SALT LAKE CITY — A prominent Latino activist was sentenced to 15 days in jail Monday after he admitted to unlawfully detaining a woman after she ended their relationship and deleting text messages from her phone containing evidence.
In addition to the jail time, 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy also ordered Tony Yapias, 52, to serve two years of probation, calling his behavior "disturbing."
The judge's order followed two very different pictures of Yapias provided by the woman whose allegation led to the charges and from his own attorney.
The woman told the judge Monday that sex with Yapias in March 2016 was not consensual, detailing her terror and humiliation after he came into her home without her permission on March 21, 2016.
"He refused to listen to me," she said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. "I felt that he was going to beat me."
Deborah Kreeck Mendez, Yapias' defense attorney, countered that the two had a consensual but contentious relationship that began as "physical, just friends" before the woman wanted more and became jealous. Yapias had helped her undocumented daughter, who came to the U.S. as a child, obtain government permission to remain in the country, Mendez said.
"I think they cared for each other in different ways, and I think that’s where this dilemma comes from," Mendez said, adding that when the woman removed her clothes that day in her own home, Mendez said, Yapias "strongly felt" it was consensual.
He deleted the chain of messages from her phone a short time later when the two were in the car on their way to breakfast, Mendez said, because the woman had threatened several times to post the private conversations online.
The Deseret News generally does not identify victims in sexual assault cases.
Yapias was originally charged with rape, a first-degree felony, and evidence tampering, a class A misdemeanor, for deleting the messages. As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty in August to that evidence tampering charge and to unlawful detention, a class B misdemeanor.
Prosecutors dropped the rape charge in August after determining they didn't have enough evidence to prove that allegation.
In court Monday, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said the woman agreed to the plea deal to avoid the emotional toll of testifying at trial. He prosecuted the case because Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has close ties to Yapias.
Originally from Peru, Yapias is the state's former director of Hispanic affairs and a longtime activist for undocumented Utahns who has criticized the separation of families due to deportations and advocated for rights of immigrant workers.
"We have reached a fair resolution to this very difficult situation and I hope that both sides can heal from it and we can move forward," Yapias told the judge.
Skanchy noted that the jail time he ordered breaks from recommendations prepared by Utah's Adult Probation and Parole, which did not propose any jail time for Yapias. Skanchy allowed him to report for jail on Dec. 27 so that he can spend Christmas with family, directing him to also complete 100 hours of community service and to avoid contact with the woman.7 comments on this story
After the hearing, Yapias said he plans to continue his advocacy work, calling the case "a big rock in my shoulder" over more than two years that cost him his job as an interpreter. He won't appeal his sentence, he added, but he believes elements of the investigation in his case warrant review.
Asked if he was referring to possibly suing over perceived issues with the case, he replied, "There's a lot of things that have to happen first."
Yapias said his time in jail will help him understand the criminal justice system.
"I think it works when we fight," he said of the system. "The original sentence was 15 years to life, and I'm standing here with you today."