Johnny Bonta, center, with his daughter Alyssa and mother Barbara Happy. Johnny was a victim of an apparent hate crime on May 24 as he was allegedly attacked outside a gas station in Fernley, Nevada.

Native Family Allegedly Attacked by Skinheads

Valerie Taliman

Updated on July 13, 2011. See Bonta Family: Waiting for Justice, Living in Fear, Lyon County District Attorney Releases Bonta Police Report & Bonta Family Revisits Site of Alleged Attack

Updated on June 29, 2011, with links to support pages.

Johnny and Lisa Bonta, a Native family from the Reno Sparks Indian Colony, became the latest victims of an apparent hate crime on May 24 when they were allegedly attacked at a gas station along I-80 in Fernley, Nevada, a border town between the Fallon and Pyramid Lake Indian reservations.

“I was pumping gas at Quick Stop on our way to Reno to look for another job when these skinheads in a blue car drove by real slow and checked us out.  The driver jumped out with a baseball bat, and I asked them ‘why you holding a bat?” said Bonta. “He said ‘let’s do this’ and tried to pick a fight. I don’t know how to explain what happened—we didn’t do anything to them.”

Bonta, a Paiute member of the Reno Sparks Indian Colony, says he tried to avoid the confrontation by telling them he didn’t want to fight. He got back in the car, with his son-in-law Shane Murray at the wheel, and they quickly drove away with the carload of skinheads in close pursuit.

As they approached the freeway ramp, they were cut off as the blue car swerved in front of them, then slammed on the brakes, causing Murray to crash into it.  Murray said he recognized one of the attackers as Jacob Cassell, a former classmate and son of retired Lyon County Sheriff officer Jim Cassell.

“They all jumped out of the car with baseball bats, knives and a crowbar, and we knew they were going to hurt us,” said Lisa Bonta, in an interview from Washoe Medical Center, where she was in treatment for seizures she suffers.

The fight broke out on the highway after 1 p.m. and while traffic was passing by, no one would stop to help them. Lisa and her daughter, Alyssa, were terrified watching the brutal and bloody fight as her unarmed husband and son-in-law tried to fight off the three young men in their 20s.

“I saw one of them hit my husband in the head with a bat, and the other one was trying to cut off his braid with a knife.  Johnny was covered in blood and they just kept hitting him with a crow bar.  They even tried to slit his throat,” she added.

“Jacob Cassell had my son-in-law on the ground in a chokehold and Shane was turning blue. My daughter was sobbing ‘they’re killing him’ and somehow she found the strength to hit Jacob in self-defense so he would release Shane.”

It was then, Lisa said, that Cassell turned his anger on her and her daughter, jumping on the hood of their car while swinging a baseball bat and cursing at them.

“I’m a 46 year-old woman with serious health problems, and I tried to defend myself, but he hit me across the lower back with his bat, calling us ‘niggers and river monsters,” said Lisa, who is Anglo. “He pointed at Alyssa and said he would rape her the next time he saw her in Fernley, where she lives.”

Meanwhile, Johnny Bonta was knocked unconscious with a bat, his nose and sinus cavities broken and bleeding, with stab wounds on his neck.

Lisa said Jacob Cassell taunted the family as the sirens approached, telling them, “You hear those cops coming? They’re not going to help you. My daddy is a cop in this town, and nothing is going to happen to me. You fucking niggers are going to jail.”

When Lyon County Sheriff’s officers arrived, they took statements and began filling out police reports with Cassell and his friends, but they did not take statements from any of the victims. When Lisa asked why they were not being questioned for a statement, no one responded. “They ignored us,” she said, before she suffered a seizure and required medical attention.

Three ambulances responded to the scene and took Lisa, Alyssa and Murray away for treatment; Murray’s injuries included a crushed elbow and broken hand.

Johnny Bonta, bleeding and barely standing after being hit in the knees with a bat, was arrested on the scene and taken to jail. He said he was not allowed medical treatment for six days while he was in the county jail, all the while uncertain about what charges had been filed against him.

Assuming he was on his way to the hospital, Lisa Bonta had no idea her husband had been arrested. She finally located her husband in jail after calling other facilities repeatedly, and was very upset that he was not given medical treatment for his extensive injuries.

“I asked them to tell me what charges he was being held on and no one would say. They said they gave him the information, but he can’t read or write, so I needed to find out. At first they said there was a bench warrant for an unpaid $367 fine, and when we made arrangements to pay that, they charged him with battery with a deadly weapon, even though it was those boys who had the weapons. The booking papers say we owe $30,367.00. ”

Lisa Bonta is outraged that their attackers were all released at the scene of the crime and were not charged despite the fact they bragged about it on Facebook on May 24, the day of the attack.

