District Attorney Tim Ward issues statement on restrictions for juvenile prosecutions, charges boys involved in Porterville library fire that took two lives
By Paul Myers
PORTERVILLE – As communities throughout Tulare County mourned the deaths of two Porterville firefighters, District Attorney Tim Ward charged two 13-year-old boys for crimes related to the blaze that left the Porterville library in ruins.
Ward charged the two minors with murder and arson for allegedly starting the fire that killed captain, Ray Figueroa, 35, and firefighter Patrick Jones, 25.
A press release from the DA’s office said the minors denied the charges, remain in custody and will return to juvenile court on March 11. They add that no further information could be provided as of last Friday.
Last Thursday Ward issued a video statement explaining that the 13-year-old juveniles alleged to have started the Porterville library fire last Tuesday, cannot be charged as adults.
“Juveniles must be 16 years of age to be eligible to be tried as adults,” Ward said. “I’m certain this information may be met with outrage. This is why myself and many DAs across the state were against these changes to the law.”
He added that criminal justice legislation such as Senate Bill 1391 and Prop 57, recently changed the law to restrict prosecutor’s discretion to charge 14- and 15-year-olds in adult court.
“Currently my office and prosecutors across the state are constrained when it comes to what kind of cases can be tried as adults and the process to do so,” Ward said. “Current law even drops that age to 23 for many crimes that we all consider to be serious and violent.”
Ward said when criminal justice reform was initially introduced for minors, it was intended to act on more common juvenile crimes.
“When criminal justice reform advocates and legislators were considering the mistakes juveniles often make, I suspect they were usually talking about shoplifting and beer runs,” Ward said. “Never the less, justice reform holds consequences and today, we may well be witnesses to that.”
Ward said that his office will be “dogged” in seeking justice for the two Porterville fire fighters.
Since last Tuesday’s blaze, friends, families and communities have given an outpouring of support. Captain Figueroa’s family issued a statement to thank everyone for the continued respect for their privacy during this time.
“Captain Ray Figueroa, was a loving father, son, brother, nephew and friend. He faithfully served the city of Porterville for 13 years where his co-workers became his family,” the statement read. “Although we are heartbroken, we find comfort knowing he died doing what he loved in the accompaniment of a fellow brother (his Jonesy). We are so proud of all he accomplished and he will always be our hero.”
The statement went on to lend their condolences to the Jones family who lost their loved one as well.
Jones’s family and fiancé stated their thankfulness to everyone who had reached out over the week.
“Nothing can take this pain away, but the outpouring of support and prayers that you have sent this way have at least eased the pain, if only temporarily,” the Jones family stated. “Patrick was a shining light in this world and will continue to shine down on us from above.”
Tulare County captain Joanne Bear told reporters that the two were unable to confirm if all citizen had been able to exit the building and went in to search. And a “mayday” was called after that. Figueroa was found and taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Jones’ body was later found in the structure.
The fire was initially started at 4:15 last Tuesday afternoon.