Commentary: Fair Verdict in Repo Case Does Not Diminish Critical Problems

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by Antoinnette Borbon

On Wednesday the outcome of the trial involving the Bonilla family, arrested and charged with grand theft, battery and vandalism, proved to be a very fair judgment on the jurors’ part.

Jurors came back hung on the grand theft charge, with an acquittal on battery and convictions on felony vandalism. It seemed pretty appropriate since there was no direct evidence about the grand theft. The battery charge was questionable.

Closing arguments given by counsel yesterday were strong, but ultimately it was the jurors who needed to be convinced on the charges.

If I had been a juror on this case, whether or not the charges were in fact true, it would have been difficult to render a guilty verdict on anything but vandalism. The evidence was clear on vandalism but too undetermined on the grand theft and battery charges.

Considering we heard nothing that could prove who took those infamous dollies, it left strong reasonable doubt. As for the battery charges, the video left a lot to imagination and proved more ambiguous than anything else.

According to the laws of self-defense it was reasonable to believe that Juan Carlos was indeed defending his brother. I agree with defense on this point. But, for the vandalism charge, the conviction seemed correct.  There was no doubt they cut the straps and damaged company property. In the video, you see Guillermo Bonilla appearing to cut the straps.

ADDRESSING THE ISSUES

Although I felt Deputy District Attorney Michael Favero put on a strong case, I found myself a bit shell-shocked as he stated in his closing, “Ladies and Gentlemen, none of the other stuff matters, the search does not matter, what matters are the charges, focus on those things, forget all the rest, just like in Baltimore, the injustices that happened before the riots didn’t matter, it was the victims, think about the victims.”

Ladies and gentlemen, these statements bring pause. We can’t afford to take that attitude and expect change.

I do agree with DDA Favero that no one had the right to loot, destroy or hurt another and that there are several victims, but his statement concerns me. It may have sent out the wrong message, not only to the jurors but also to the public.

He dismisses the injustices that took place before the riots and likewise tells jurors to dismiss the behavior of the officers during the search warrant.

Suffice it to say, “Who cares about what got us here, who cares how police behave when they think no one is looking or listening?”

Wouldn’t it be a fair assessment to say those injustices ARE what got us here? After all, an action causes a reaction correct? (re: Baltimore)

Perhaps it was just not a well-thought-out statement by Mr. Favero. I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Having said that, I still felt the necessity to address the concern.

These police incidents are happening everywhere and that is undeniable and, no matter how simple, they need to be nipped in the bud expeditiously.

But who will hold them accountable? That is the million dollar question. We heard more than a few times how easily the reports are dismissed by the officers’ superiors.

We also heard how intimidated a defendant is to speak up. It isn’t the first time.

It reminded me of a statement the West Sacramento sergeant gave during the press conference upon the conviction of West Sacramento Police Officer Sergio Alvarez.

During the conference the sergeant told me that his department was doing everything to gain back the trust within the community – assuring me his department had no prior knowledge about one of their own committing such acts against women.

But the Vanguard learned that long before Alvarez was ever indicted, his actions were known by some in his department. Were they simply dismissed? Swept under the rug so the community did not know they had an officer out on the prowl? A rapist with a badge?

In a meeting for the public put on by the Vanguard in West Sacramento, the West Sacramento Police were invited to attend. It was a great opportunity to address concerns in the community and to build back trust. Unfortunately, they failed to attend.

One could only imagine what message that sent out to the West Sacramento folks.

Bringing a little light to some dark subjects during that public meeting was Defense Attorney Jeff Raven, along with Defense Attorney John Brennan, who were in attendance to show support.

Mr. Raven spoke about a trial in which he was defense counsel that involved a couple of teenage kids. He was interesting and informative. Raven was well received by the little community. Not only did he exude compassion for humanity but he gave hope to a group of people who had little faith in a “just and righteous” legal system –  something Mr. Raven may not have ever realized.

In many ways, he was a voice for those less fortunate and his presence has never been forgotten.

We heard Sandra Bonilla tell dispatch via the audio that “we have dealt with West Sacramento Police, we do not trust them.” Maybe this explains why the couple refused to return to their home?

It begs a few questions.

DETECTIVE FELLOWS NO STRANGER TO TRIAL

When, in his closing, Defense Attorney Anthony Palik made mention of Det. Fellows not being forthright, he may have hit on an accurate observation.

In the case, People vs. Hughey, Det. Fellows took the stand to read verbatim the lies his fellow officer told to defend the wrongful shooting of West Sacramento Attorney Kevin Hughey.

Did he stand behind the lies and false statements given by Officer Wright or was he prompted to keep quiet by his superior? Nonetheless, it questions his integrity.

Now, here he is again, only it is his actions in question.

During Guillermo’s testimony on Monday, he described the manner in which Det. Fellows entered his home.

He said they busted the front door and, although the defendant had already put his hands on his head while on his knees, the officer continued to shove his own knee into the back of Bonilla, forcibly holding him down.

Bonilla stated that he “heard Fellows tell other officers to take these douche bags away.”

While I do not know what is actually allowed by an officer, this type of conduct should have consequences. His use of excessive or unnecessary force appears to be an abuse of power by a man with a badge.

