Two years ago, officials and law enforcement agreed to try a couple in Sedgwick County District Court for the attempted murder of a sheriff’s deputy and the aggravated battery of another after a 12-minute, three-county police pursuit ended in a shootout near Potwin.
Sedgwick County had “more of a vested interest” in prosecuting the pair, Butler County Attorney Darrin Devinney told The Eagle at the time; the chase started in Sedgwick County and it was a Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy who suffered a shotgun blast to the right eye.
But this week, as Sedgwick County prosecutors prepared for jury trial, the case against one of the suspects was moved back to the county where the gunfire occurred.
Charges against Jason Christopher Perez were refiled in Butler County District Court after prosecutors asked a judge on Monday to drop the case pending against him in Sedgwick County.
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Perez, 37, made his first appearance in an El Dorado courtroom Friday afternoon on 14 criminal counts identical to the ones he faced in Sedgwick County. The most serious accusations are three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer for the March 11, 2013, showdown that ultimately wounded Lucas Powell, 33, then a five-year veteran of the sheriff’s office who worked as a K-9 officer.
A Butler County sheriff’s deputy also was fired upon that day, but wasn’t hit. Perez and his partner, Clara Crosser, were jailed and accused a few days later of a bevy of criminal charges in Sedgwick County District Court, including the attempted killings.
Powell, who recovered from the shooting, testified at a hearing in July 2013 that the shotgun blast caused 25 percent vision loss in his right eye and blurred vision in the remaining 75 percent.
The chase began after he attempted a traffic stop. Crosser, according to testimony, was wielding the shotgun when Powell was struck.
Perez on Friday also was charged in Butler County District Court with 10 other counts connected to the events of March 11: three counts of possessing a firearm after a felony conviction, possession of marijuana and methamphetamine, two counts of vehicle burglary, and one count each of fleeing from law enforcement, criminal threat and criminal damage to property.
He faces a preliminary hearing Thursday. Court-appointed defense attorney James Watts will represent him.
Bennett explained that as the start of Perez’s trial neared Monday, a decision was made to dismiss the charges filed in Sedgwick County and instead turn the case over to the Butler County attorney for prosecution because it was “more legally appropriate” to try it there.
A similar discussion took place between law enforcement and attorneys at the time of Perez and Crosser’s arrests two years ago. Back then, the thought was that Sedgwick County was the appropriate location to try the case.
After taking a closer look at the evidence in Perez’s case and weighing the likelihood that a conviction would be overturned on appeal on the grounds of inappropriate venue, Bennett said “it puts us in a more legally stable position to do it all in Butler County.”
Devinney, the Butler County attorney, did not return phone messages seeking information and comment on the newly filed case. While speaking to Butler County District Court Judge Charles Hart during Perez’s hearing Friday, Devinney called the move “a transfer of venue.”
Defense attorney Tim Scimeca, who represented Perez in Sedgwick County, said he could not discuss the case.
Crosser’s case, meanwhile, reached its conclusion in Sedgwick County District Court more than a year ago. She pleaded no contest to six counts, including attempted first-degree murder of Powell, and was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison in March 2014.
Bennett said handing over prosecution of Perez’s case to Butler County likely won’t affect the outcome of Crosser’s case.
But, he said: “We’re going to take a second look at that and make sure.”
As Butler County District Court Judge Charles Hart enumerated the charges against Perez on Friday, the 37-year-old sat silently, looking subdued. He was dressed in an orange Butler County Jail jumpsuit and matching slippers.
Shackles encircled his wrists and ankles.
Asked by the judge whether he received a copy of the court document that lists the charges, Perez simply replied: “Yes, your honor.”
Asked whether he understood the allegations, Perez had more to say.
“Yes, your honor. I understand the charges. I am kind of confused, though,” he told Hart.
“I just did two years of pretrial incarceration in another county on the same charges that were dismissed. They dismissed all counts. This was from two years ago, so I have to object to the prosecution in this county and object to the violation of my rights to a speedy trial on these charges.”
Devinney, in response, told the judge Perez had discussed the case with two attorneys who had represented him while awaiting adjudication of the Sedgwick County case and knew the charges would be transferred to Butler County.
He also asked that Perez continue being held on $1 million bond.