By Arianna Medina & Julie Maruskin
WOODLAND – A man allegedly pointed a gun at his neighbor after claiming the neighbor’s son and another boy threw rocks at his home.
The defendant, a man named Joseph Onteverio, stood trial on Friday, November 1, 2019, after being formally charged with a misdemeanor count of exhibiting or drawing a firearm. His neighbor, however, has accused him of attempted murder, claiming Onteverio allegedly pointed and shot a gun at him. The tensions began after Onteverio and his neighbor got into an altercation over the neighbor’s son, who Onteverio claims was allegedly throwing rocks at the side of his home and was caught with another little boy. Onteverio claims he went to respectfully confront the boy’s father, but the interaction went south and the two men have been having issues since.
The defense called Mr. Onteverio himself as their first witness. He testified that on the morning of March 26, 2018, he was woken up by two loud bangs on the side of his home. He claimed he had been hearing these bangs for the past three days and when he went outside to investigate, he saw two little boys, around six or seven, in his backyard. He claimed he caught them with rocks in their hands and one little boy immediately ran off while the other stayed behind.
Mr. Onteverio asked the little boy what he was doing and where he lived. He claimed he walked the little boy back home to talk to his parents and resolve things peacefully. At this point, the defense showed photographs of dents on the side of the defendant’s residence. When asked about these dents, the defendant claimed they were not there before the morning of March 26.
He testified that when he went to speak with the boy’s mother, she spoke very little English and told him the boy’s father was not home but would return from work later in the day. The defendant claimed he went back in the afternoon, around the time the woman said her husband would home. He testified he saw his neighbor standing outside of his truck and claimed that when he approached the boy’s father, he was very difficult and aggressive. Mr. Onteverio claimed that when he tried to tell the man about his son throwing rocks, the father allegedly said, “F*** you! My son didn’t do anything,” and was not willing to talk about the incident.
The defendant claimed his neighbor threw the first punch and that is when they got into an altercation. The defendant admitted to exchanging blows and claimed that another neighbor came in during the fight and kicked and broke his ribs. He claimed he eventually got up and walked back to his residence, where the police showed up shortly after. He claimed he was not arrested that morning and that he did not use a gun or a weapon during the altercation.
When asked about the night of April 16, 2018, the defendant claimed he had gone to the shooting range around 10 or 11 pm. He claimed that at this time, he did not own any firearms and rented out some to use at the shooting range. He claimed later that night when he was home, he heard a strange noise outside his house again. When he opened the door to check, the defendant claimed he heard a gunshot. He thought it “none of his business” so he went back inside, but the police showed up at his house shortly after and were yelling at him to come out and get on the ground. He claimed he was arrested and that police went in to search his house but did not find a firearm on him or in his home.
When asked about the morning of February 2, 2019, Mr. Onteverio testified that at that point he had legally acquired a firearm. He claimed he woke up that morning and went to the store to get groceries. He testified that on his way to Walgreens, he was waiting to make a left turn at a green light when saw his neighbor in a truck speeding toward him at about 40 miles an hour. He claimed the truck tried to swerve into him but he avoided the collision by making a wide left turn. The defendant claimed he saw the truck make a U-turn in the intersection and turn left onto the same street. The defendant claimed the truck sped up and tried to swerve into him again, Mr. Onteverio tried to avoid the truck by pulling over into the curb. As the defendant was pulling over, he claimed he saw the truck reverse over the median and go off in the other direction down the street. The defendant claimed that because there was no crash, he did not call the police and continued to Walgreens.
He claimed that as he was coming out of Walgreens, he saw his neighbor again stopped at a red light across the street. He further testified his neighbor appeared “irate” and was screaming at him from his truck. Mr. Onteverio claimed he did not engage with him and drove home. He testified that as he was putting groceries away, his girlfriend told him that the West Sacramento Police Department was looking for him. He claimed the police showed up at his house almost simultaneously and told him to get out and get on the ground again. The police came in and claimed they were looking for a gun, the defendant cooperated and told the police where he kept his gun under the mattress. The defendant went on to claim that he practices proper gun safety and storage and that his gun is black, not chrome.
