Not only did a Native American family endure a horrific attack by three men with a baseball bat, knife and crowbar near a gas station in Fernley, Nevada on May 24 that led to them losing their car, going bankrupt and unable to return home. The three men followed the family of Johnny Bonta, cut them off as they tried to drive onto a highway ramp and then brutally beat Bonta and his son-in-law Shawn Murray.
No one stopped to help the family and when police did come, they only took statements from the attackers (who later bragged about the assault on Facebook) and arrested Bonta. While his wife, Lisa Bonta, daughter Alyssa and Murray were taken to the hospital, Bonta was jailed for six days before receiving medical treatment — authorities said he had an outstanding $367 fine — and then charged with battery with a deadly weapon (though Bonta had no weapon). Two Indian Health Service doctors agreed to treat Bonta, but jail officials would not let them.
The actual details will only leave you more incredulous.
The FBI is now investigating the attack in Fernley as a hate crime. Lyon County District Attorney Robert Auer counters that the attack was more of a “mutual fight.”
As Arlen Melendez, Chairman of Reno-Sparks Indian Colony where the Bontas live, points out in an article published on the Indian Country Today Web site:
…Nevada in the past has a reputation of being the “Mississippi of the West” for racism problems.
“We need to put pressure on law enforcement and the judicial system to ensure the Bontas are treated fairly,” he said in the article. “Our main concern is that these attacks need to be taken very seriously and fully investigated as hate crimes.”
Melendez said in a Wednesday interview he is not calling what happened a hate crime.
“I’m saying incidents like that should be fully investigated by a neutral party,” Melendez said.
One of the attackers, Jacob Cassell, is the son of a former deputy for the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office, rendering that office not exactly a “neutral party.” District Attoney Auer says that the “best evidence authorities have” is that the Bontas pursued the three men; he says that he “would like to hear the Bonta side of the story” but claims that “the people involved are not talking.” The Sheriff’s office says they “don’t have enough evidence” to put Cassell in the “category” of being a skinhead or member of a “rascist gang.”
Meanwhile, the Bontas have been trying to get on with their life. After two weeks and (once again) without the help of the police, they found their car in an impoundment yard with its tires flat. As Bonta is still recovering from his injuries, he’s unable to work and he and his family members (his wife, who has health problems, was also hit with the bat) are walking to doctors’ appointments. Daily Kos reports that the Bontas have contacted the ACLU and are trying to get a lawyer to represent them.
As Forbes says,
..not to sound too old-fashioned, but when a confrontation occurs between three men in their 20’s and a family with a middle-aged man and two women, it’s hard to see how it could have been ‘mutual’ by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is it difficult to grasp why the Bontas aren’t cooperating with police, either, given the circumstances.
Despite the statements of the Lyon County authorities, let’s hope the FBI’s hate crimes investigation can clarify not only what actually happened on May 24 in Fernley, but why law enforcement officers treated the Bontas as second-class citizens, if that.
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Photo of Alyssa Bonta our daughter, Johnny Bonta, and Barbara Happy(Johnnys Mother) from the Facebook page calling for justice for Bonta and his family.
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