Men accused of sex with underage girls
It’s a dizzying tale of underage sex that led to the arrest of three South Lake Tahoe men and provoked a vigilante mother to bring a gun into a jail.
For experts who study the crime of statutory rape, the scenario is not much of a surprise.
Renee Estupinan, 19; Luis Perez, 20; and Octavio Perez-Ruelas, 18, remain in custody at El Dorado County Jail after being arrested last month on charges of committing a lewd and lascivious act on a person under 14 years old.
A mother contacted the South Lake Tahoe Police Department after her 14-year-old daughter confided to her that she was allegedly raped at a party in July and videotaped, authorities said. The teenager was 13 at the time.
The parent would later be booked into the jail when she reportedly brought a loaded gun into the facility in an alleged attempt to harm one of the men. She made bail but is charged with bringing a weapon into the jail and carrying a concealed weapon. Both are felonies.
Earlier this month Perez pleaded no contest in a negotiated agreement to one count of committing a lewd and lascivious act on a young girl. He faces a maximum of eight years in state prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 27.
The other two men booked on suspicion of juvenile molestation, Estupinan and Perez-Ruelas, are scheduled for a Jan. 6 preliminary hearing. Evidence and witness testimony is used by a judge in a preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough probable cause to bind a case to trial.
The relationship between one of the men and a 14-year-old girl lasted from April through fall of this year, authorities stated. Sex occurred when the men provided alcohol to the girls and, in return, the girls would provide sexual favors, according to reports.
On Nov. 5, police contacted two girls who spoke about the alleged rape that transpired at the 3500 block of Shirley Avenue.
Parties on both sides are laying a majority of blame on the other.
“I think that it’s a very unfortunate situation that is affecting all families involved but I also think that the district attorney’s office should take a long, hard look on how they’re not handling the cases of the girls involved and the parents of these children,” said Paul Palant, Perez’s attorney.
“These girls need some help,” he added.
A father of one of the girls and ex-husband of the woman who brought the gun into jail was upset at the tactics of defense attorneys.
“They’re trying to make these guys out as the patron saints of Mexico or something,” said the father, who is not being identified to protect the identity of the girl.
“These guys are bad news,” he said. “They may look like young kids and innocent but they’re not.”
On Thursday at El Dorado County Superior Court, the father was ordered out of the courtroom by a bailiff when he moved closer to the defendant’s table to get within earshot of the proceedings.
Public Defender Rick Meyer was beginning his attempt to persuade Judge Jerald Lasarow to lower Perez-Ruelas’ $100,000 bail to $2,500. Such a decrease would allow Perez-Ruelas’ family to afford his release from jail, Meyer said.
The father was told in earlier proceedings he couldn’t bring his cane into the courtroom because it could be used as a weapon. He said his only intention was to hear better, not attack Estupinan or Perez-Ruelas.
“It’s not lunging,” he said. “It’s called walking.”
Although both defendants’ bail was reduced, Lasarow chided their “outrageous” behavior.
“The way I read the reports she was intoxicated, they knew it and took advantage of it,” Lasarow said.
According to statistics from the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center, there were 14 statutory rapes last year. Five involved alcohol or drugs.
Amy Stacy, an outreach coordinator at the center, said pointing blame at the girls is “victim blaming” by saying they were making poor decisions by drinking alcohol and being social with men near or in their 20s.
“This is rape and these men are abusing their power, preying on vulnerable girls and supplying drugs/alcohol to help them achieve their goal of premeditated rape,” she stated.
Some girls in similar situations rarely report the acts because of fear of retaliation, said Cindy Swalm, program coordinator for Tahoe Youth and Family Services.
Even visitors try to lure the attention of young girls and know where to go, Swalm said.
“Guys come to town, rent a hotel room and solicit girls from the arcade,” she said.
Swalm believes a 13 or 14-year-old girl doesn’t have the decision-making capabilities that a young adult has. Attention from a guy and libidinousness felt from alcohol or drugs can erode the need to say no.
One incident in 2001 turned deadly. Police believe Jose Rodriguez-Perez, then 23 years old, gave a deadly dose of cocaine and alcohol to sixth-grader Claudia Torres at a party along Ski Run Boulevard.
Authorities believe Rodriguez-Perez has since fled and the area and likely went to Mexico.
Joanne Hernandez, a counselor at South Tahoe Middle School, was shocked when told of the incident earlier this month. It quickly raised a question in Hernandez’s mind if the school needs to take more steps in sexual education.
“It really surprises me to hear it’s something local,” she said.
Being sexually aware of their peers typically arrives late in eighth grade or early ninth grade, Hernandez said. Despite the emergence of teenage sexual desire in that time frame, Hernandez said she has seen students at the middle school mirroring adult behavior seen on channels like MTV or advertisements.
“They hear adults, they see others behave a certain way and it’s people they look up to and think that might be OK,” Hernandez said. “I’m not sure they fully understand what they’re doing. I think they’re just mimicking adults most of the time or other peers.”
– E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org