Two hours after attacking the Bontas, Josh Janiszewski of Fernley wrote, "Just laid the fists and boots to some 6' 5'' tongan dude. what you got on little guys?" at 3:13 p.m. When asked if they gave them hell, Josh responded. "Oh we did. That's for sure!" at 3:48 p.m. "Amen," said Jacob Cassell at 4:07 p.m.

Jacob's mother Dee Cassell also commented, "So...who has blood? You guys need to come home to mom?" at 4:48 p.m. She later added that she gave them First Aid. "Better have ur asses at home after I did 1st aid. Don't piss off women - they r worse than men!" she wrote at 8:00 p.m.

When asked if they got "some good licks" in, Josh said, "sent em to the hospital, they got fucked up man, thats for sure."

Meanwhile, Johnny Bonta stayed behind bars while Lisa and her family called the jail each day, asking if Johnny had been treated for his injuries. No one would tell her his condition. One morning, she says a surly guard told her “he’ll have to get his Indian doctor if he wants treatment,” then hung up on her.

Lisa appealed to the Spark Indian Colony and said she was able to get two Indian Health Service doctors to agree to visit Johnny in jail, but was told by jail officials that could not be allowed. It was not until tribal police pursued Johnny’s release that he was finally released after six days and was able to see a doctor.

The family also lost their car following the attack. The Bontas could not locate their car after the Lyon County Sheriff’s office had it towed from the scene. When Lisa called to ask about their car, she was told the police had no information. She found the car two weeks later in a small towing yard, tires flattened and in need of repair. Since Johnny has not been able to work, they cannot afford to pay the impoundment fees or have it repaired. They are now walking to all of their medical appointments in Reno. The situation has created great hardship for them and their children.

“We lost everything as a result of this attack, and now we’re homeless since we can’t go back to Fernley,” said Lisa. “The FBI took our statement last week and we know they got a copy of the video from the gas station parking lot. We are asking for a full investigation into this hate crime.”

The Bontas said since this happened, at least four other Native families have told them they too were harassed and attacked by skinheads in nearby border towns. But people told her they don’t report the incidents because they don’t believe police will help them. These follow an April 2010 attack on Vincent Kee, Navajo, in Farmington, New Mexico, where three men took Kee from a McDonald’s and shaved a swastika symbol on the back of his head and branded him with the symbol using a coat hanger.

“Someone could have died that day,” said Lisa, “and the only reason this happened is because my husband and son-in-law have brown skin. We have a 10-year-old daughter, and I have to speak out about what happened for her sake. I just don’t understand why these young boys think they have the right to randomly beat others. We have to put a stop to this kind of behavior.”

Lisa also said they are hiring an attorney. “I want the police to know they can’t deny people medical treatment just because they feel like it. Johnny could have died from a head injury, and they violated his civil rights. They should be held accountable.”

Since the story broke supporters have started a petition at for the Governor of Nevada to address the situation along with other hate crimes in Nevada. A Facebook page was also created in support of the Bonta family.

Indian Country Today Media Network will continue to follow this story and is looking into any fundraising information there may be for our readers. The case is currently under investigation by the FBI.  Calls to the Reno office of the FBI were not returned.

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donovanpete's picture
Submitted by donovanpete on
Is there a way we can help in donating to the family? The perpetrators need to be brought to justice! We need to create awareness so that future generations will not have to wander in life with worry or fear. Let's create a better tomorrow by helping one another. Now is the time for all Native People to unite so that we can all live in harmony once again.

cristinabanta's picture
Submitted by cristinabanta on
I suggest this family get in touch with the Southern Poverty Law Center, in Montgomery, Alabama. They have a wonderful long record of helping victims of hate crimes - pro bono. Please contact them - they will fight for you! They have been tracking hate groups and fighting and breaking them in courts for years and years. Here's their information: Southern Poverty Law Center 400 Washington Avenue Montgomery, Alabama 36104 phone: 334 956-8200 Best wishes to the family for healing and renewal.

ndavis's picture
Submitted by ndavis on
Would anyone be willing to set up a donation fund for this family at a local bank? I would do it myself, but I'm in southern California. I for one would really like to send some money their way to help ease the financial hardship they're having to deal with due to the arrest and having their car impounded. It's infuriating that after the traumatic experience these people endured they're the ones being treated like criminals!

