Rogue Prosecutor Steve Descano Drops Case Against Criminal Who Crashed Car Into Family’s Minivan

COMMENTARY Crime and Justice

Rogue Prosecutor Steve Descano Drops Case Against Criminal Who Crashed Car Into Family’s Minivan

Mar 1, 2023 11 min read

Commentary By

Charles “Cully” Stimson @cullystimson

Senior Legal Fellow and Deputy Director, Meese Center

Zack Smith @tzsmith

Senior Legal Fellow, Meese Center for Legal Studies

We warned readers two years ago that Descano’s pro-criminal, anti-victim policies were going to destabilize the safety and security of Fairfax County. Sarah L. Voisin / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Descano has dropped the case against a career criminal who nearly killed a soccer mom and her three children in a brazen act of road rage.

It was clear to everyone involved that Rivas had assaulted this family on purpose. Witnesses told police that they never before had seen anything like this.

That’s part of the playbook of the rogue prosecutor movement: Criminals are victims; police are the enemy; the real victims are ignored.

Steve Descano , Commonwealths Attorney-elect, Fairfax County, Virginia speaks to audience members after an event at the Center for American Progress about Virginias Newly Elected Progressive Prosecutors on Tuesday, December 17, 2019. (Photo by )

It was only a matter of time until reality caught up with rogue prosecutor Steve Descano, the commonwealth’s attorney in Fairfax County, Virginia, whose election was backed by liberal financier George Soros.   

We warned readers two years ago that Descano’s pro-criminal, anti-victim policies were going to destabilize the safety and security of Fairfax County, a previously peaceful suburb of the nation’s capital.

Not only has Descano refused to prosecute most misdemeanors in Fairfax County and cut a sweetheart deal with a child molester, he has been caught red-handed using Signal, an end-to-end encrypted software application, to avoid state freedom of information laws. 

In a new bombshell, Descano has dropped the case against a career criminal who nearly killed a soccer mom and her three children in a brazen act of road rage on Mother’s Day in 2020. Descano’s office had dragged the case out for years only to tell the wife and mother that prosecutors were dropping the most serious charge against William Francisco Rivas, the man who plowed his car into her minivan.

This despite the fact that Rivas’ own car flipped after ramming her minivan, totaling it, and he then fled. One of the woman’s three children was injured in the crash, and numerous witnesses watched in horror as Rivas appeared to intentionally T-bone the family’s minivan for no apparent reason.

The crumpled side of the family minivan after a man steered his car into the larger vehicle on the Capital Beltway. (Photo: Special to The Daily Signal)

Disclosure: The soccer mom decribed in this article is related to one of the writers of this commentary, but doesn’t wish her name to be used.

Nothing to date has happened legally to Descano, who has engaged in such outrageous actions as one of Soros’ rogue prosecutors across the nation. But that may change soon, as the media is catching on to the Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney’s abuse of office and how his policies and actions are harming the community.

As we wrote two years ago, Descano unseated a career prosecutor in the 2019 election for Fairfax commonwealth’s attorney, primarily because his campaign received $392,000 from Soros or Soros-affiliated PACs. That total amounted to 72% of all money Descano had received at that point in the election cycle, The Washington Post reported.

Here’s what happened in his office’s handling of the Rivas case:

After celebrating Mother’s Day with her own mother and family, the soccer mom was driving home with her three kids and Labrador retriever puppy on the high-speed Capital Beltway that rings Washington, D.C., when Rivas, a convicted drunk driver, began riding her bumper to get her to move out of the fast lane. 

The soccer mom, however, was in the fast lane because she was going to take an exit from the left lane. Rivas became enraged, pulled up on her right, and turned his steering wheel back and forth in a threatening manner, police said. One of the woman’s three children, sitting in the back of the minivan, told her mom that the other driver was “acting crazy.” 

Then, after locking eyes with the mom, Rivas gritted his teeth and violently whipped his steering wheel to the left, T-boning the family’s minivan while each vehicle was traveling over 65 miles per hour. Before his car struck their van, the mom yelled to her children, “Hold on!”

The left front quarter panel of Rivas’ car smashed into the right passenger door of the minivan, gashing a hole in the frame and causing the window to explode, which propelled glass into the car. The force of the crash made the minivan careen left and right across all lanes of the Beltway toward a Jersey wall, as the criminal’s car flew into the air and turned upside down. 

