On May 11, 2013, a repo man banged on the West Sacramento door of Guillermo and Sandra Bonilla, shared with his brother Juan Bonilla. What started out as a simple attempt at repossession started a several hour struggle, where the family was ultimately able to get their vehicle back and clear up the matter, but six months later they were arrested and charged with numerous crimes including second degree robbery, grand theft, and battery.
What transpired depends on who tells the story. A video was shot from the tow truck and narrated by the repo man, however the family tells a very different story. The attorney representing the family, Tony Palik, maintains that the tow truck driver unnecessarily escalated the incident and initiated the physical confrontation with his clients.
The repossession agent responded to a request by Travis Credit Union to repossess a black 2008 Land Rover. The video shows that the agent “secured the 2008 Land Rover with his tow truck (Hydraulic Lift, Dollies and Tie-Down Straps), taking physical possession of the 2008 Land Rover.” He then knocked at the door, as he explained, hoping to gain the cooperation of the owners to tie down the steering wheel and, according to the police report, “to allow them to remove personal items from the interior of the vehicle prior to him leaving the location with the vehicle.”
He was met at the door by Sandra Bonilla and Guillermo Bonilla, along with his brother Juan Bonilla. According to the police report, the agent “attempts to stop Guillermo from removing the straps and as a result Juan Carlos exits the Land Rover, approaches (the agent) from the rear and places (the agent) in a choke hold to pull (the agent) away.”
Juan Bonilla then allegedly stood between the agent and the vehicle to prevent him from interfering with his bother while he untied the straps securing the vehicle.
Detective Kenneth Fellows wrote, “Sandra emerges from the residence and drives the Land Rover off the hydraulic boom then maneuvers the Land Rover in the driveway, driving over the dollies placed under the front wheels of the Land Rover before finally fleeing the area in the Land Rover.”
The dollies, valued at over $1000 each, were missing but ultimately returned.
The Bonillas met with the Vanguard a few months ago and told a very different story. They said, at 9 am, the repo man banged at the door. They were not aware of who it was, and their home had been broken into two months before and they thought it was the same person.
They never suspected it was a repo man, as they thought their payments were up to date. They showed the Vanguard documentation that on May 1, 2013, they had received a statement stating no late payments were due.
Ms. Bonilla had returned from Honduras in April after a one-month stay. All three were legal residents of the US, and they provided the Vanguard with their passports and other paperwork. Guillermo Bonilla has been a resident for 18 years and owns a West Sacramento business.
Ms. Bonilla said she usually pays the bills, so Guillermo forgot to pay on her car. She contacted Travis Credit Union around April 11, 2013. She had them process one payment at that time and arranged for the next payment to be processed on April 28, 2013.
However, unbeknownst to them, the second payment never went through because their account was frozen by Chase due to some issues with Guillermo’s trucking business.
When the man told them he is repossessing the car, he was holding some papers, but refused to show them. They asked for proof that he wasn’t mistaken about the car, as it still had the dealer plates, even though it was a year old.
The repo man told the police that the dealer plates and covered VIN number were efforts to conceal the vehicle, however, Ms. Bonilla said that the DMV had simply lost the plates.
The tow truck had nothing identifying a company and when they asked for his ID, he refused again.
Ms. Bonilla told the Vanguard that, during the two-hour incident, they called the police four times.
Guillermo Bonilla attempted to remove the partially attached straps, when the agent reached around his face and grabbed his mouth with both hands, causing him to bleed. It was at this point that Juan Bonilla pulled the agent off his brother.
Ms. Bonilla, at this point, attempted to drive the car away, but the agent lifted the hydraulic fork as she was driving, scaring her more. She had to back up to maneuver around the tow truck and the repo man kept lifting the hydraulic fork to stop her.
She told the Vanguard that the repo man followed her off the property and chased her as she sped around West Sacramento for 30 minutes. In one hand she was talking to the bank, in the other she was talking to the police dispatcher. She pleaded with them to let her talk to a commander or someone in charge, but was told, “No one is here.” Eventually she was told that all the police were at her house.
The Bonillas cleared up the issue with the bank and finally received the release letter. They thought the issue was resolved at this point and they remained in possession of the vehicle.
However, on June 7, 2013, Detective Fellows returned to their residence, and pounded on the door. He accused her of stealing the repo man’s dollies, to which she replied by questioning why she would want them. She told him she had a lawyer and he should talk to him. The sergeant was angry and left.
Detective Fellows returned to her home later in the week. Detective Fellows pounded on her door, telling her he needed her side of the story. She called her lawyer who advised her to have him call him.
Five months later, in December, 2013, a SWAT broke down their door. She said that she would not open it without seeing a warrant and that they never provided one. She told the Vanguard that they broke down the bedroom door to get to Juan, for whom they did not have a warrant. They threatened to have CPS take her son.
This case is scheduled to go to trial this week. It was delayed until Thursday.
—David M. Greenwald reporting