The man who drove a getaway car pleaded guilty Wednesday to drug and fleeing-an-officer charges in a 2016 incident in which a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy fatally shot a passenger in the car.
Jose G. Lara, 33, of Milwaukee pleaded guilty to conspiracy to deliver cocaine and attempting to flee a traffic officer. Those were the two charges he originally faced in the Feb. 24, 2016, incident in which then-Deputy Juan Ortiz shot and killed Christopher J. Davis, 21, of Milwaukee.
In February 2018—almost two years after the incident—the Walworth County District Attorney’s Office charged Lara with party to second-degree reckless homicide. That charge was dismissed and read into the record as part of the plea agreement.
Although Lara did not pull the trigger, case law from the 1970s says a person is responsible for other crimes that are “a natural and probable consequence of the intended criminal acts.”
Police had responded to the parking lot of Roma’s Ristorante and Lounge in East Troy for an anticipated drug bust when they saw Lara start to drive away.
Juan Ortiz, who later became a detective with the sheriff’s office, fired two shots into the car as it came toward him, according to court documents.
One of the bullets hit Davis in the head.
Lara drove out of the parking lot and eventually reached speeds exceeding 100 mph, according to the criminal complaint. He and another passenger, Roberto Juarez-Nieves Jr., later left the car and fled on foot in Muskego.
Davis, who was found in the car, died an hour later.
Then-District Attorney Dan Necci said the shooting was justified.
In his decision letter, Necci said Ortiz fired the shots as he got out of the car’s way. Ortiz said he heard the tires squeal and engine rev and thought his life was in danger.
Lara, according to Necci’s letter, said he was not trying to run over Ortiz—although he could see how the deputy would have believed that.
Doretha Lock, Davis’ mother, in November filed a lawsuit against Ortiz and other law enforcement officials and municipalities, saying “deliberate indifference and negligence” preceded her son’s death.
She also alleged some of the officers destroyed squad-car camera video.
In the lawsuit, Lock argues that police botched the drug bust that brought them to the parking lot in the first place. The bust, she claims, was hastily organized and poorly executed.
Ortiz had not been part of the original arrest plan and was supposed to serve as backup, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit argues the use of deadly force was not justified. It also says Davis did not know the other two people in the car were going to a drug deal.
Both sides will be able to argue Lara’s sentence length at a hearing at 2 p.m. May 30.
This article was updated at 4:53 p.m. Wednesday.