by Melissa Sanchez and Danielle Eden C. Silva
Testimony in the Trial Against Ramon Contreras
by Melissa Sanchez
On the morning of April 11 in Department 14, the jury trial against Ramon Contreras resumed with his wife, “G.C.,” testifying against him. The charges Contreras is currently facing are as follows: Count 1 – Battery against a spouse; Count 2 – Child endangerment; and Count 3 – Battery on a person. The Honorable David Rosenberg presided over the case this Wednesday morning, with Deputy Public Defender Daniel Hutchinson representing the defendant, and Deputy District Attorney Williams for the People.
The prosecution called their first witness to the stand, Contreras’ wife. G.C. was one of the alleged victims in this case from the incident that took place on May 31, 2017. It was a little less than a year ago when Contreras came home one day from work to his wife and children waiting at home. As testified by Contreras’ wife, the evening continued with his wife preparing dinner and Contreras taking his young daughter for a ride on her bike. It was a family affair helping the young daughter get strapped in her helmet to ride her bike in the front yard, and it was on the sideline where Contreras and his then 16-year-old son, “C.C.,” got into an altercation.
This altercation was rooted from days before, when the son was not adhering to his parents’ request that he wash the family car. It was a constant struggle to get the 16-year-old to do chores and assume responsibilities, but on May 31 he finally came around to do as he was told. Once outside on that evening, C.C. was having trouble opening the hose valve so he could wash the car. At this point, Mr. Contreras was outside aiding his wife in preparing their young daughter for her bike ride.
C.C. and Contreras began to go back and forth verbally until Contreras lifted his hand and gave a whack to the back of his son’s head. As a reaction, his 16-year-old son clenched his hand into a fist and struck his father on his right jaw.
C.C. ran inside, closely followed by his father, into his room. Once both were inside the room, Mr. Contreras began to spank his son, who was in a position curled up with his knees to his chest, as he was struck on his bottom by his father’s open palm.
Upon taking the stand, G.C. began to explain how she had never had any physical altercations with her husband or any major problems in their almost 21 years of marriage. She continued, giving her assessment of what happened from her standpoint and what she witnessed and experienced that night in May. Beginning with the argument unfolding between her son and husband, she went on to describe how she heard various “thumping” sounds as her back was turned to her son and husband.
In the cross-examination conducted by Mr. Hutchinson, G.C. testified to how she did not exactly see Mr. Contreras whack C.C. on the back of the head. In addition to this, she attested that she witnessed C.C. punch his father, but contrary to this she also testified that she did not see the action take place.
Once asked how she knew that her son had hit Mr. Contreras, she explained how she overheard her husband say, “You are not supposed to hit your father!” as he spanked C.C. on the bottom in his room, hence she knew that C.C. hit her husband even before being told by either.
Moreover, the questioning for G.C. on the stand continued where she elaborated on her own physical encounter with her husband, which took place in their living room that evening. She explained her position and proximity to him when he pushed her out of his way while leaving the home.
G.C. stated that her sister, “B.Z.,” arrived at the home shortly thereafter with no direct invitation but with just a slight concern for the well-being of G.C., based on their prior phone call. In the phone call B.Z. was not explicitly informed of the events that took place, but once she arrived she began to have her suspicious of violence against the children and G.C. by Mr. Contreras.
This was due in part to Mr. Contreras’ request for B.Z. to leave the home. As brought up in her testimony, B.Z. was asked to leave the Contreras home about 10 times, but she refused to do so because of concerns for her sister’s well-being.
This only enhanced the interaction between Mr. Contreras and B.Z. to the point, according to G.C., that both B.Z. and her husband ended up on the floor and she was left unsure as to how it had escalated to that point. Additionally, G.C. went on to explain how, out of rage, B.Z. picked up a toy rocking horse that was nearby and threw it at Contreras.
In the re-cross of this witness by Mr. Hutchinson, it was asked if there had been any prior interactions like the one that took place on May 31 between her and her husband. Hesitant at first, with an opening response of, “It was something dumb,” G.C. went on to tell the story of an incident that took place about eight years ago.
This incident occurred when she refused to let Mr. Contreras take her then-only two children to Mr. Contreras’ sister’s home to visit his mother. She waited until he entered the shower to leave the home with the children so he was unable to take them to the family event as he wished.
Going on, she informed the court that once she arrived back home after taking the two children, both she and Contreras got into a verbal argument that escalated to the defendant pushing her , causing her to fall onto the bed.
The second witness called to the stand by the People was the second alleged victim, the son of Mr. Contreras, C.C. During the direct examination conducted by DDA Williams, C.C. gave his perspective of the events that unfolded, from how the whack on his head infuriated him to the point that he reacted with “socking” his father on the jaw.
In cross-examination by Mr. Hutchinson, it was established that C.C. was working on fixing up an old car of Contreras” so that C.C. could use it once he obtained his driver’s license. He explained how he worked on this project alongside his father, just like he did when helping build the new water system – with the same hose valve he had trouble opening in the beginning of the May incident.
C.C. went on to explain how, once in the room, he was struck several times on the buttocks with his father’s open palm, while his older brother, “J.C.,” was in the same room. C.C. detailed how J.C. was playing video games with a headset on and paid no mind to the situation happening around him.
The third witness called on by the prosecution was B.Z., the sister of G.C. She was an alleged victim in this case as well, as she tripped inside the home, falling down alongside Mr. Contreras.
In direct examination by Deputy DA Williams, she informed the court of the time that she arrived at the Contreras residence, which was about 8:30 or 9:00 P.M. With only ten minutes or less to testify before the court broke for lunch, B.Z. testified how she was not offended at first when asked to leave the home, but was so when she was not allowed to talk to her sister due to interference from the defendant.