Miraculously, the soccer mom somehow was able to prevent her minivan from flipping too, although the force of the collision jerked it sideways. She barely maintained control as she fought the steering wheel to keep her family from dying. Amazingly, no other car was struck.

Rivas emerged from his upside-down car, climbed across the Jersey wall in the highway median, sprinted across all lanes of traffic (barely avoiding being struck by oncoming traffic), and went on to evade law enforcement for nearly eight hours. Traffic on the Beltway came to a halt. 

Fairfax County police, with the assistance of a helicopter, eventually located Rivas and arrested him on multiple counts of malicious wounding, leaving the scene of an accident, and more. 

Police interviewed the soccer mom, her children, and numerous witnesses who were in cars behind the mayhem.  One of the kids was cut by glass and all of them were terribly shaken, but by the grace of God no serious injuries occurred.  Paramedics treated the oldest daughter, 17, on the scene for a painful shoulder, but she wanted to go home with her mom.

It was clear to everyone involved that Rivas had assaulted this family on purpose. Witnesses told police that they never before had seen anything like this.

If ever there were an open-and-shut case, this was it.

Enter Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, who, since his election, has hired criminal defense lawyers and public defenders to continue their criminal defense work while playing the role of prosecutors.

The first sign of trouble in this case was a total lack of communication by the prosecutors. No victim witness coordinator called the soccer mom. No assistant commonwealth’s attorney assigned to the case called her either, much less interviewed her. 

The mother eventually called the prosecutor’s office, only to be treated rudely by a secretary, who said she couldn’t help or give out any information about the case.

Later, when the soccer mom again called about the case and talked to a prosecutor, she was told that Rivas had been released from custody. When she asked why, she wasn’t given an answer. When she asked why she wasn’t informed about the bail hearing, she says, the prosecutor had nothing to say.

The mother did learn that Rivas had been charged with four counts of malicious wounding, a serious felony under Virginia law, among other charges. Upon conviction, he faced a sentence of 20 years to life and a fine of up to $100,000. 

Virginia, like most states, has a statute on the rights of crime victims and witnesses. Located at 19.2-11.01, this law requires a prosecutor to treat victims of crime “with dignity, respect and sensitivity.”

The law also requires that crime victims have the opportunity to be heard and be provided with: a standardized form listing all of their rights; a contact in the prosecutor’s office with the name, address, and telephone number of the person handling the case; information regarding the right to file a claim for compensation; advance notification of judicial proceedings and changes to court dates; notice should the defendant be released or discharged from jail; the right to prepare a victim impact statement; and more. 

Despite that law, a year passed in which no information went from Descano’s office to the soccer mom. Meanwhile, her younger kids were scared that the man who tried to kill them on the highway would come to their house to finish the job. She assured them that they were safe, like any good mom would.

At a preliminary hearing, a newly assigned prosecutor didn’t know the facts of the case, didn’t know that the mother’s minivan had been totaled, hadn’t reviewed photos of the crime scene, and hadn’t interviewed any witnesses yet

When the soccer mom took the stand and told the judge what happened to her and her children, and what the defendant did, the judge was impressed, especially when he learned that the soccer mom had been a career prosecutor herself and had dedicated her life to helping children. The judge bound the case over for a felony trial.

But last week, two-and-a-half years after the crime, a new prosecutor—apparently the fourth on the Rivas case—called to inform the mother that Descano’s office had decided to drop the charges of malicious wounding and offer the career criminal a  plea deal on a charge of hit-and-run. (During this time, the soccer mom hadn’t been contacted by a victim witness coordinator or in any way been updated on the case.)

All the new prosecutor wanted to know was whether the soccer mom needed restitution. This prosecutor also didn’t know that the mother’s minivan had been totaled in the Beltway collision.    

Flabbergasted, the soccer mom asked why prosecutors were dismissing the malicious wounding charges and offering Rivas a plea to a charge where he could get probation.

The prosecutor, relatively new to the office and a criminal defense lawyer for much of her career, responded: “Because it’s a he-said, she-said case, and there is no way to prove the case.” 

The soccer mom, wearing her former prosecutor’s hat, responded that there were numerous eyewitnesses, including herself, her children, and other drivers; that the forensic evidence alone would show the crash was no mere accident; that the defendant fled the scene; that beer bottles were found inside and outside his car; that when caught, he lied, saying he wasn’t the driver; and that when a jury heard her testify and found out she was an eyewitness and a former prosecutor who gave a consistent account of what happened, they would believe her and her children.

