By Jackie Snyder, Makisha Singh and Tiffany Yeh
On May 4, 2015, the trial of Guillermo, Sandra and Juan Bonilla resumed. Detective Ken Fellows, of the West Sacramento Police Department, was called to the witness stand to finish his testimony. Detective Fellows had previously been called to testify on May 1, 2015.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Favero began questioning Detective Fellows about a telephone call he had placed to one of the defendants (Guillermo). Detective Fellows claimed that Guillermo was being deceptive when he attempted to pass himself off as a brother named Valentine.
During cross-examination, defense attorney Anthony Palik asked Detective Fellows if it were possible that Guillermo misunderstood him, due to the language barrier (Guillermo’s native language is Spanish). Detective Fellows was adamant that Guillermo understood.
Detective Fellows was asked by DDA Favero what took place on the date of May 12, 2013. Detective Fellows testified that he went to the Bonilla residence in West Sacramento to serve an arrest warrant.
Detective Fellows stated he knocked on the door and announced his identity. Sandra Bonilla refused to open the door. She asked that the warrant be read to her first. Detective Fellows refused, claiming he was not required to read the warrant.
Detective Fellows eventually kicked in the door and placed both Guillermo and Sandra under arrest. Although Detective Fellows did not have an arrest warrant for Guillermo’s brother Juan, Fellows claimed he placed Juan under arrest immediately after recognizing him as the unknown man in the video footage who put a choke hold on the repo man.
The next witness called to testify was Guillermo Bonilla. When asked about what took place on the day of the incident, Guillermo claimed that, for reasons unknown, there was a man on his property attempting to tow away his vehicle.
Guillermo stated that the man was driving an unmarked tow truck with no license plate number. When Guillermo asked to see papers regarding repossession of his vehicle, the operator of the tow truck refused.
Guillermo, who works in trucking, found this to be odd. Guillermo attempted to call the police, however, the police claimed his issue to be a civil matter and refused to help. The tow truck operator continued to attempt to take the vehicle and, at one point when Guillermo resisted, the tow truck operator pushed Guillermo and grabbed Guillermo by the mouth.
Guillermo testified that, only after this took place, did his brother, Juan, step in to help Guillermo.
Judge Reed excused the jury for lunch. Court was set to reconvene at 1:30pm.
The case of People v Bonilla resumed under Judge Reed in the afternoon with Mr. Bonilla’s defense attorney, Anthony Palik, displaying the video of the incident with the tow truck driver. The video shows Bonilla taking the straps off of the car and in his testimony, Bonilla states that the driver had his hand around Bonilla’s head and in his mouth. Bonilla then demonstrated a yanking motion, and indicated that he had bleeding on both sides of his mouth. He said his brother Guillermo came to help by pulling the driver off.
Palik then begins questioning about the incident when the police returned to the Bonilla residence with weapons and a warrant for Bonilla’s wife, Sandra’s arrest. Bonilla said his wife was still changing and was not fully clothed when the police knocked down the door. At this point Bonilla testified that he surrendered by placing his hands up and the detective stepped on his back. Bonilla told him that he already surrendered and asked why the detective was treating him in such a way. When Bonilla asked to see a warrant, he claims the officer started smacking the papers in his face exclaiming, “this is the warrant, this is the warrant”. Bonilla then complained that the officer twisted his arm as they pulled him up.
Bonilla also stated that he heard his wife telling the officers not to point their guns at her and her sons. He said that she asked why there were doing this and the officers replied by telling her she was a criminal.
Bonilla continued his testimony by saying that an officer referred to him and said “put this douchebag in the patrol”, meaning the patrol car. Bonnia said he was in the patrol car for about 40 minutes while the police questioned him. When Bonilla was taken to the station he was still in his pajamas and he was held in a room for 2 hours. The detective tried talking to him several times but each time Bonilla refused and said he needed to talk to his lawyer. During this time, he stated that the detective threatened him by telling him that his son was going to be in custody, meaning CPS. His attorney, Palik, stated that they had the interrogation recording.
During the Deputy District Attorney, Michael Favero’s cross examination, Bonilla shared that he had lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years and had appeared in court for this case, possibly more than 5 times. Favero asked why Bonilla had never requested an interpreter, as his English is broken and he has some difficulty understanding questions causing Favero to have to repeat them multiple times and speak slowly. Bonilla responded that he did not remember if his attorney told him of his right to an interpreter. When asked about bill payments, Bonilla stated that he always pays his bills. However, Favero asked if 10 months of late payment statements would refresh his memory. Bonilla said he didn’t think so and Favero appeared visibly frustrated and repeated his question in a very loud, argumentative tone. Favero also smacked he statements down on the witness stand and at this point the defense attorney, Palik, objected and the judge agreed that Favero was harassing the witness and told him to step back.
