We have people who go out and engage in what should be a safe activity. (Then) somebody engages in this thoughtless act, (and it) ends up causing this kind of injury. —Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill
TAYLORSVILLE — A 17-year-old accused of punching a soccer referee, causing his death, was charged Wednesday with homicide by assault, a third-degree felony.
The charge was filed in juvenile court, but Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office will seek to have Jose Domingo Teran, of Salt Lake City, certified as an adult.
The charge came on the same day that memorial services were held for the victim, Ricardo Portillo.
Portillo, 46, was refereeing a youth soccer match at Eisenhower Junior High School, 4351 S. Redwood Road, on April 27 when he called a foul against Teran, a 17-year-old goalie. After issuing him a yellow card, the teen responded by punching Portillo "in the rear jaw area with a closed fist," according to the charges.
Witnesses told police Portillo was struck in the face as he was writing notes about the yellow card he had just issued.
Doctors at Intermountain Medical Center later told investigators that Portillo suffered a traumatic brain injury. Portillo remained in a coma for a week before he died. An autopsy determined he died "as a result of injuries related to the blow to his head," the charges state.
Gill said the case does not rise to the level of murder or manslaughter. But a charge of homicide by assault can be filed when a person "causes the death of another while intentionally or knowingly" trying to injure another person.
The key to the charge, he said, was the teen's intent when he punched Portillo.
"He didn't think the action he was engaging in would result in death even though he was reckless about it," Gill said. "His intent was to assault somebody, not to kill somebody."
Deciding whether to seek to have the teen certified as an adult was not easy, Gill said. But prosecutors had to balance the age of the 17-year-old versus the seriousness of the crime and what kind of expectations the community has.
"We have people who go out and engage in what should be a safe activity. (Then) somebody engages in this thoughtless act, (and it) ends up causing this kind of injury," he said. "I've got a father who has lost his life. I've got a loved one whose daddy is no longer going to be there."
Teran will turn 18 in October. He was being held in juvenile detention Wednesday on $100,000 bail. An arraignment in juvenile court had been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon but was continued until Judge Kimberly Hornak holds a hearing to determine whether the proceedings should be closed to the public.
Utah law says such hearings are open to the public for juveniles charged with certain offenses unless a judge finds good cause to close them.
Teran will now go through a certification hearing in juvenile court to determine if he will be moved into the adult system. Part of that process will include looking into Teran's delinquency history, educational history and a psychological evaluation.
Teran's attorney did not return calls for comment.
As charges were being filed, Portillo's family prepared for a memorial service for their lost loved one. The public service and viewing was held at the Rail Event Center in Salt Lake City followed by a private mass in the evening.
Clad in white T-shirts with an orange logo inscribed with “In loving memory of Ricky,” several friends and family members paid their respects as somber Latin music played over loud speakers. A closed casket and a large portrait of Portillo sat next to the stage.
Portillo’s eldest daughter, Johanna Portillo-Lopez, was too overcome with emotion to address the media Wednesday as she had originally intended to do. Instead, local activist and family friend Tony Yapias read a statement on behalf of the family.
“(Johanna) said, 'I want to thank all of you — friends and community — for all the support you have given my family in this very difficult moment,'" he read.
Yapias said Portillo loved being a soccer referee.
"Before this happened, he made a statement that said, 'Someday I'm going to be a famous referee.' How ironic because I think that's what has happened as a result of this."
Contributing: Jasen Lee