Naitaalii Toleafoa, 18, is scheduled to appear in court today at 11 a.m. to set a declination hearing to determine if he will be tried as a juvenile or an adult. Today’s court appearance will be in JCD1 at Remann Hall, 5501 6th Avenue, in Tacoma. The defendant was 15 at the time of the murder and has been at large for more than two years.
He was arrested in Mexico and extradited to Pierce County, where he is charged with Murder in the First Degree, Assault in the First Degree and Unlawful Possession of a Firearm in the First Degree.
"Our Gang Unit relentlessly pursues accountability for violent gang members," said Prosecutor Mark Lindquist. "Gang violence in Pierce County is down, but we are keeping the pressure on and sending the message that gang members can't escape accountability."
Around midnight on May 12, 2010, the defendant and co-defendant Juan Ortiz, 19, went to Juan Zuniga’s North Tacoma home. They were let into the attached garage by Zuniga and another man, Dean Salavea. Moments later, gunshots rang out from inside the garage. Toleafoa and Ortiz, who was carrying a handgun, fled. Zuniga was dead from gunshot wounds and Salavea was wounded by a paralyzing gunshot to the back.
An investigation uncovered a conspiracy among nine members and associates of the Eastside Lokotes Surenos (ELS) street gang to kill Zuniga, the reputed leader of the gang. Four of the gang members were in prison at the time of the murders and all four pled guilty to Leading Organized Crime and received sentences ranging from five to ten years in prison. Three of the other defendants plead guilty to Murder in the First Degree and Assault in the First Degree and are pending sentencing. Ortiz is believed to be still in Mexico.
As part of a major gang sweep by the Prosecutor's Office and the Tacoma Police Department, 20 ELS gang members or associates have been charged in three separate murders that occurred in 2010: the murder of Zuniga, the drive-by shooting of Camille and Joshua Love, and the robbery-murder of Jose Lucas. Five defendants pled guilty or were found guilty in the Love case and were sentenced to over 168 years in prison. Six defendants have been charged for the murder of Lucas.
Because of Toleafoa’s age at the time of the offense, jurisdiction is with the Juvenile Division of Superior Court pending a formal declination proceeding where a judge will determine if the defendant should be tried as an adult or a juvenile.
"This was a violent, adult-style, gang crime and we will be seeking to prosecute the defendant as an adult because of the longer sentences in the adult system," said Prosecutor Lindquist. “If tried as a juvenile, the defendant would only be facing three years in custody, which would not be justice.”
- Pierce County