christinafloyd's picture
Submitted by christinafloyd on
Thank you I will also see what me and my husb can do. My husb would like to see them in Ft. Levenworth for this one. They have pissed off more than a few serving here in USAG Schweinfurt Germany. Please post the FB link so I can rally more soldiers to this. The more that are aware the more they will not be able to sweep this under the rug. As for me I am off to ask the LTC of Reno Sparks Army Reserve if this is what they teach their boys to behave like. I know here we do Not Teach or Tolerate that from our boys. Thank you for your and your husbands and friends service. Christina Floyd

chrisfrazier's picture
Submitted by chrisfrazier on
I don't live in the Fernley area, but I spend at least a month out of my year in that area for Burning Man. This article is so sad, I had hoped we as a society could finally learn that EVIL IS BAD. Hate crimes are true pure evil, SHAME on law enforcement for not tending to this rot in their town! Sheriff, time to be radically responsible and DEAL WITH YOUR OUT OF CONTROL SON. While you're at it, try dealing with your community, because obviously the youth need some training on how to behave like civil human beings and be taught to be a positive part of society. This is inexcusable, and I've spread the word about the 'change' petition to all my friends. Whenever I hear about racist skinheads I get sooooo embarrassed to be white! On behalf of white people, I apologize for the existence/actions of that asshole douche bag. Please don't think we're all like him. I'm not perfect, not by a long shot, but I will do whatever I can from where I am to stir this pot... This is infuriating. You have my deepest sympathies for what you've suffered through!

szrobby's picture
Submitted by szrobby on
40 years ago, stopped at Fernley food place with friend. We're in line for food and she casually mentions, "they don't like indians here". So I pulled away immediately, a bit perturbed that she hadn't mentioned it earlier.

badger's picture
Submitted by badger on
This type of attitude among non-Indians towards Native American Indians is not hereditary, it is taught in the home. We all learn by listening and watching our parents at a young age and encouraged to take actions on whatever it may be. Unfortunately, this is a serious situation where one attempts like to take a life away from another by any means. The DOJ-FBI must investigate this because it appears that it is race-related. The American Indian History needs to be taught at the elementary and high school levels so everyone knows the history. It is taught at the Colleges ONLY.

marcea5280's picture
Submitted by marcea5280 on
It doesn't matter just choose a bank with locations nationwide that would be an awesome & most helpful thing to do!! Banks dont like me for past failings lol or I would! I really wish someone would ! As with most of us I can't afford much but I can do without something to help as I hope we all can! & something is always better then nothing!

marcea5280's picture
Submitted by marcea5280 on
Thanks to both your husbands & you for your service & quite true this is not someone you would want behind them in battle!

marcea5280's picture
Submitted by marcea5280 on
Wow!! The Today Show is GREAT idea!! Getting national attention to this would get things moving fast! Thank you!! I tried contacting a couple of news services but haven't gotten any callbacks! Maybe you have accomplished that Amber lets hope!! And emailing local authorities will do good in that it will make them aware that their dirty little secrets are about to see the light of day!! I'm so happy at the way ppl are coming together here & commiting to see this thro. JUSTICE FOR BONTA FAMILY!!

imarebel's picture
Submitted by imarebel on
The more I reread this article the angrier I get!! So this is who I contacted so far- Governor Brian Sandovar, The Seattle Times (closest major newspaper to me- I don't care if this is over a month old- this should have been national news), CNN news tips, The Rachel Maddow Show, and I called the Army since apparently, Jacob Cassell and Josh Janiszewski are representing our country at the Reno-Sparks Army Reserve and I sure as heck do not want them to represent me! The Army, I'm awaiting a call back from. I'm also going to contact the Oregonian newspaper and I don't know if it will do any good, the Mayors office in Fernley, NV - I don't know if the corruption goes to that level, too.

devinoakgrove's picture
Submitted by devinoakgrove on
Simple as this, lets get AIM involved and do a big march over there. Lets show these people that our people are not haters even tho we were killed raped and pillaged 400 years ago. Its time for us to make a stand and show that we are Warriors as all famous chiefs dude back in the day. Stand against those who wants us to get beat down into submission. ITS TIME FOR TO CHANGE THIS! This makes me sick and want to act out against the white population...

