March 9, 2013
Sedalia resident William Rickey is looking for a new place to live.
After being assaulted in his home in late January, Rickey, 25, and his wife decided they no longer felt safe at the house in the 2000 block of South Washington Avenue. They had been living with Rickey’s parents in the immediate days after the attack but Rickey said he wanted to find a more permanent place to raise his 2-year-old daughter.
His attacker, Rudy Perez Jr., lived a few doors down the block from him, though the two weren’t friends. They worked at Walmart together for a short time but otherwise Rickey said the relationship consisted of a few neighborly waves. Perez, 33, is currently in jail, but not for assaulting Rickey; he’s facing first-degree murder charges in Boone County after he allegedly killed a man at the Harry S. Truman Veterans’ Hospital in Columbia.
Perez previously pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental defect or disease to the murder charge. On Monday, Boone County Circuit Judge Deborah Daniels granted Perez’s attorney’s request to delay a preliminary hearing until April to allow more time to prepare a defense.
Despite being arrested and booked into the Pettis County Jail, where he subsequently attacked a jailer, Perez wasn’t officially charged with the assault on Rickey until a week later. By then the attack at the VA Hospital happened and Rickey is now worried the charges for his assault, which required surgery to fix his broken nose, will be forgotten.
“I know the murder charge is the bigger charge and that takes precedence,” he said. “But I was attacked in my home and nothing was done. Nothing.”
According to Rickey, he was asleep on his couch in the afternoon of Jan. 29 when Perez rang his doorbell.
“I hadn’t slept well the night before and I was so out of it I thought I was dreaming,” Rickey said. “The doorbell kept ringing and ringing and ringing so I finally got up to answer it. I opened my door and pushed open the screen door and he just blasted me in the forehead.”
Rickey said the force of the blow caused him to fall onto his couch, where Perez continued to punch him.
“He just kept punching me over and over,” Rickey said. “He mounted me and just started wailing on me, punching. I was finally able to push him off me and he ran outside toward his house. The whole time he didn’t say a word. He just came in swinging. There was blood all over my couch when he was done.”
Rickey immediately called 911 and officers were dispatched to the scene. After getting his statement, officers advised Rickey that he needed immediate medical attention.
“I had a broken nose,” Rickey said. “I had to have surgery, it was so messed up, and I still can’t smell or taste anything. I’m going to a specialist in Columbia who said I might get my sense of smell back in a few months or a year or never; it just depends on the healing.”
Perez was arrested by Sedalia Police Department officers and taken into custody without incident. According to SPD Cmdr. Larry Ward, Perez was “noncombative” after he was arrested and confessed to hitting Rickey. That confession, with photos of Rickey’s injuries the arresting officer had taken, were sent to Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Mittelhauser, along with suggested charges of first-degree burglary and second-degree assault.
“We tape all confessions so we have both video and audio,” said Police Chief John DeGonia. “That DVD confession and the photos were sent to the prosecuting attorney’s office and Perez was taken to Pettis County Jail.”
The evening of his arrest, Perez attacked a Pettis County Sheriff’s deputy while at the jail. The deputy declined to file charges against Perez, something that Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said should have been done.
“Something happens in my jail, it needs to be reported,” Bond said. “But, that being said, as a law enforcement officer you have a tremendous amount of discretion. If you see someone speeding, for example, you can do anything from a wag of the finger to an arrest. I can’t second guess my deputies and he chose not to file charges.”
Bond noted Perez didn’t have a criminal history and had never been seen at the jail before.
“We do have regulars here, people we see all the time,” he said. “If he was someone we knew, who we knew had a violent history, would my deputy have acted differently and filed charges? Maybe. But I didn’t know Perez was booked on assault and burglary charges, I thought it was just burglary. I didn’t have all the pieces of information with Perez.”
DeGonia told the Democrat all charges are clearly marked on the jail’s booking reports and his officers have “good communication with the jail deputies, letting them know why a person was arrested.”
There is no automatic charge when a jailer is assaulted by an inmate and Bond said he has no plans to change that policy.
“You can’t dictate the circumstances for every case,” he said. “We’re not going to change our policies over a knee-jerk reaction because of one incident. What eventually happened in Columbia was terrible, and I have a major problem with how it was handled, but looking at just what happened in Sedalia — Perez came in with no criminal history and (Mittelhauser) didn’t charge him formally. After 24 hours, I had to release him.”
Mittelhauser decided not to file charges in Rickey’s assault, citing a lack of victim information in the police report.
“I had no information about the extent of (Rickey’s) injuries; the original report said he was punched in the face and that’s about it,” Mittelhauser told the Democrat this week. “Nothing told me why Perez ended up on Rickey’s doorstep or why he was mad at him. My belief at the time was there was some background information that I wasn’t being told about.”
Rickey disputes that claim, saying there isn’t more to the story.
“Anyone can just go off the wall,” he said. “A robber doesn’t have to know the owner of the home he’s stealing from.”
Mittelhauser said he asked the arresting officer to follow up with Rickey and provide a more complete victim’s statement but the officer was off duty that day.
“(The arresting officer) didn’t follow up quickly because he had a confession from Perez. He didn’t think there was a need for follow-up,” DeGonia said. “If there’s more to be done on a case, my guys stay here until it’s finished, even if that means working a 16-hour day. (The officer) thought the confession was enough.”
After receiving an updated victim’s statement from the SPD, Mittelhauser filed charges against Perez on Feb. 5, a week after the attack in Rickey’s home. The charge was for third-degree assault, a lesser charge than the original suggestion of second-degree assault.
“It’s not uncommon for law enforcement officers to suggest charges and (the prosecutor’s office) may file exactly what they suggest or charges with more or less severity,” Mittelhauser said.
After being notified the charges would be lowered, Rickey said he spoke to the prosecutor’s office.
“I was angry,” he said. “This guy came into my house and attacked me and that isn’t worth a second-degree charge? The police department did their job, they caught the guy. But (Mittelhauser) didn’t do his. His job was to see someone punished and that didn’t happen.”
When he spoke to the Democrat this week, Mittelhauser said he was “likely going to change the third-degree assault charge to second-degree” because he had received Rickey’s medical records and clear proof of his injuries, but he had no plans to extradite Perez back to Pettis County.
“I have no immediate plans to waste the police department’s time to provide a taxi service (from Boone County),” he said. “The murder charges are more serious, but I’m not going to dismiss the assault charge. Sometimes, with misdemeanors, if the defendant is facing a more serious charge somewhere else I may do that, but this isn’t a $35 bad check charge, this was an assault.”
More than a month after the alleged assault, Rickey said he still wants to see Perez in court.
“The days after the attack, I couldn’t sleep. I kept looking out windows,” he said. “My wife doesn’t feel safe in our home, I had to tell my daughter I fell down the stairs so she wouldn’t be scared. I lost four weeks of work and have $10,000 in medical bills so far. And (Perez) is still sitting (in Boone County). I want my day in court. The city did their job but Mittelhauser didn’t do his; I feel like I’m in the right here.”
Mittelhauser, Bond and DeGonia all said they have no plans to change any of the policies that led to the arrest and release of Perez.
“If someone comes into your home and assaults you, yes, there is reason to believe that person should be punished,” Mittelhauser said. “But cases aren’t that simple. The only unusual thing about this case was what happened after Perez left Sedalia.”