A federal magistrate has found probable cause to keep a man the FBI has described as an international fugitive in custody on charges that he fired on a SWAT team that came to arrest him in western Pennsylvania earlier this week.
The result of Friday's preliminary hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell in Pittsburgh means federal prosecutors now have 30 days to indict 30-year-old Frank Perez Jr. on charges of assaulting a federal officer and using a firearm in a crime of violence.
But the brief hearing provided little information about how the FBI tracked Perez to Verona, a suburb about 10 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, where he is believed to have been living for at least two months with his girlfriend and her child before the SWAT raid turned into an armed standoff.
Special Agent Robert Smith, the only witness at the hearing, testified Perez fired more than 30 shots at agents, though nobody was injured in the roughly three-hour siege that began at about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. The FBI's 11-agent SWAT team, other agents and other law officers called to the scene didn't return gunfire, though they shot 24 tear gas canisters into the home about seven minutes after Perez began firing, Smith said.
Before Smith testified, Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Rivetti told the judge the government "was not prepared to reveal the identities of any confidential informants" because the investigation was ongoing, and afterward the prosecutor declined to comment.
When public defender W. Penn Hackney asked Smith how the FBI managed to find Perez, Rivetti objected and the judge prevented Smith from answering.
On the day of the standoff, Pittsburgh FBI spokesman Agent Jeff Killeen told reporters that Perez was wanted for a 1999 murder in northern Indiana and a related federal fugitive warrant issued in 2002, and that Mexican authorities had also charged Perez with kidnapping.
Killeen has told The Associated Press he has no other information about the Mexican charge, which he said the FBI learned about during a background check that was part of the FBI's efforts to track down Perez in western Pennsylvania. Rivetti said after the hearing he could offer no new information about charges in Indiana or Mexico.
A call to the Mexican embassy in Washington, D.C., was not immediately returned Friday.
Perez had been on Indiana's list of most wanted fugitives for the July 13, 1999, slaying of Jose Pena Jr. in Whiting, Ind., near Chicago. Police said the men were arguing about a woman before the shooting.
Prosecutors there plan to bring Perez back to face the murder charge, but have said they're not sure how soon that will occur. Police in Highland, Ind., have also said Perez was wanted for allegedly shooting at police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents during a traffic stop and chase in March 2004. Perez reportedly jumped out of his vehicle and eluded capture during that incident.
Smith testified Friday that Perez fired at agents "on and off" for about 15 minutes on Tuesday when they surrounded the building where he lived in an upstairs apartment. Authorities talked him into surrendering and Perez told them "I already put down my gun," Smith said.
Authorities said agents found four weapons in the home and determined Perez fired three of them: a 9mm pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .45-caliber revolver. Smith did not describe the fourth weapon, and it was not listed in the FBI's criminal complaint.
The judge ordered Perez held without bond on the grounds that he was a flight risk and a danger to the community after Hackney declined to oppose the order.
"I don't believe argument is necessary here," Rivetti agreed in addressing the court. "The crime is clear."
Perez didn't comment as deputy U.S. Marshals led him from the courtroom on Friday, and Hackney declined to comment.