Jackson man denies aiming car at officer
By Emma Breysse, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
December 28, 2012
A Jackson man pleaded guilty Dec. 19 to planning to run down a police officer on bike patrol this summer.
Misael Rivera-Vargas, 23, originally was charged with felony interference with a peace officer over the issue, but pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit felony interference as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
The deal also includes a maximum jail sentence of 18 months to two years.
Rivera-Vargas entered his plea under a legal doctrine that allows a defendant to plead guilty, but not admit any wrongdoing. He previously had pleaded not guilty, but changed his plea in the deal with prosecutors.
The penalty for conspiracy is the same as the penalty for interference.
Ninth Circuit Court Judge James Radda presided over the change-of-plea hearing in 9th District Court, as Judge Timothy Day was absent.
Rivera-Vargas contends he was not driving the car that attempted to run down the officer, said Teton County Deputy Prosecutor Clark Allen.
“The reason that the defendant wants to plead guilty is that his version of events would be that he was one of the passengers and was part of that conversation [deciding to swerve into the officer],” Allen said.
Both the old and the new charge stem from the night of Rivera-Vargas’ arrest Aug. 3.
Under the plea deal, Allen laid out the facts in court on Rivera-Vargas’ behalf.
Jackson Police Officer Ryan Nichols was on bike patrol that night and noticed a car driving “erratically,” in a way that was “not normal driving,” Allen said.
After a few minutes of watching the car, Nichols activated the police lights on his bike.
When he did, the car did an abrupt U-turn, started speeding toward Nichols and swerved sharply toward him, Allen said.
“He basically had to dive out of the way, jump out of the way to avoid being hit,” Allen said.
As he did, Nichols noticed the car’s driver was wearing a light-colored shirt. Nichols eventually caught up with the car, and three people got out and started running away, according to court files.
Nichols chased the only man in a light-colored shirt, which turned out to be Rivera-Vargas, court files state.
Day will review a pre-sentencing in-vestigation report and sentence Rivera-Vargas after he returns.
Jackson lawyer Elisabeth Trefonas said she intends to argue that her client should receive a probation sentence and not receive any more prison time. The plea deal gives a maximum prison term, but allows for the final sentence to be less severe.