3 teen gang members plead guilty in mall beating

Three teenage gang members have pleaded guilty to assaulting a man for wearing rival gang colors at the Rogue Valley Mall last month.

The April 11 attack on a man with no known gang affiliations was part of a spike in gang-related activity that authorities hope to stem with a quick crackdown on those responsible.

One of the teens, 17-year-old Filiberto Molina Cazares, was treated as an adult in Jackson County Circuit Court after officials reviewed his criminal history and the resources available to help him in the juvenile justice system, Jackson County Deputy District Attorney J. Adam Peterson said. The other two, brothers ages 17 and 15, remained in the juvenile system.

"This shows that the various law enforcement agencies and the district attorney's office take the ever-growing threat of gang activity in the county seriously," Peterson said.

All three teens pleaded guilty to third-degree assault last week, Peterson said. Third-degree assault charges apply when a group of people attack a single victim.

The teens, who all claim to be members of a Sureños gang offshoot called RAW — an acronym for Ready and Willing — saw a 29-year-old Ashland man wearing a shirt with a red star on it at about 1:45 p.m. on April 11, Peterson said. They singled out the man, who was at the mall food court with his girlfriend and young son, because Norteños, the Sureños' rival gang, use the color red, Peterson said.

When they confronted the man, he asked them to step outside, away from his family and where he had seen a security guard, Peterson said. Just outside the mall, the teens began kicking and hitting the man. A security guard tried to intervene and summoned other guards, who pepper-sprayed the assailants and called police.

Cazares and the other 17-year-old ran, but security guards detained the 15-year-old. With the help of witnesses, police tracked down the two older teens that afternoon. One was arrested on Court Street near Ohio Street, and the second was found on East Jackson Street near Bartlett Street. All three remained in custody until they entered pleas last week.

The victim had bruises and swelling on his face, but didn't need medical treatment, Peterson said.

Cazares entered his plea Friday and was sentenced to 30 days in jail — the maximum allowed under state law under the conditions, Peterson said. He had been jailed 33 days since his arrest, so he was given credit for time served and released. He will remain on probation for three years.

The other two entered guilty pleas May 13, Peterson said.

The 17-year-old is suspected of being in the country illegally, so Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed a hold on him. He will be transferred to a federal detention center for an immigration hearing, Peterson said. He faces deportation, but would be sentenced in the assault case if he remains in or returns to the U.S. after the immigration issue is resolved, Peterson said.

The 15-year-old was released to his family while officials investigate the most appropriate sentence for him. His sentencing hearing, called a disposition in the juvenile system, is set for June 2. Prosecutors likely will recommend the boy either be sent to the state's youth correctional center or be assigned to a one-year gang-intervention program in Salem.

Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said the department was glad to see the case resolved quickly.

"This was a good ending to a pretty ugly situation," he said, noting that the random assault on an innocent victim was especially disturbing.

During March and early April, young men thought to be affiliated with various Sureños groups were suspected in a string of attacks, Medford police said.

Doney said he was especially pleased that witnesses came forward to help police track down suspects.

"It's good when people are willing to assist us so we can hold these gang members accountable," he said. "It's a statement that there are concerned witnesses who are willing to stand up against the young men making these choices."

He and Peterson both stressed that the number of gang-affiliated youth is still quite small — around 60 people in Jackson County, police estimate — but that it is important that the whole community take a stand against such activity now.

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