Teen Soccer Player Faces Homicide Charge in Referee's Death
A 17-year-old Utah soccer player was charged with third-degree felony homicide by assault on Wednesday after allegedly punching a referee who later fell into a coma and died.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who announced the charge, will attempt to have the teen tried as an adult.
The player, who has not been identified by police because of his age, is accused of having punched 46-year-old referee Ricardo Portillo while serving as a goalkeeper during a recreation soccer game at Eisenhower Junior High in Salt Lake County, Utah, on April 27. Portillo gave the player a "yellow card" for pushing an opponent, according to a police report obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, and the player reportedly retaliated by arguing with Portillo and punching him once in the face.
When the police arrived on scene, Portillo was "laying on the ground, on his left side in a fetal position," according to the police report. He complained of "pain in his face, back, and being nauseated," the police report says, and "had spit up a small amount of blood in his saliva."
Portillo was taken to the hospital, where he slipped into critical condition due to swelling in his brain. He lost consciousness and fell into a coma before passing away this past Saturday evening. The autopsy concluded that he died from the blow to the head, which caused internal bleeding and traumatic brain injury, according to the Tribune.
Police arrested the teen on April 29, two days after the assault, booking him into the Salt Lake Valley Detention Center on the charge of aggravated assault, according to a police statement. He's remained at the juvenile detention facility ever since.
If the teenager is charged as an adult, the homicide by assault charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, the Associated Press reports. It's a less severe charge than murder or manslaughter.
"We did not believe we could demonstrate the premeditation or intent to justify those charges," Gill told the AP. "Those other charges require another type of mental state. We did not believe that type of mental state was present."
Barry Mano, the president of the National Association of Sports Officials, told The New York Times that Portillo's death is only the second known death in the United States caused by the assault of a referee.
According to the Times, Portillo and his family had planned a trip to Disneyland last week. Instead, the family spent the week by Portillo's side in the hospital before he ultimately passed away.
Photo: Marco Martinez, right, and Bea Manzanares pay their respects to Ricardo Portillo during a public wake on Wednesday in Salt Lake City. Portillo died Saturday, a week after police say a 17-year-old player struck him in the head during a recreational league soccer game after the referee called a penalty against him. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
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