The defense’s second witness was West Sacramento Police Officer Michelle Smith, one of the responding officers on the morning of March 26, 2018. The defense displayed screenshots from Officer Smith’s body camera that showcase the outside of Mr. Onteverio’s home. These screenshots depict a large rock on a table and the defendant with injuries and a grimace on his face. Officer Smith testified to abrasions on the defendant’s face and corroborated another screenshot from her body camera that depicts a puddle on the floor from where the defendant claims he threw up blood after the altercation. Officer Smith testified she did not notice any abrasions or swelling on the defendant’s hands and more screenshots also show the defendant’s neighbor and father of the little boy. These screenshots show Mr. Onteverio’s neighbor wearing multiple large rings on both his hands and bracelets on his wrist.
The defense played the footage from her body camera during the morning of March 26, 2018, when the first fight occurred, evidence which the office recognized. In the footage, the alleged victim was sitting on the sidewalk curb out in front of his mobile home unit. He is out of breath, as he has just gotten done with his altercation with Mr. Ontevario. The witness says that he indicated a man came over, however she could not understand his accent when he was speaking in the footage. The officer asked the alleged victim if they want to press charges, however, they say they do not. In the footage, the victim repeatedly gets up to leave to “go to work” and is told to stay seated.
In the footage, the officer locates Mr. Ontevario who is also out of breath. The witness was asked to identify Mr. Ontevario in the footage, and she identifies him accurately. In prior testimony, she had said his speech was slurred. The defense attorney asked her if he was out of breath. She responded that in that moment in the footage when they found him, he had been. She was asked if he could have had a head injury that led him to vomit and responded that this could have been the case.
The defense attorney asked if Mr. Ontevario’s posture was consistent with someone in pain and she responded that it was. This argument was in response to a prior testimony where she said that the defendant may have been drunk because he was vomiting and slurring his speech. When responding to the prosecution, the officer testified that Mr. Ontevario had reportedly taken a shot of alcohol, when asked why she testified that he may have been drunk in that prior testimony.
Shown in the footage, when Officer Smith returns to the mobile home of the alleged victim, the officer asks the wife of the alleged victim if her son was throwing rocks at Mr. Ontevario’s unit. The wife responds to the question, explaining that he was not, however, her son comes out and states that he threw rocks at the unit with his friend.
The prosecution asked Officer Smith whether or not she examined Mr. Ontevario or if the medic examined Mr. Ontevario and believed that his ribs were cracked. She responded that she did not know of this information. The prosecution presented People’s Exhibit 11, where a picture showed the alleged victim’s head which had a laceration. The officer stated it was a good depiction of the alleged victim of that day.
The last witness was called to the stand, Officer Nvard Avagyan, another West Sacramento police officer who was on the scene on February 2. Her duty was to assist in the collection of evidence. She also spoke with the girlfriend of the witness. The prosecution used Officer Nvard Avagyan’s body camera footage of this conversation as People’s Exhibit 12. In the conversation, the girlfriend responds that she was in the shower and Mr. Ontevario never took her vehicle to leave. The girlfriend also responded that he was with her before the shower at home and left to go to Walgreens.
The defense attorney pointed out that this clip was only 43 seconds of the whole conversation that was recorded on the body camera. The officer arrived on the scene, took time to set up the perimeter, called Mr. Ontevario out with a phone call to which he did not answer, and then was able to reach the girlfriend. The defense asked the witness if, when she was speaking to the girlfriend, she was wearing just a towel. Officer Avagyan said she was. She was asked if the woman’s hair was wet and she also confirmed this.
The prosecution began its closing argument, claiming that the defendant was holding a grudge and perceived injustices. The prosecution pointed out that his behavior in his court testimony is evidence for this as he acted angrily and was “quick to spite,” as the prosecutor claimed. He believed that in the March 2018 incident, Mr. Ontevario was angry when he was woken up by the children throwing rocks and aggressively went to the neighbor.
