by Antoinnette Borbon
After what both prosecution and defense called a long four days of trial, the case against the three co-defendants concluded this afternoon, sending jurors into deliberation.
On May 11, 2013, Guillermo and Sandra Bonilla were at home when a man knocked on the door asking them if they wanted to remove their property from the vehicle he was there to repossess. The Bonillas asserted that the bank made an error and that they asked the driver to show documents proving he had authority to take it. But he did not. What happened next would later cause the three, Mr. and Mrs. Bonilla and his brother, to be facing criminal charges.
Guillermo Bonilla testified yesterday to the events that took place on May 11 of 2013.
He said that he did not have control of the family’s finances, only that, “I work, I give my wife the money and she pays the bills.” he stated. “I trust my wife.”
During much of the prosecution’s questions, Guillermo appeared to have trouble understanding what he was being asked. An agitated Deputy District Attorney Michael Favero had to repeat each question more than a few times.
DDA Favero did ask Mr. Bonilla if he needed an interpreter and if his attorney had ever asked him if he needed one. He replied, “I know he asked me a lot of questions, I don’t know…I don’t remember.”
Bonilla repeated the same answer for most of the questions posed by the prosecutor with, “I don’t know, I don’t remember, Sir…”
However, the defendant was able to tell DDA Favero that he called the West Sacramento Police Department at least four times on May 11, in an attempt to report the assault made on him by the repo guy who came to take the Land Rover.
Bonilla described to dispatch that he had been hurt by the driver of a repo tow truck as the man tried to take his vehicle. Bonilla asserted that he did not know why the man was there to take it.
He stated, “They [dispatch at West Sac PD] told me it was a civil matter…they couldn’t help.” But according to audios played today, dispatch was trying to explain to the Bonillas that they would need to return to their residence in order for the police to make a report. It was unclear whether the couple actually understood the difference between “civil peace and civil matter.
Jurors listened to audiotapes from the three phone calls to dispatch on that morning. In three separate phone calls, dispatch advises the couple to return so that police can handle it civilly, peacefully so that no one got hurt.
Bonilla told dispatch that he needed to go to the hospital because the driver hurt his back and face.
During one phone conversation between dispatch and Sandra Bonilla, Guillermo’s wife, she tried to explain that they have dealt with West Sacramento Police and did not trust them. The couple refused to go back to the residence to make the report.
So dispatch told them they could not do anything if they did not return home and speak to the officers who were waiting at their residence. Only the repo man had returned after calling 911 to report what happened.
JUDGE ALLOWS EXPERT WITNESS
Taking the stand for the defense’s case was Ms. Shannon Agee. Ms. Agee was allowed by Judge Reed to testify on a limited amount of information due to her expertise.
Shannon Agee is a skip tracer, repossession agent and bounty hunter. She has been working in the field for years under a private investigator, along with repo agencies.
She testified to orchestrating the repossession of hundreds of vehicles. Agee stated, “I have never known of a driver going to the door and asking someone if they would like to remove their property before they take the car, that is a dangerous thing to do, things can escalate.” Agee also pointed out that, on the video, you can see the Land Rover bouncing up and down as the driver tried to secure it. She said, “You can clearly see the car is not connected properly and that is dangerous.”
“I would have used a flatbed tow truck, it is safer and you don’t want to risk damaging the owner’s property.” she stated. No owner wants their property damaged, asserted Agee.
The prosecutor questioned her knowledge of “breach of peace” and a writ that permits law enforcement to take the vehicle after attempts are failed by repo companies. Ms. Agee said she understood the terms and what they entailed.
DDA Favero then asked her if by looking at the video she could see that the Land Rover was attached to the tow truck. “Um, if you call it that? I don’t,” she replied.
Agee was asked about being fired by the sister of the owner of the repo company, and said, “I was let go, yes.”
DEFENSE PUT ON THEIR FINAL WITNESS
Mario Miranda testified to his encounter with Det. Fellows. He stated that Fellows came to the trucking yard looking for the Bonillas and Mario told him he did not know where they were. Fellows then accused him of hiding the couple. He said, “He told me he would arrest me and call “ICE.” I don’t know what that means. I told him I was not hiding them, but he kept saying he would arrest and deport me. He finally left and my friend filed a report against him,” Mario explained.
