A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that Juan “J.P.” Caceres-Rojas acted in self-defense during an early morning altercation with a cab driver in December. The decision opens the door for the popular bartender's legal team to argue that he should remain in the United States and continue shaking drinks for Washington's cocktail scene.
On Tuesday afternoon, Judge Yvonne Williams acquitted Caceres-Rojas on all three misdemeanor criminal charges — simple assault, threats to do bodily harm and possession of a prohibited weapon —stemming from a Dec. 19 incident in which a D.C. cabbie alleged that Caceres-Rojas threatened him with an ice pick, a tool of the bartending trade. During the two-day trial, Caceres-Rojas (who goes by the name J.P. Caceres) offered a different version of events.
Caceres-Rojas testified the cabbie was driving erratically while talking on his phone. The bartender told the cabbie to pay attention to the road and, when that failed to solve the problem, he asked for the cabbie's ID number to report him, which caused the driver to get angry. Caceres-Rojas said he tossed money at the cabbie to try to calm him down, but the driver allegedly responded by reaching for something that Caceres-Rojas couldn't see. That's when the bartender pulled his ice pick, Caceres-Rojas testified. When the cabbie finally settled down, Caceres-Rojas said he put his pick away.
The only independent witness to the altercation, according to a trial spectator, was a bar bouncer near the scene of the altercation, at the intersection of First Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW. The bouncer's story more or less corroborated Caceres-Rojas's version of events, even though the bouncer wasn't privy to the details of the fight.
The judge apparently didn't buy the cab driver's ever-changing version of events, according to a spectator, and ruled that Caceres-Rojas merely responded to a potential threat.
“We’ve known all along that Mr. Caceres had acted appropriately and in self-defense that evening, and we’re pleased with the court’s ruling," said Danny Onorato, attorney with Schertler and Onorato, who represented Caceres-Rojas.
On advice of his attorney, Caceres-Rojas declined to comment on the case. “While we are not surprised with [Williams'] verdict, we are relieved,” said Anna Duff, Caceres-Rojas’s publicist.
The next hurdle for Caceres-Rojas, now that he's been acquitted of criminal charges, is to try to remain in the United States. In February, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement granted Caceres-Rojas a three-month stay so he could have his day in court. The stay expires on May 19. The bartender's immigration attorney, Andres Benach with Benach Ragland, said he needs to sit down with his client to determine the next steps.
Benach said Caceres-Rojas might request a lengthier stay from ICE to sort out his case (in which the bartender apparently waited for more than three years on a background check to secure a green card) and to "see what happens with immigration reform." Or Caceres-Rojas might move back to Bolivia, his home country, and try to return to the United States on a so-called temporary O-1 visa, reserved for “individuals with an extraordinary ability” in fields including the sciences, athletics and the arts. To qualify for the visa, however, Benach must secure a waiver from a 10-year ban on individuals who lived in the United States illegally for more than a year.
"I think the waiver should be much easier at this point, now that there’s no cloud at all over J.P.," Benach said.