Betty Perez is vowing to see that the man accused of raping her after her work shift at Valleyfair this summer goes to prison, not just for her own sake but also for the 14-year-old girl the man was convicted of raping in 2010.
“I will make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Perez. “He should have been put away.”
Austin J. Jones, now 26, served just 90 days in jail for the 2010 rape and was on probation when he was charged last week with raping Perez.
“Knowing that a 14-year-old got hurt and she didn’t see him go to prison ... I feel obligated and will testify,” Perez, 20, said in an interview with the Star Tribune. She agreed to be identified for this article.
Perez was attacked just after midnight Aug. 7 outside the SCALE Regional Public Safety Training Facility on Valley View Drive near Jordan, where some Valleyfair employees are housed.
She told investigators that she was on the phone with her boyfriend when a man grabbed her by the wrist. He wound a belt around her neck and raped her, tightening the belt when she tried to scream.
Jones was arrested that night about 5 miles away in an SUV in which he was living. He was charged last week in Scott County District Court with first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct and remained jailed Thursday in lieu of $500,000 bail. His attorney did not respond to a call seeking comment.
The 2010 rape of the 14-year-old occurred at a drinking party in Chaska. Jones was about six weeks from his 19th birthday.
Jones was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, a count based on their age difference. State sentencing guidelines for his offense did not require prison time, though he could have been sentenced to up to 15 years. Carver County Judge Philip Kanning gave Jones 90 days in jail and ordered him to register with the state as a predatory offender.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Peter Ivy said prosecutors agreed to the sentence “because of certain [unspecified] vulnerabilities and evidentiary challenges this case presented. We also wanted to avoid putting the juvenile victim through an arduous trial, including vigorous cross-examination.”
The many requirements of Jones’ probation included that he stay law-abiding and abstain from drugs and alcohol. Since then and while on probation, he has been convicted of felony burglary, marijuana possession and illegal use of alcohol, and he failed to stay in touch with his probation officer. Had Jones not violated probation, he could have had the charges dismissed.
Ivy said Jones’ probation missteps did not compel a judge to put him in prison. But if Jones is convicted on the latest rape charge, it’s highly likely he’ll get extra prison time. Ivy said his office and the state Department of Corrections would seek to tack on a three-year prison term for the 2010 rape.
The new allegations against Jones “are alarming,” he said.
While Perez wants prison for Jones, she also said, “Fifteen years or life in prison is never going to be enough for me or that girl. He ruined our lives, and he ruined his life.”
At some point, she added, “I want to contact this girl [who is now in her early 20s] and let her know he’s going away, that he’s not going to do this again.”
‘In the middle of nowhere’
Perez couldn’t bring herself to return to work at Valleyfair. She had recently moved to the Twin Cities from out of state when she took the job in July. Her duties included dressing up as “Peanuts” characters Snoopy and Charlie Brown for park visitors. She also worked as a preschool reading tutor.
With affordable housing difficult to find, she quickly accepted the Valleyfair-sanctioned dormlike setting at the training facility 13 miles southwest of the amusement park for $38.50 a month.
“The building is out in the middle of nowhere,” said Perez. “There are a couple of other buildings around, but not many. The parking lot lighting wasn’t the best, but good enough. There were no cameras outside that I know of.”
Looking back, she continued, “I guess it wasn’t the safest, now that I think about it. My friends had an issue [about safety], but I usually try to stay on the positive side.”
The evening she was attacked, the park had allowed workers to stay after closing for complimentary rides, Perez said. She drove one of her fellow workers home and headed back to her residence.
She said she was by her car in the gravel parking lot at least 50 feet behind the building and on her phone when a man later identified as Jones grabbed her and took her to a swampy area.
Her boyfriend heard her cry out and called the police. A deputy trudged through high reeds and found Perez, mostly unclothed and unresponsive, in a clearing 100 to 200 feet into the swamp, according to court records. The belt remained fastened around her neck.
Perez said she has it in her to forgive, but added, “Forgiving isn’t saying you forget what happened. I plan to be there when he goes away.”
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482