A man who flooded all eight floors of a Little Italy apartment building last year by opening fire valves on each floor, causing more than $2 million in structural damage, was sentenced Tuesday to three years of formal probation.

Francisco Morales, 39, initially faced more than 50 counts for flooding the apartment complex at 1810 State St. just after midnight on Feb. 25, 2019. Morales was arrested that night, a short distance from the soaked building.

Earlier this year, Morales pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and four counts of felony vandalism. San Diego County Superior Court Judge Robert F. O’Neill, who presided over Morales’ preliminary hearing, elected to impose probation and restitution still to be determined.

Deputy District Attorney Nereida Melgarejo unsuccessfully sought the maximum possible state prison sentence of six years and eight months, noting “at least 40,000 gallons of water were unleashed over the course of minutes.”

Damage to the 99-unit building exceeded $2.1 million, which is separate from the impacts and losses to the building’s tenants.

In addition to massive property damage, Melgarejo said rising water levels in the building’s stairwells led many fleeing residents to believe they were going to die.

“Frankly, it is a very fortunate thing that no one got seriously injured and that no one died,” the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Marie Maloney argued for probation, citing her client’s nonexistent prior criminal history along with ongoing efforts to keep the prison population low during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While an exact motive for the flooding remains unclear, Maloney said “the conduct in this case did stem from mental health concerns.”

Maloney said Morales will be unable to ever fully pay restitution in the case, and is also potentially facing additional monetary penalties stemming from a civil lawsuit filed against him in connection with the flooding. A Nov. 30 hearing was set for a restitution review, which Morales will not be required to attend.

— City News Service

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