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Teen pleads guilty to assaulting man with knife

WORTHINGTON -- Sixteen-year-old Brandon Ortiz pleaded guilty Tuesday to first- and second-degree assault -- charges filed in August after Ortiz got into an altercation and stabbed a 24-year-old man multiple times with a pocket knife.

Ortiz pleaded to the charges with the understanding his case would remain in the juvenile courts unless he violates the conditions of the plea agreement. Those conditions include an immediate 90-day placement at Prairie Lakes Detention Center, a psychological evaluation, a chemical use assessment, 175 community service hours and restitution of a medical bill that is more than $100,000.

Ortiz is prohibited contact with the victims of the assault and the residence where the assault took place.

These conditions will stay in place until Ortiz reaches the age of 21. If he violates any of the conditions, he could be processed through the adult court system and face up to 86 months in prison.

The altercation took place in the early morning hours on Aug. 6. The criminal complaint states the victim got into a verbal altercation with Ortiz's sister, and Ortiz responded by stabbing the man with his pocket knife.

Under oath Tuesday, Ortiz said he was at a residence in the 1000 block of Omaha Avenue and got into an argument with the man after witnesses some girls arguing. The victim hit him, Ortiz said, then was jumped by two other men.

His sister tried to calm him down, driving him away from the residence and taking possession of his pocket knife. They went back to the same residence about 10 minutes later and he went inside while his sister stayed outside.

"(A girl) came inside and told me (the victim) was outside hitting my sister," Ortiz said.

He testified he went outside and saw his sister yelling and swearing at the man.

"I got mad," he said. "My sister was crying. She had the knife in her hand and I took it away from her."

Ortiz said he doesn't remember when he opened the blade of the folded knife, but knows he did. Medical reports show he stabbed the man nine or 10 times. In the process, a woman with the victim was cut on the leg. Ortiz said he doesn't remember stabbing the woman, but used an Alford plea to admit to the second-degree assault in which she was involved.

Nobles County Assistant Attorney Kathy Kusz said she had been in contact with both victims, both of whom had expressed desire to be at the hearing.

"I think they were both hoping for more serious consequences," Kusz said. "But they aren't here."

Judge George Harrelson read a letter from the male victim that expressed his displeasure with the 90-day sentence.

"He was offered a plea agreement for 90 days because they feel charging him as an adult would ruin his life," the victim wrote. "But he ruined mine. I was stabbed nine times and left to die. I'm not able to go back to work full-time and I have a family to support."

The letter said the victim was airlifted to South Dakota after the stabbing, where he had emergency surgery and spent time in critical care with a breathing tube He almost died, he wrote. The sentence -- a slap on the hand -- sends a message that a person could stab anyone they wanted at anytime with no consequences because they were a minor, he said.

"I would have to be dead before it was treated accordingly," the victim wrote.

In a quiet, halting voice, Ortiz told the judge he was sorry and understands that what he did was wrong. As family members cried, Ortiz acknowledged he had hurt many people with his actions.

"I feel upset with myself," he said before choking with emotion.

Defense attorney Daniel Birkholz, with the judge's permission, finished the teen's statement by stating Ortiz understands the opportunity he has been given and knows he will be on a "short leash" until he turns 21.

"The plea agreement is fair and gives a 16-year-old the opportunity to change his life," Birkholz said. "I can only hope he does with it what he's supposed to."