Prosecutors today charged a 35-year-old transient with child abduction for allegedly taking a 4-year-old boy from in front of his home in Concord on Monday and buying him a meal at a nearby Chinese restaurant, Contra Costa County District Attorney Robert Kochly said.
Jose Camal has been charged with felony child abduction, a charge that carries a sentence of up to four years in prison, Kochly said.
Deputy District Attorney Jon Yamaguchi said Thursday that the district attorney's office had decided not to file kidnapping charges against Camal because there was no evidence that Camal had any devious intent when he allegedly took the child. The boy was returned unharmed about half an hour later, police said.
Kochly, however, said that prosecutors discussed the case further today and, while they still don't believe the Camal intended to hurt the boy, they believe they have enough evidence to support a charge of child abduction.
The boy had been playing outside his apartment on Meadow Lane with his mother nearby shortly after 5 p.m. on Monday.
The boy's mother told investigators that she was cooking and kept going in and out of her apartment to check on the food. Each time she went inside she brought her son with her, except for the last time, Yamaguchi said.
When she came back out, the boy was gone.
The mother checked a nearby shopping center, but didn't find her son, so she returned home and called police, Concord police Lt. Jim Lardieri said.
Within about 30 minutes, a neighbor found the boy walking through the shopping center and returned him to his home, Lardieri said.
A short time later, Camal, who appeared to be drunk, flagged down a police officer and allegedly admitted that he had taken the child, Lardieri said.
He also said he had drank about 20 beers, Yamaguchi said.
According to Yamaguchi, Camal told investigators that the boy had said he was hungry, so he took him to a Chinese restaurant in the shopping center. He bought a combo plate and shared it with the boy.
An employee at the restaurant told police that she assumed the boy was Camal's son and said that the child did not seem distressed, Yamaguchi said.
Camal told investigators that he got up to use the restroom and when he returned, the boy had gone, Yamaguchi said.
The child was examined by a doctor and did not appear to have been injured, Lardieri said.
Yamaguchi said Concord police "covered every base they possibly could," but there did not appear to be any evidence that Camal had any devious intent when he took the child, which meant that there would not be enough evidence to support a charge of kidnapping.
"I don't know what his intent was, other than to give him (the boy) lunch," Yamaguchi said.
"It's a very strange case," he said.
"We have continued to strategize and discuss the facts and legal issues surrounding this situation,'' Kochly wrote in a letter that was sent to numerous people who contacted him today objecting to the decision not to file charges. "We are also troubled by the lack of accountability that would flow from our tentative decision not to file charges in this very unique situation.''
"We believe that we can sustain a charge of child abduction and have filed those felony charges against Jose Camal today," Kochly wrote.
Camal has remained in custody at the Martinez Detention Facility on a no-bail immigration hold since Tuesday, according to county jail records.