It didn’t stop there.

We also heard testimony from a young Hispanic man who told how the detective threatened to deport him if he was hiding Bonilla. Mario Miranda had no idea what he was talking about and his testimony couldn’t have been more honest and believable.

Even if one believes these are small or insignificant instances, they will eventually prove to be significant if left unaccounted for – just take a gander at Baltimore, Ferguson, New York.

It sets the stage for more tragedies and disasters.

An officer is supposed to be thought of as a protective agency, a service to the public, but every day that trust dies a little more from the stories we hear.

The forthright men and women in law enforcement will endure the generalization that none are to be trusted, and that is dangerous in itself.

However, I do need to mention an officer who, according to Mrs. Bonilla, “was very kind to me during the search and arrest.”

She did not recall his name but he will not be forgotten, and it gives hope.

GODDEN’S RECORD IN COURT

Ironically, an officer, who was deemed the most credible by both counsel in this case, was Officer Steven Godden.

In a preliminary hearing, last year, Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson caught Mr. Godden in several false statements – he, along with his wife and son, who was prompted to lie on the stand.

Godden was caught forwarding emails to other witnesses about an  incident, in Winters prior to the preliminary examination, apparently attempt to keep the story the same during testimony in the preliminary hearing. See: Pizza Parlor Brawl involves off duty cop.

Godden denied sending the emails and never said who he got them from. His son was sent texts by the mom on what not to say. But the little boy ended up accidentally telling the truth. Dan Hutchinson, once again, flushed out the truth.

It was soon after the incident at the pizza parlor that Godden was put on permanent disability retirement.

We did learn in testimony from Sgt. Ramos of the Winters Police Department, that the incident was being investigated by his superiors. We didn’t get an update on the outcome.

During his testimony in this trial, Godden was asked about the numbers on the tow truck identifying it as a repo agency.  Apparently, by counsel’s accounts, Godden told the truth this time around.  It gives optimism.

LANGUAGE BARRIER

Another issue in this case was the language barrier. It was never explained why Mr. Bonilla was not made to use an interpreter when clearly he misunderstood sentences and phrases while over the phone and during interrogation.

One fact that supports this finding is the audiotapes of Mr. and Mrs. Bonilla to dispatch. You hear the dispatcher explaining to the couple they would need to return to their residence in order to make a report against the driver. But the couple understood dispatch to mean “civil matter,” not “civil manner, peaceful resolution.” They understood they were not going to be helped.

Notably, in some of the many jury selections I have sat witness to, there were a few jurors that were put on the panel even though clearly they did not fully comprehend the legal or English language.

It appeared that Mr. Bonilla could not comprehend some words or phrases as he answered questions by both attorneys.

Although the prosecution felt differently, it was just too unclear.

It might be a moot point and ex post facto but it could possibly leave the door open to a defendant having their Constitutional right to a fair trial violated. Or lead, perhaps, to freeing a guilty man.

Ultimately, the verdicts seemed appropriately fair per the evidence presented in this case.

The statements and/or information used as reference to write this article stem from past coverage of cases the Vanguard has written about.

Each case, is in the Vanguard‘s Archives. A few more to refer to are the articles on the People v. Galvan and People v. Ajay Dev trials.

Another to note is as ariticle written about Judge Rosenberg holding two deputy sheriffs accountable for lying on the stand, which gives another ray of hope.

I felt the issues in this case significant enough to address.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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3 thoughts on “Commentary: Fair Verdict in Repo Case Does Not Diminish Critical Problems”

  1. Davis Progressive

    this is a good piece.  my only complaint is that favero took a shot both at the vanguard and the family, he seems to have failed at both, but this kind of behavior needs to be called out and david since he’s involved in this, really can’t be the one to call it out.

    this should have been a vandalism case.  the police mishandled it.  the repo man mishandled it.  the vanguard ought to report the name of the repossession agent so we all know to avoid him. the da overcharged the case. it’s remarkable they dropped charges before the trial, they dropped charges during the trial, the battery charge was a joke, grand theft for moving the dollies if they did move the dollies? and the police coming into the home like they’re gestapo. what a joke yolo county has become and the vanguard this week exposed them for what its worth.

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      Excellent points. Evil is always empowered by the decisions of individuals. The repo dude clearly needs to be identified – like all dangerous predators.

      As for the DA’s gang, what a morass of problems that seems to be. Of course the minions of the Porcine Pinnacle want the sheep to ignore the context (ignore the man behind the curtain) and focus only on the letter of the law – conveniently written by scribes of the Porcine Pinnacle, of course. Context is often an element in the difference between right and wrong, moral and immoral, and courage and cowardice, but the porcine elite prefer that we not dwell on that lest we slip down the forbidden slope to the point of “taking the law into our own hands.”

      It would be fun to spin a tale of powerful banks and corrupt politicians in their pockets systematically ensuring that mere citizens are kept “in their places” and readily subject to exploitation. Unfortunately, I think the real explanation is much more boring – just a bunch of idiots mindlessly carrying out rote tasks guided by overly complex rules and laws that wreak untold collateral damage despite the best intentions behind their original drafting. As some famous dude said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Oink!

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