Domestic violence case against sheriff's deputy dismissed

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldOctober 13, 2012 

The case against a Benton County sheriff's deputy accused of hitting his wife was dismissed Friday because the alleged victim changed her story and his mother-in-law refused to come to court, the prosecutor said.

Abel Prieto Campos, 42, had been set to face a jury Monday in Benton County District Court on a simple assault charge with domestic violence.

But at a pretrial hearing, Richland City Prosecutor Michael Rio said the situation with his two key witnesses "doesn't leave me with anything."

Rio asked Judge Katy Butler to dismiss the charge without prejudice, which means he can re-file the case if more evidence comes to light. He added that "any time the victim wants to come forward," he will prosecute Campos.

Yakima lawyer Adam Moore didn't object to the motion on behalf of his client, who stood next to him before the judge. Campos' wife also was in the courtroom for the hearing.

Campos has remained on paid administrative leave since his June 2 arrest, pending completion of an internal investigation. He has been a sheriff's deputy since May 2001.

Moore asked for the return of his client's duty weapon, which was seized at the time of his arrest. Rio said it is being held by the Richland Police Department and Campos must go through the city's process to get it back.

Sheriff Steve Keane on Friday told the Herald that his internal investigation is almost complete, but he was waiting for Campos' criminal case to resolve before interviewing Campos.

During that interview, Campos can be compelled to give a statement about what happened. In a criminal case, defendants can't be forced to talk or incriminate themselves.

Although the statements given in the administrative investigation can't be used in a criminal trial, Keane said he determined it was best to wait to do the interview.

Keane said he's hoping to have the interview done by the end of next week. Campos has the right to have his union representative with him at the time.

"He's been out since June 2 and I need to get this thing resolved," Keane said.

The sheriff also explained that the burden of proof is different in an internal investigation. Where proof "beyond a reasonable doubt" is required in a criminal case, "ours is based on a preponderance of evidence," he said.

Campos first appeared in District Court on June 4 to plead innocent to the charge filed by the city of Richland. Simple assault is a gross misdemeanor offense, comparable to fourth-degree assault.

Richland officers were sent to Campos' Greenview Drive home at 11:58 p.m. June 2. He was placed on paid leave shortly after being taken into custody.

Police found Campos' wife "visibly upset and crying," according to court documents.

The couple had a birthday party for their 2-year-old daughter that day. His wife told officers that when Campos came to bed, "she told him to go somewhere else as he had been drinking and was being disrespectful to her," documents said.

Campos allegedly hit her on the side of the head two or three times while she was in bed next to the young girl. Some of the woman's hair was pulled out in the alleged attack, and she later showed police a wad of hair.

The woman told officers that after Campos left the room, she called her mother, who called police, court documents said.

One officer noted that the right side of the woman's head and her right ear were red as if they had been hit, there was a spot behind her right ear where hair appeared to be missing, and there was swelling above her right eye, documents said.

Campos told police "it was a verbal argument only," which started when his wife was yelling at him, court documents said. He said he walked out of the room and never touched her, documents said.

The woman's injuries did not require immediate medical attention, Richland police Capt. Mike Cobb told the Herald at the time. However, Campos was arrested that night because state law mandates it in domestic violence assaults.

Campos spent 30 hours in jail and was released on his personal recognizance at his initial court appearance.

Judge Kristian E. Hedine from Walla Walla County District Court was scheduled to come to the Tri-Cities on Monday for the trial.

On Friday afternoon, Rio told Judge Butler that the alleged victim's mother sent a number of emails in the previous 24-hour period to his office and the court that she does not remember the events of that night. Campos' mother-in-law also reportedly said she is disabled, and "I would have to send someone to bring her to court," Rio said.

The prosecutor said that left him with Campos' wife, but she has changed her story since the incident.

"I have to dismiss at this time," Rio said.

"Yes, I could go forward but all the witnesses backed out on me, saying they don't remember what happened," he said.

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