Former San Benito High School Superintendent John Perales has been sentenced to 20 days in county jail, probation and community service after pleading no contest to using a handgun to threaten a young man outside his Gilroy home in 2016.
The jail time was suspended, however, as long as Perales abides by the terms of his probation, according to Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Daniel Borca, who prosecuted the case.
Borca had recommended 60 days in jail, out of a maximum allowable term of one year, and told BenitoLink that jail time was “appropriate” because the incident could have ended tragically.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Edward F. Lee disagreed with the District Attorney’s recommendation; he stayed his own 20-day jail term and ordered Perales to serve two years of court-supervised probation and perform 120 hours of community service in connection with the Oct. 22, 2016 incident outside Perales’ Greystone Court home in Gilroy.
In addition, Lee at the Sept. 29 sentencing hearing in Santa Clara County Superior Court in Morgan Hill ordered Perales to submit at any time to searches by law enforcement officials and to refrain from owning or possessing a firearm for 10 years, and to stay at least 300 yards from his victim, Reynaldo Lara, of Gilroy, a former Gilroy High School student.
Borca formally objected in court to Lee’s sentence, and later told BenitoLink in an email, “Mr. Lara was present in court and provided heartfelt remarks about the impact this incident had on him.”
Borca continued: “This incident could have ended tragically, but Mr. Lara has demonstrated considerable resolve in putting this past him. Despite the people’s disagreement with the sentence, we believe the community is going to be protected because the defendant can no longer possess a firearm.”
In the meantime, four days after he was sentenced, Perales posted a note on his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/johnperales2018/, saying he might be a candidate for the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Trustees.
It reads: “Dear friends, I have given much thought to the idea of seeking a seat on the Gilroy Unified School District’s Board of Education. I have gone back and forth and just when I seem to resign myself to not run, I am encouraged by dear friends, community members and parents of students. I bring a fresh lens to the School Board/District and come with much experience in K-12 Education. Still, I will continue to pray about this path and seek God's will. I humbly ask for your support.”
In seeking a warrant for Perales’ arrest last year on the misdemeanor charge of exhibiting a firearm and threatening someone, the district attorney alleged that the former school superintendent did “…draw and exhibit a firearm, a(n) H&K .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, in a rude, angry and threatening manner and did unlawfully use the same in a fight and quarrel,” a violation of California Penal Code Section 417, subsection (a)(2).
For his part, Perales on Friday said: “In hindsight…I wish it had never happened.”
He was steadfast, however, in his belief that he acted out of legitimate safety concerns.
He said that prior to the incident there had been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood and that he had been a victim.
“We live in a free world and we are free to protect our homes, and I stand by that I was protecting my home. Unfortunately, that is not the way the DA saw it or the court system saw it,” he said.
Perales added: “I am looking forward to putting a very difficult time in my life past me and moving forward and focusing on the positive aspects I have gained through the experience…I am looking forward to just trying to move past this dark time in my life.”
And while Perales’ tenure at the helm of the SBHS district was not always smooth, he said of those he worked with and for, “I miss them dearly, they are a wonderful community.”
He praised SBHS for recent test score successes and said, “I had nothing but fond experiences there and I just wish them the best.”
As the Gilroy incident that lead to his legal troubles began, Lara was seated in his car, which was parked at the curb outside the Perales home, reportedly waiting for a friend who lived next door.
When Perales saw the young man, he approached him, brandished his handgun and confronted Lara, according to authorities.
A complaint was lodged with the Gilroy Police who investigated and referred the case to the district attorney.
Between entering his no contest plea in August and the sentencing, Perales was hired as Director of Media Education and Partnerships by Gilroy-based CMAP, a nonprofit media operation that trains youth and others in media production and has done some work with BenitoLink.
Borca confirmed that concerns over Perales’ behavior around youth were “reasonable questions.”
He told BenitoLink that he was satisfied the case will be “reported to the Department of Justice and they’ll do what is appropriate.” He said that would include matters involving employers and credentials.
Perales said Friday that CMAP works with “children” and that Mr. Lara was an adult, and so he sees no issue in him, Perales, working at CMAP since he has spent a career in education.
CMAP executive director Becca King Reed, Perales’ new boss, did not return a call from BenitoLink.
Headquartered at Christopher High School during part of Perales’ tenure as its principal, CMAP now shares space with Greenhouse Coworking in a building in the heart of downtown Gilroy.
Perales served as the SBHS top administrator from around March 2014 until early January 2017.
For 2014 and 2015, he was paid a combined total of $308,250 in salary and other pay, plus about $57,000 in benefits, according to the website, TransparentCalifornia.com. Figures for 2016 were not immediately available.
Perales left SBHS abruptly after meeting with the school board in the wake of being charged in December 2016 with one misdemeanor count of violating section 417 (a)(2) of the California Penal Code in connection with the Gilroy incident.
Crimes defined in Section 417 are commonly referred to as brandishing a firearm. Under certain circumstances it can be charged as a felony, for example when committed in the presence of a police officer or at a daycare center, according to Borca.
Perales’ behavior did not meet the statutory requirements of a felony charge, according to the district attorney’s office, which also confirmed that Perales was in legal possession of the gun at the time of the incident.
Perales’ home is a short walk from Gilroy Unified School District’s Rod Kelley Elementary School.
In California, it’s against the law to have or use a firearm illegally within 1,000 feet of a school.
It’s unclear if the incident was within that distance. Gilroy police did not allege a violation of California’s so-called safe-school zone laws, according to the district attorney’s office. Therefore it was not considered when charges were filed and could not now be charged.
Before his stint at SBHS, Perales was the founding principal of Gilroy’s $58 million Christopher High School. He also was a human resources official for the Gilroy Unified School District.
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