BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Jose Vaca appeared in Kern County Superior Court expecting to be charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and gang participation, but Kern County Deputy District Attorney William Schlaerth added a new, much more serious charge.
"We added attempted murder," said Schlaerth.
The prosecutor did not give details about what prompted the new charge, saying more will be revealed at Vaca's preliminary hearing to be held Jan. 10. Schlaerth indicated statements from witnesses support the new charge.
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But legal analysts say it's not uncommon for the District Attorney's Office to file additional more serious charges as part of its strategy to gain leverage.
"You could make the argument that it's for the purpose of forcing a plea bargain on something lesser," said Bakersfield defense attorney Jared Thompson, who is not involved in the Vaca case.
Vaca was pulled for a traffic stop on Dec. 19 at Oswell and Niles streets. In a jailhouse interview, Vaca admitted to having a rifle in his car.
He said he deliberately approached officers carrying the weapon to test a theory he said he had about police brutality. Vaca claims he never pointed the loaded weapon at officers. He said officers never told him to stop before they began firing.
One officer fired nine rounds, but police have not said how many bullets struck Vaca.
Vaca said he was struck in the stomach, arm, buttocks and back. He did not fire any shots at police.
Vaca is being held on $500,000 bail.