Bonilla said he called the police 4 times during the incident with the tow truck, however, Favero said there was no records showing that any of the Bonillas called 911. Bonilla said that he called the West Sacramento Police and that he had their number in his phone. He admitted that the police said they couldn’t help but that he still told the repo man the cops were coming because he wanted him to wait. After the altercation with the driver, Bonilla said his ear was also bleeding.
Favero then showed Bonilla pictures of his face depicting his injuries with writing underneath each picture describing the injury in broken English. Bonnia first said he didn’t know if he wrote them, then later after being pressed about it, said that he didn’t. When asked about the bank statements, Bonnia said he never checked them directly, but that he asked his wife if she had made the payments and he believed her. There is some discrepancy as to the name of Bonilla’s brother who was also present during the incident. At times he is referred to as Juan Carlos, and other times he is referred to as Valentine.
DDA Favero continued cross-examination of Guillermo Bonilla. He asked what date Valentine’s birthday was, then what date Guillermo’s own birthday was. The two birthdays were on different dates and years. Mr. Favero sought to understand who Guillermo is and who Valentine is, and whether, or if, the two people were different.
The beginnings of the “Valentine” confusion had come from the audio recording between “Valentine” and Detective Fellows, played on an earlier date of the trial. Guillermo stated that he thought both the Honduran government and the U.S. government were at fault for the mistake on his driver’s license.
The birthdate on his driver’s license was not actually the date he was born. Later on, he explained that his mom had to go back to the county to do some paperwork and that the worker put his birthdate down wrong. In Honduras, he said that people recorded the birth certificate information by hand.
The seemingly disparate or confusing, at the very least, roles that Guillermo takes on in several different phone calls (between the detective and during his testimony during the trial) led the DDA to question him further. He responded by saying that he thought they were asking about Juan Carlos and that the detective had asked questions too fast over the phone. Guillermo continued, saying that the detective confused him.
When questioned about why he did not file a complaint with the police over his injuries when Detective Fellows kneed him in the back, Guillermo responded that he had complained to the other officers at the moment it happened and so it was not needed. Someone told him that nothing was going to happen even if he did file a complaint.
His side of the story was that, after the DA dropped his case a couple of times, and after he was cleared, then he filed complaints. He had hired other lawyers to sue the aggressors—including the bank, the repossession company owner, and the repossession man. Further questions were asked as to what he heard after he was pushed to the ground, lying there. He stated that he heard police officers kicking down doors inside his house.
The jury asked some questions on paper. Guillermo responded that he was referring to the air bag suspension when he stated that the air bags in his vehicle were damaged after the repo incident. He had heard doors opening and closing in his house on May 11, 2013.
Guillermo stated that he and his wife made a total of four calls to the police. Once, he called when something was being strapped down, presumably the vehicle. Then, two other times, his wife called, and the final time, he called the bank or something.
There was handwriting below pictures of an ear and damage to a face, with Guillermo or his wife taking the pictures. He stated that he didn’t know if his wife wrote for him under the picture.
When asked about the level of schooling he had in Honduras, he stated that he went to two years of university and that English was not his first language. Another question involved his familiarity about the differences between tow trucks and repossession trucks. His answer was that he had personally not used a tow truck before, but that his friends were familiar with them.
Also, Guillermo said that tow trucks and repo trucks were the same to him, that there was no difference. As a response to another question, he stated that Detective Fellows never stopped and never listened during conversations.
He also acknowledged that he would possibly understand if they replayed video or audio that was played earlier during the trial. Asked how he was able to hear noises when sleeping on May 11, 2013, he said that his house is really close to the street and proceeded to point out an approximate distance between his bedroom and the street.
The front entrance of the Bonillas’ house was sealed after the incident. Broken pieces from the door were outside and there was some bar against the door. Guillermo stated that the police never closed all the doors and that someone could enter through the inner doors. People reentered.
DDA Favero asked him if all the shards in some pictures were all from the same door. Guillermo stated that he thought they may have come from different doors. The same mat was on the floor of two pictures that DDA Favero pointed out.