In the second incident, the prosecution claimed that the defendant’s witness testimony is “bogus” because he stated that he heard a gunshot and then went about minding his business, even though the gunshot was reportedly “ringing in his ears” which would have been a cause for concern. The prosecutor explained that at this point the defendant should have called the police. The prosecution also pointed out that the defendant had a jacket that matched his description by the alleged victim in his smoker in his backyard.
The prosecutor pointed out that, although the gun was not found in the second incident, the gun could have been borrowed from one of the defendant’s friends who liked to go out to the shooting range. The prosecution claimed that the defendant brandished the firearm in the third incident because he knew the alleged victim was scared of him and was able to identify his car. He went and brandished the firearm because he did not have an alibi and he could have been at that intersection and that time. The alleged victim was also able to identify the gun.
The defense’s closing argument expressed that Mr. Ontevario appeared angry in court because he grew up in foster care and worked hard to regain a job he lost because of the alleged victim’s charges. The defense stated that the alleged victim lies right off the bat in the footage, where he stated that Mr. Ontevario was coming after him because his child threw rocks at the unit, and then changes his story to a BB gun because a BB gun is more unlikely for a child to own.
The defense attorney also noted that the alleged victim did try to get away from speaking to the officer when claiming that he had to go to work since he worked as a landscaper. It was 4 pm in the winter during the time of the body camera footage. In the footage, it also shows the children running around unattended to, and then the child admitted to throwing the rocks.
The defense pointed out that in the footage the defendant is wearing sliders and shorts, which are not fighting clothing. He also claimed that this is not clothing that coincides with wearing a leather jacket with flowers on it, such as the one in his smoker in his backyard after the second incident. He pointed out that during the second incident, although the defendant did not call the police after hearing the gunshot, no other neighbors called the police even though the units were all close together. Therefore, he stated that the defendant could not have been acting unreasonably because then all the neighbors would have been upset as well.
The defense attorney spoke about the February 2 incident. He claimed that the alleged victim’s drawing in his testimony was ridiculous because it did not explain anything that occurred in the intersection. The victim claimed to stop in the middle of the intersection rather than trying to get away. He stated that the alleged victim’s testimony does not add up because he could not identify the gun correctly – he stated that the gun was chrome, however, the gun was black with a laser pointer, a laser pointer being an unusual feature to a gun. The defense attorney also pointed out that the alleged victim stated that the defendant was seen still in the intersection after the alleged victim drove out of the frame.
Referring to Officer Avagyan’s testimony, the defense attorney claimed that the girlfriend reportedly woke up late. Mr. Ontevario showered first according to her testimony and then she showered second. She heard him say that he would run to the store and that he was gone for five minutes total – however, her hair was wet and appeared to be long, curly, and thick when she spoke in court. The defense attorney pointed out that she would have to take a shower for longer than five minutes if she had long, thick, and curly hair, therefore the defendant would have had been gone longer when he left to go to the store. If he was gone for a longer amount of time and was still seen in the intersection, he would not be able to come back and hide a gun in the amount of time before the police arrived.
The prosecution responded with his rebuttal, stating the defendant could not have lost his job because the charges were not yet proven to be true. He stated that the alleged victim stated that Mr. Ontevario came over to “raise hell” and that he called his child a “bastard.” Then, the prosecution argued that it is not what is said but it is what happened that which a lasting impression. He claimed that just because the defendant was wearing flip flops does not mean that he was not able to get into a fight or even to go over and yell at the neighbor.
In the second incident, the prosecution claimed that it was more likely for the defendant to have a gun because he saw someone out in his yard. He also pointed out that his jacket in the smoker, again, matched the description given by the alleged victim.
In the last incident, the prosecuting attorney claimed that the girlfriend’s story may not be a true account of what she experienced because she may be protecting the defendant. He also pointed out that the defendant did have time to hide a gun because the police response takes a while, as well as setting up a perimeter around the mobile home park. The prosecution concluded his second closing argument, claiming that the alleged victim identified the gun.
The jury will go into deliberation at 9 am on Monday.