The court broke for lunch at 12:00 P.M. and the trial was to resume at 1:30 P.M., with the continuation of B.Z.’s testimony.
Child Endangerment and Battery Case Receives Closing Statements
By Danielle Eden C. Silva
Department 14 held the closing arguments in the case against Ramon Contreras, a man charged with battery of a spouse, child endangerment, and battery on a person. Mr. Contreras was represented by Deputy Public Defender Dan Hutchinson. The People were represented by Deputy District Attorney Williams.
The session began with Judge David Rosenberg giving the jury instructions and an explanation of the counts. Following the requirements for each count to be found valid, the People began their closing statements.
On May 31, 2017, Mr. Contreras came home after a very bad day and his reactions made the situation worse. Nothing was in order when he came home and, after being punched in the face by his son, the prosecution claimed the defendant assumed the actions of a bully, not a parent. Multiple punches, a slap on the back of the head, including punching the back area, and chasing his son were not actions done in the course of normal discipline. The People claimed he was guilty of child endangerment.
The defendant’s wife had stopped the defendant from hitting their son and he pushed her down in the living room. Because she wanted to protect her husband, the wife said in court that the push didn’t hurt, even though the police report recorded she said she got hurt. This was a form of domestic violence and worth a guilty verdict on the battery of a spouse charge.
After being pushed down, the defendant’s wife decided to cancel her other plans and stay at the house. Her sister, suspicious, came over to the house and was let in by her. The defendant wanted her out and knocked her down. The defendant’s sister-in-law threw a toy at him and he held her down on the floor. The prosecution submitted that, beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury should find Contreras guilty of the three counts of battery on a spouse, endangerment of a child, and the battery of a person.
Following William’s closing statement, Mr. Hutchinson began his closing argument.
The defense commenced by clarifying “beyond a reasonable doubt” as waking up without guilt and being willing to bet on this verdict.
He started with the child endangerment count, first arguing what discipline entails. Spanking is considered reasonable disciple. No injuries appeared in the pictures of the defendant’s son. An officer testified that marks did not have to be left for pain to be felt, but the defendant’s son testified he braced for pain but felt none. Additionally, the defendant’s other son was still playing video games as this occurred.
As Hutchinson noted his client to be a good father, the court reminded the jury not to rule based on sympathy before allowing the defense to continue their closing statement. The defense claimed the child felt shame, not mental or physical suffering inflicted by the defendant.
There are circumstances where a parent must discipline their child and, if a child made a fist and hit his father as hard as he could, that calls for a reaction. The reaction, according to the wife, was a spank. The child called it an open hand spank. The defense shared there was no proof that the father threw a punch, and he certainly didn’t punch hard enough to cause injury. Additionally, this was not the first 15-year-old to punch his kid. The defendant could not let his child off easy and his father disciplined him in tears after formerly being noted as a stoic man and not having hit him before. The defense requested the defendant be found not guilty on child endangerment.
In speaking on the battery of a spouse, the term “offensive” in the elements of the charge was not defined, allowing the jury to make a subjective call on it. They were to take into account the totality of the circumstances, as sometimes gestures or touches can be considered rude, immature or inappropriate, but not offensive.
The defense then noted the map he asked the defendant’s wife to draw. He noted how people remember events differently and the defendant’s wife said Contreras pushed her and walked in the opposite direction. At this point, the wife didn’t know that her son had punched Mr. Contreras and that the defendant could have been walking past her to get to the youth. Yes, the wife was mad at him but if a reasonable person agrees that pushing her aside would not be offensive, Mr. Contreras must not be found guilty of battery of a spouse.
The presumption of innocence was brought up in the battery on the person count. The testimony of the sister-in-law, Mr. Hutchinson shared, was all over the place. The defendant’s sister-in-law came over at 9:30pm but something must have been said to bring her there. She must have somehow known about the situation and gone to her sister’s aid. She had left her husband, raised six kids on her own, and requested a restraining order against him. The defendant, it was noted, is not the sister-in-law’s past husband.
The defendant’s sister-in-law had been hostile and unfriendly toward the judge and, likely on the night of May 31, the same occurred. According to the defense, she had accused the defendant of abusing his family and, not having received an open invitation to enter the house, was a trespasser. Contreras told her to leave and she replied to the effect of “make me.” After he put his hand on her shoulder, she ended up on the floor, with only circumstantial evidence of being held down. The defense argued that he acted in self-defense, as she was a trespasser who would not leave when asked and was a potential threat to him. This count, the defense requested, must be rejected and the defendant found not guilty of it.
Mr. Hutchinson, therefore, requested the jury find Mr. Contreras not guilty on all counts and asked them to return him to his family.
After a short morning recess, the prosecution began its rebuttal.
The People argued that Mr. Contreras is guilty of these actions. The child ran inside and three witnesses called the defendant’s actions “punches.” There had been no mention of discipline throughout the testimonies, only spanking. The defendant had acted as an angry man and may not have left visible marks. However, marks are not always left when someone has received injury. The pushing of his wife was offensive, as he angry at her. She wasn’t happy about it and needed time to cool down.
The wife called off visiting her mother, who was not feeling well, which alerted her sister. The sister, frustrated after waiting two and a half hours, overreacted in that incident but that doesn’t mean she deserved to be pushed. Prior to the incident, she and the defendant had had a peaceful relationship. She had given a playful “make me,” and that somehow resulted in injury to her face. The reasonable conclusion was she was struck when Mr. Contreras held her down. There were no injuries on her hands so she didn’t injure him in turn. The prosecution requested the jury return guilty verdicts.
With the closing statements finished, the court instructed the jury further and swore in the bailiff before the jury was released for deliberation.