Three friends accused of beating and paralyzing an off-duty Oklahoma City police officer now face a felony assault count that is punishable by up to life in prison.
The three were charged Thursday with assault and battery by means of force as is likely to cause death.
Joshua B. Rinken, 28, of Norman, Jimmy Dan Smith, 28, of Tuttle, and Cadmio Antonio Lopez, 31, of Newcastle, remain in Oklahoma County jail.
The officer, Chad Peery, 34, suffered a broken neck late Feb. 15 after he tried to escort the men out of Dan O'Brien's Public House in northwest Oklahoma City, police reported.
Bartenders who knew Peery was a police officer sought his help because of reports the men were trying to start fights. He is paralyzed from the shoulders down with some movement in his arms,
The three friends were charged last week with two felony counts — maiming and conspiracy. The maximum punishment for maiming is seven years and for conspiracy is 10 years.
Prosecutors Thursday amended the charge, adding the new assault count as an alternative to the maiming count. The change means jurors will have an option — assault or maiming — if the case reaches trial. The change also gives prosecutors more flexibility in any plea negotiations.
Assistant District Attorney Scott Rowland said he made the change after consultations with Peery's physicians about the seriousness of the injuries.
Police said Rinken started the assault, hitting the officer in the face at the bar's entryway.
Witnesses said Smith and Rinken then punched Peery while Lopez kept others from interceding, police reported.
Witnesses also said Rinken at one point dropped or threw the unconscious officer to the ground, police reported.
Rinken's defense attorney, Tommy Adler, said prosecutors “obviously are trying to hit him with everything they've got” because they weren't happy with the possible punishment in the original charge.
“They're reaching for something that doesn't fit the crime, trying to hit him with more punishment,” Adler said.
Other fights cited
The defense attorney also said, “What we're talking about here is a bar fight that ends in a tragic accident, not anybody's intention to hurt … that officer. Unpredictable and horrible things happen in bar fights but nobody was trying to paralyze anybody that night. It's a tragedy and our prayers go out to officer Peery's family.”
At a bail hearing last week, prosecutors presented evidence that Rinken has been in other fights at bars, parties and once on the beach of a lake while his two sons watched from a boat. Prosecutors called fighting his hobby.
Rinken and his friends were asked to leave Dan O'Brien's Public House after he tried to force a woman to kiss him and then almost got in a fight with a man she went to talk with, according to testimony.
Rachel Clark, 21, of Guthrie, testified she met Rinken that night at another bar. She said at Dan O'Brien's he grabbed her shoulders, pushed her against the wall and said, “Kiss me. Kiss me. … What is so much better about your boyfriend than me?”
She said, “I couldn't believe somebody would do that that I had just met.”