Descano’s new prosecutor responded by saying: “Oh, we would never let the jury know that you were a prosecutor. That would prejudice the defendant.”

Rivas had told police it was an accident, the new prosecutor said, and “it’s just your word against his and we can’t prove the case.” 

The mom pointed out that Rivas would need to take the stand in his own defense to tell the jury it was an accident. As a career criminal, she noted, he might not want to do that and expose himself to cross-examination about his criminal history, explain why he fled, and commit perjury. 

Descano’s deputy explained to the mother that Rivas wouldn’t have to testify—a fact any first-year law student knows. But from a practical perspective, the soccer mom replied, that was the only way for the jury to hear the defendant’s claim that it was an accident. Still, Descano’s deputy told her, no evidence suggested that this career criminal had any intent to maliciously wound the woman or her three children.

Descano’s deputy wasn’t familiar with Rivas’ criminal record and didn’t know, much less try to find out, about his out-of-state convictions. The soccer mom told the prosecutor that she had been informed that Rivas had a conviction for drunk driving, but the prosecutor insisted that he didn’t.

The prosecutor didn’t even know that after the Mother’s Day road rage incident in 2020, Rivas was charged in Maryland with leaving the scene of another accident involving bodily injury. 

His criminal record in Maryland and the District of Columbia includes:

  • 7/18/10 (offense date); Maryland; driving under the influence of alcohol. Guilty 12/1/10. Awarded probation before judgment.
  • 1/18/13 (offense date); Maryland; possession of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia. Placed on STET docket 5/7/13.
  • 6/14/13 (offense date); Washington, D.C.; operating a vehicle on suspended license.  Agreed to complete driver diversion class. Completed class 8/5/13. 
  • 6/16/19 (offense date); Maryland; driving while impaired.  Guilty 3/2/20.
  • 10/17/20 (offense date); Maryland; driving without a license; failure to stop vehicle at scene of accident involving bodily injury.

When the mom asked about the status of the cases against Rivas involving her three children (which, under Virginia law, were separate cases), Descano’s deputy casually informed her that those three cases had been “nol-prossed.” 

Astounded, the mom said: “So you dropped the case [involving] my kids?” 

Descano’s deputy, perhaps thinking she knew more about the law than a career prosecutor, said: “Oh no, they were nol-prossed, they weren’t dismissed.” 

The mom responded: “It’s the same thing, essentially.”

Which it is. Nolle prosequi, a Latin phrase, means “will no longer prosecute.”

On a second call days later, Descano’s deputy called the soccer mom to tell her that the case against Rivas involving her kids had not been dismissed. The deputy then asked the soccer mom what she thought the maximum sentence should be in the event of Rivas’ conviction.

The indictment included four counts of aggravated malicious wounding, the prosecutor said, but added that the “defendant’s record is not one of note, and he has no conviction for drunk driving.” 

If Rivas were convicted of hit and run, she said, he probably would get between no time and six months, even though the maximum sentence is five years.  After the soccer mom and the prosecutor discussed the sentencing scheme in Virginia based on these charges, the soccer mom said she thought Rivas deserved up to five years in prison. 

Yet a review of docket for Fairfax County’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court shows that the Rivas case involving the soccer mom’s children and charges of attempted unlawful wounding was nol-prossed on July 30, 2021.

After this second phone telephone conversation with the prosecutor, the soccer mom called back to let her know that Rivas had criminal convictions, including drunk driving, in Maryland and the District. The prosecutor replied that she “didn’t have access to criminal records” in those jurisdictions.

As former prosecutors, though, we know that all prosecutors have access to the National Crime Information Center, or NCIS, and other databases across the country that show a person’s criminal history. 

To date, the soccer mom hasn’t heard back from one of Descano’s prosecutors. She doesn’t know whether the prosecutor she spoke with reconsidered the plea deal with Rivas, given his criminal record. 

The bottom line is that Descano’s office assigned a prosecutor who couldn’t be bothered to learn the basic facts of the case and was willing to enter into a woefully inadequate plea deal with a career criminal who almost killed four people and then fled the scene. 

The sad reality is that the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office frequently drops rock-solid cases such as this. 

That’s part of the playbook of the rogue prosecutor movement: Criminals are victims; police are the enemy; the real victims are ignored.

The soccer mom described in this commentary is a relative of one of the writers and wished to remain anonymous.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal