

“[Crews] hadn’t even recovered the second firefighter’s body and people were calling and telling us what charges we should file,” Ward told the Washington Post on Thursday.

Ward referenced recent criminal justice reform laws, which he said that the public do not seem to understand.

“Even with the most serious charges of murder, 13-year-olds in California can’t be tried as adults,” Ward said in a video statement shared the day after the fire.

Even in cases of murder, juveniles in California are eligible for release at the age of 25, he said.

“I’m certain this information may be met with outrage,” he said. “This is why myself and many district attorneys across the state were against these changes to the law.”

Detectives from the Porterville Police Department were expected to deliver their police report to the Tulare District Attorney’s Office this past Thursday, according to Police Chief Eric Kroutil.

“Our folks have been working very closely with [prosecutors],” he said. “It’s very challenging…there are very strict limitations on how we can question juveniles.”

He noted that detectives will meet with prosecutors to see what steps they can take going forward.

This case has obviously raised the ire of the community and both police and prosecutors find themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

“Please bear with me as I navigate this in the best, most ethical way that I can,” said Ward. “Always giving priority to preserving the integrity of the process and any potential prosecution of a case.”

Chief Kroutil said that the investigation was ongoing, but police were not releasing too many details.

As far as the actual cause of the fire, Tulare County Fire Capt. Joe Rosa is leading the investigation. Rosa has dozens of arson case investigations across the county under his belt and has a high conviction record.

Capt. Raymond Figueroa joined the fire department in 2007. He passed away on the night of the fire.

Firefighter Patrick Jones, who had been with the department since 2017, was found in the rubble the next night, according to officials.

Boys accused of starting deadly fire can’t be tried as adults, California DA says. The town is outraged.

Residents of the town are curious what the suspects will face as far as consequences for their actions.

“Juveniles are extremely protected,” the chief said. “In my opinion rightfully so.”

For his part, District Attorney Ward asked for “understanding and patience.”

“The office of the district attorney will be constrained today, and even more so in the future from sharing very much with the public,” he said. “There are significant limitations when it comes to what we can reveal.” This is especially true since the suspects will be tried as juveniles and not as adults.

Porterville Fire Statement 2-19-20

Statement by District Attorney Tim Ward on the arrest of two juveniles in #Porterville fire incident.

Posted by Tulare County District Attorney's Office on Wednesday, February 19, 2020

As in many states, the juvenile justice system in California seals records of juveniles involved in criminal cases, and will redact pretty much all information, including names, from public view.

In the state of California, children under 14 cannot be tried as adults, even if they are charted with serious and violent felonies such as manslaughter.

“If the suspects were 17, they could be tried as adults, according to Chief Kroutil.

“They would face a lengthy prison sentence,” he said. “That’s not going to happen in this case.”

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The reason for the limitations on juveniles being tried as adults is the result of Proposition 57 and Senate Bill 1391, which limits the age a prosecutor can charge a juvenile as an adult for violent offenses to 16.

And we wonder why kids have no respect for either the police or any other authority figure for that matter. They basically have nothing to fear.

Ward noted that the fact he cannot try the suspects as adults would likely be met with anger from the community.

“I’m certain this information may be met with outrage,” he said. “This is why myself and many district attorneys across the state were against these changes to the law.”

This is typical. Lawmakers, many who have no clue what law enforcement and prosecutors are up against on a daily basis totally disregard the professionals and implement feel good legislation that dumbs down the criminal justice system. See New York for confirmation of that.

Not happy with how things currently are in California, Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) has filed SB 889, which would raise the juvenile age to 19. In other words, someone would have to be 20-years-old before being tried as an adult. 

“When teenagers make serious mistakes and commit crimes, state prison is not the answer. Processing teenagers through the juvenile justice system will help ensure they receive the appropriate education, counseling, treatment and rehabilitation services necessary to achiever real public safety outcomes,” Skinner said.

Spoken like a true mind-numbed liberal. 

The two laws, which were passed in 2018 removed the ability of prosecutors to have 14 and 15-year-old offenders moved to adult court.

The other changed the state’s felony murder law to end the possibility of first-degree murder charges for felony accomplices who don’t kill someone, such as a getaway driver in a robbery. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional.

The two suspects, both from Porterville, have been charged with arson, manslaughter and conspiracy charges currently, however other charges from the district attorney’s office are pending while the investigation continues.

The destruction of the library, which was 70 years old was met with shock and disappointment from the community, however the deaths of the two firefighters has, according to Ward had a “chilling and somber” effect.

People have been laying flowers near the burned-out building. Someone who answered the phone at the fire department said that everyone had been sent home to grieve.

 

Despite Ward trying to explain to the community the limitations his office is under due to the new laws, it has not done much to ease the anger of town residents.

While many people were already frustrated by the state’s criminal justice reforms, he said that the deaths of the firefighters had “exacerbated already brewing frustrations” over the measures.

“I’m all for protections for the accused and a fair process. But when you start passing laws that protect the accused more than victims, many of us have issues with that,” he said.

Of course, liberal social justice warriors really do not care much about the ramifications of such feel-good legislation.

Michael Mendoza is the national director of #cut50, an Oakland, Calif.-based bipartisan criminal justice reform group. He agreed that the firefighter’s’ deaths were a tragedy, however he said putting teenagers in an adult court and prison system would be too.

“We still have the opportunity to intervene in, and impact the livers of two 13-year-olds, who are kids,” Mendoza told The Washington Post.

He added that the investigation isn’t complete as of yet, and the suspects, even if guilty would still need age-appropriate services.

Mendoza said those services were not available when he was sentenced to an adult prison as a 15-year-old for participating in a gang-related murder, which he now calls the “worst mistake of my life.”

The California laws, Mendoza says protect children from “emotional responses, such as times like this,” while saying he does understand why community anger in Porterville was high.

Ward noted that his office wants to be “as aggressive and dogged as we can.” However, he says that at the same time, he has to follow evidence and the rule of law in filing charges, not emotion.

“I’m sure whatever charge we file, there will be outrage in the community,” he said. “We’re mindful of that, but despite what the community’s position is, we can only file what we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

A memorial service for the two fallen firefighters was held on Friday afternoon, scheduled for 4:14 p.m., which is the exact time the fire began on Tuesday. Both men were killed when they entered the building to make sure nobody was inside, and they became trapped in the raging fire.

 

Porterville Fire Chief Dave Lapere said that the memorial service would also be a chance to publicly thank the first responders who “selflessly assisted the City this week.”


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