In cross-examination by DDA Favero, Mario told the prosecutor that he had worked for the Bonillas as maintenance for about five years. But he said he had not seen the two until yesterday, when he was waiting to testify. Favero asked Mario if he had been questioned by investigators, but Mario answered, “Only what my name, birthdate and what happened on the day Det. Fellows came out.”
“Do you understand English well?” asked the prosecutor. “Yes, I understand it.” he replied.
VANGUARD’S DAVID GREENWALD TAKES STAND
Taking the stand for the prosecution was Mr. David Greenwald of the People’s Vanguard of Davis. David Greenwald is the Executive Director and was subpoenaed by the prosecution for the state’s case.
After a stipulation was reached between Defense Attorney Josh Kaizuka and DDA Ryan Couzens early in the morning, Greenwald took the stand to briefly answer a few questions about the article he published on the Vanguard‘s website.
In his article he stated, “Sandra Bonilla told the Vanguard that she had been chased at high speeds by Daniel Thomas, the repo man.” Mr. Greenwald had interviewed the defendant back in November.
DDA Michael Favero was allowed to ask if it were in fact true that Mr. Greenwald wrote that statement. Mr. Greenwald asserted, “Yes.” Favero asked Greenwald who was present during the interview but, before he could reply, defense objected and the question was sustained. Eventually he did identify Sandra Bonilla, Juan Carlos Bonilla and Guillermo Bonilla.
A question by Defense Attorney Anthony Palik was objected to, as well, when he asked David Greenwald what the Vanguard’s court watch does. Judge David Reed sustained the objection.
The prosecutor began his closing argument with, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is almost done. Again, like in my opening, I told you, after closing you would have all the videos, transcripts and I encourage you to view them.
“This weekend I ran a relay race from Calistoga to Santa Cruz and during the time I was out there, at about 2 am, I asked myself, what am I going to say to these people?” he stated.
“First I want to talk about [jury] instruction [No.] 220, reasonable doubt. I have to prove this happened beyond a reasonable doubt. What is an abiding conviction? It is a belief that abides, a conviction that does not leave you tomorrow or in ten years.”
He explained to jurors that Mrs. Bonilla cannot be convicted of grand theft, as she was not seen taking the dollies in question. “So you cannot convict her on that charge, jurors,” asserted the DDA.
“But what we do know,” he stated, “is that it is more likely that the two defendants took the dollies after the tow truck driver left. He says there is no video showing who took them so we do not know but it is reasonable to say the defendants could have taken them. There was a period of ten minutes before cops arrived at the home, making it easy for the defendants to put the dollies in their garage.”
He described the jury instruction No. 252 that pertains to general and specific intent and told jurors, “We know the intent to commit grand theft was there, and we know it was there for the battery charge.” He told jurors, “You heard Daniel Thomas testify, you saw his demeanor, he is the one who called 911 and in the video you see him reach down and try to stop Bonilla from cutting the straps. The law states that if a vehicle is connected, it is in the possession of the repo agency.
“Mr. Bonilla testified that he could not remember, that he did not understand my questions but when defense counsel asked him questions, he answered them he understood perfectly, he lied!” the DDA said.
He said that Bonilla denied his own handwriting on the photos taken of his face and purposely tried to confuse Det. Fellows during a phone conversation about the incident. He asserted that the defendant changed his story many times, allegedly out of “guilt of conscientiousness.”
“You heard the testimony and you must decide whether or not it is credible.” said Favero.
“Now, I want to talk to you about expert witnesses. Ladies and Gentlemen, you have to judge them by their skills, knowledge and I will tell you in the few trials I have done, I have never heard a less knowledgeable witness than Ms. Shannon Agee. She works under another investigator and remember she was fired by Michael Pratt’s sister.”
He asked jurors to read the instructions carefully and decide on the charges. “How many things did Guillermo lie about from what he told dispatch, to officers and the news, the Vanguard?”
