Supporters of five teenagers involved in a Halloween shooting hold a demonstration Monday in Santa Fe Park in Topeka. Maria Rodriguez, far left, is the mother of one of the shooting victims. Sam Allison-Natale, far right, is an attorney for one of the boys. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Family and supporters of five teenagers involved in a Halloween shooting are calling for charges against Robert Sinner to be elevated to attempted murder and for charges to be filed against his brother, Justin Sinner.
The brothers took aim at the teenagers, striking three, after suspecting them of stealing Donald Trump signs. Robert Sinner, 40, faces three counts of aggravated battery and one count of criminal discharge of a firearm at an occupied vehicle for the Oct. 31 shooting in North Topeka.
No charges have been filed against Justin Sinner, 34. Court records indicate both men fired gunshots.
All five teenagers suffered injuries during the Oct. 31 shooting, either from gunshot wounds or in the crash of their vehicle, said Sam Allison-Natale, attorney for Jose Garcia. Garcia was charged as a juvenile with aggravated assault, but that case was dropped last month by Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay.
While Allison-Natale praised the decision to drop the charge, he said equal justice will not be served until Robert and Justin Sinner are handed more appropriate punishments.
“The families are asking for Robert Sinner to be charged with the same level of severity that any other shooter in this community would face,” Allison-Natale said. “All over Kansas, on far less evidence than we see here, DAs in other counties, and even this DA, have brought charges of attempted murder in similar cases.”
About 75 people — including four of the teenagers, their families and community advocates — gathered Monday in northeast Topeka’s Oakland neighborhood to demand the Sinner brothers be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Many held signs in English and Spanish asking for “justice for the five boys,” and family members who spoke said just legal action is necessary to prevent future incidents.
Authorities allege Robert Sinner fired shots that hit three occupants of the car being driven toward him and his brother. Courts records indicate Robert Sinner was unemployed at the time of his arrest and receiving $313 per week in compensation. His bond was set at $35,000.
Kagay and a defense attorney for Robert Sinner didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Court documents also indicate the brothers suspected the youths were responsible for stealing Trump signs from a neighbor’s house the previous evening. The property owners have yet to pursue charges related to the theft of campaign signs.
Robert Sinner is set to appear at an April 30 status conference after a request by attorneys to grant him immunity under Kansas “Stand Your Ground” law was denied March 30.
Deputy district attorney Keith Henderson argued that Robert Sinner violated that law when he continued to shoot at the car as it was being driven away. Allison-Natale contended that Justin Sinner also fired shots as the vehicle drove away and should face similar charges.
“When people of color are the victims, they are not treated with the same sense of urgency, respect and dignity that we would hope that a district attorney would afford all cases,” Allison-Natale said. “The handling of this case has opened up again that old wound of distrust, the feelings of marginalization and disrespect.”
Court documents identified the vehicle’s occupants as Jose Garcia, 17 at the time of the incident, Luis Renteria and Edgar Valenzuela, both 17, and Angel Garcia-Escobar and Ismail Garcia, both 15.
While the teens present Monday did not speak, two of their mothers made calls for appropriate justice with the help of a Spanish language interpreter. Renteria’s mother, Maria Rodriguez, said she has suffered constant fear and anxiety about the outcome of this case.
“What happened was awful and terrible … and we are hoping and praying for these five boys,” Rodriguez said. “We all have brothers and sisters and family that we care about, and this is truly unjust.”
Maria Retena, Garcia’s mother, said her son might need a second surgery. She said they were seeking justice not just for the five boys but to prevent future families from suffering similar difficulties.
“It just seems very unjust that the people who did this are still walking around free to this day,” Retina said. “No family should go through this. No parent should go through this because it has been incredibly traumatic for everyone involved.”
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