“We heard David Greenwald of the Vanguard testify that Sandra Bonilla was chased at high speeds for thirty minutes, she lied!” said the prosecution.
But he told jurors to keep an open mind and decide on the credibility of all the witnesses.
“So, here we are ladies and gentlemen after four long days of the case, who stole the missing dollies? This is not about a stolen vehicle; the prosecution has a dog in this fight, that is the repo man. We don’t know who took the dollies – there is no evidence of it. There was no insurance claim made, why? There was enough time for the driver to have gone back and taken them but we don’t know, we have no video showing who took them. It is much like taking a back pack into Target and leaving it in the basket, it gets stolen and you blame Target but why?” he explained.
He said one of the most credible witnesses in this case is Officer Steven Godden who testified that there were no identifying numbers on the tow truck that would tell you he is from a repo agency. He said the driver escalated this event and it could have been handled differently.
Defense Attorney Palik went on to explain to jurors that the bank only took 26 days before attempting to repossess the car, but on the stand they testified that they wait until day 56. He said this case is about six cents (he holds up the coins) and it was a civil matter, not criminal, and even the dispatch repeated that to the Bonillas.
But he explained, “Det. Fellows, if he had been forthright, he would have had an interpreter during the interview but he didn’t, he took advantage of my clients’ language barrier. He used his disposition as dishonesty. “
Mr. Palik stated that the bank is in fact important in this case and to look at the statements and understand that the bank never contacted the Bonillas to tell them the payment was reversed.
Defense told the jurors that the driver of the tow truck escalated things and the video shows him putting his arm around the head of Bonilla. He said it is clear there is a language barrier and you can hear that as the defendant tries to explain what happened. He described Guillermo telling the dispatch that he had been punched because he could not describe the driver putting his fingers in his mouth in an en effort to stop him from cutting the straps.
Palik went over the laws of self-defense when telling jurors that Guillermo’s brother used a reasonable means of pulling the repo man off of his brother. He said he grabbed Thomas, the repo man, in a chokehold in an effort to get him away from his brother but released him without any continuing moves. “There was no intent to harm Thomas, that is clear.”
He asked jurors to use Shannon Agee’s testimony as credible, because her knowledge of how repossessions operate and experience makes her testimony credible.
“There has to be a unity of act and intent to prove a charge and there is no evil intent on any charge. But you are the judge of the facts and there is one person who saw it all, one being, if you believe in that. But there is no proof the dollies were taken by the defendants.” It leaves room for doubt.
Defense asked the jurors to think about the prosecution’s questions of Guillermo while he was on the stand – “they were hostile and accusatory.”
Palik concluded, “Reasonable doubt prevents you from making a conviction and I ask you to think about that when you go into that room, ladies and gentlemen.”
“I thank you for being here.”
“Remember I asked you to remember the Baltimore riots? I asked you if it was justified, could you convict. This case has victims and it doesn’t matter what injustices happened before the riots, it didn’t give people the right to loot or destroy, those are the victims. Palik talked about the bank, he wanted to take your eyes off the ball,” Favero asserted…
He said the bank called four times before sending out a repo man, but the defendants chose not to answer the phone. This case is not about six cents, and you will see in the documents from Travis Federal Credit Union that a payment was reversed from a returned check.
He asserted that Bonilla understood perfectly what Det. Fellows was asking him, but he is the one who purposely tried to confuse the detective.
Favero admitted there was no proof of who actually took the dollies but that it is more likely that the Bonillas put them inside the garage.
He told jurors that the video only shows Thomas reaching down to stop Bonilla from cutting the straps. He talked about the nine-minute window that could have given plenty of time for the defendants to hide the dollies in the garage.
“And it doesn’t matter what officers did in the search, it has nothing to do with the charges,” stated the DDA.
“Ladies and gentlemen this has been a long trial for these charges but it’s over, think about who the victims are in this case, this is not the Baltimore riots, think about the specific things, the victims, nothing else matters. I ask you to find the defendants guilty, thank you.”
Jurors were sent to deliberate at 3:40 p.m. and will resume deliberations in the morning.