jacquelinehoman's picture
Submitted by jacquelinehoman on
I am outraged beyond words at the vicious and brutal felony assault that was committed against the Bonta family, who were unarmed, minding their own business and just putting gas in their car when they were bludgeoned by a neo-Nazi criminal gang of thugs. But I am even more outraged that the victims of this melee got made into the criminals under the aegis of Nevada law enforcement agencies! I do not live in a border town near a reserve. So I have to drive pretty far to get to go to pow wows and visit any of my Native friends whom I've made from Facebook. I happen to think Native people are really cool and awesome on so many levels. I found myself embarking on the long journey of the Red Road myself and it is challenging while also healing and enlightening. I understand that while I really like being among Native people, that not everyone else shares my sentiments. Some people hate Native Americans and no amount of tolerance training or education will change that because you just can't fix stupid — I get it, OK. But what I do NOT understand, what I do NOT get, is WHY do bigoted redneck neo-fascist thugs who are an embarrassment to carbon molecules insist on living near those whom they hate so much? I can't stand obnoxious drivers so I don't go to New York City. Why don't those who hate Native Americans move somewhere else where they won't have to see any Native people?

jacquelinehoman's picture
Submitted by jacquelinehoman on
Citizens Bank is not only national, it is international. I have a PayPal account set up as well from when I was selling my husband's old car parts on eBay, and selling some of my self-published books direct. So I would be more than happy to put my PayPal account to use for getting cash donations from among my Facebook friends and Alternet readership fans. Granted, we are all struggling economically but if a couple thousand people each donate $5, that will turn into a workable get-back-on-your-feet fund for the Bontas.

sonny's picture
Submitted by sonny on
You guys have a good case!!! Sue the county for what they owe you!! Hit em where it hurts! Their pocket book!!!

nadinewilliams's picture
Submitted by nadinewilliams on
The violent acts committed by those cowards, toward the Bonta family, are a reflection of the "values" taught to them by their families. Perhaps the assault on the Bonta family can be reported to the Army since the main skinhead lists his army unit on Facebook. I just hope the Army and /or the FBI investigates and rousts out all who played a part in this miscarriage of justice. I hate to think of what he may have done to other people of color under the name of the American flag.

oneluckyfew's picture
Submitted by oneluckyfew on
Johnny and Lisa,I to have been attacked by Jacob,Josh and others of there group,7 of them at one time. Though they did`nt win with me, they beat my freind pretty bad.My encounter with them was not racialy motivated(I`m white)just opportunistic thuggism, but I do know they have beat other natives because of race.And one was mentally handicapped.I to was taken to jail,and no I did`nt have any warrants,lots of wittnesses that they started everything. The deputy did`nt even care. At the LCSO jail I filled out a report that was never investagated,I believe becuase of who Jacobs daddy is.I know these thugs have been doing this for years in Fernley and so does the sheriff. Though I hope our paths cross again some day it sounds like they have bigger people looking for them.And what a disgrace they call themselves "Army Reservse".One day they`ll choose the wrong person to mess with and karma will pay it`s due.

csilme's picture
Submitted by csilme on
I hear all the time about how far we have come in the U.S. regarding our attitude towards racial bias. We have made baby steps in my experience. The truth is, people have learned to put a positive social facade forth which 'spins' us, the U.S., in that 'all for one and one for all' golden glow. Yet, we did not hesitate to inter the Japanese, taking everything they worked hard for, and now, we do not blink an eye at torturing and imprisoning middle eastern peoples without due process. We forced the Martin Luther's of the day to march, be threatened, beaten and killed to gain their DUE rights. US! Americans!!! Now this! If only the ORIGINAL people of this land had exercised strong, unmerciful border controls when Columbus, as well as other 'Discoverers (invaders)' had breached the borders of their ancient, well maintained, natural habitat... Well, I guess it's all their fault. For, had they been more savage in their greeting of these new people... Oh, wait! I am not surprised by what happened to the Bonta's family; I meet people like this in my family and all around me where I live. My family has Canuck background, I was proudly married to a NezPerce by which I had two beautiful daughters. We experienced, at times, the nasty side of people, but also the beautiful side of those with naturally good hearts. But, I am ALWAYS surprised at the people who will not, who CHOOSE not, to help. I understand that we cannot put our family at risk to help, but we can do SOMETHING!! I could never sleep again if I let something like this go.

csilme's picture
Submitted by csilme on

crazytalk's picture
Submitted by crazytalk on
Call or write your U.S. Senators, each state has two. Ask them to suspend federal funding from Nevada until they stop using the funding for hate crimes. That sheriffs office has received federal funding, they all have! Lets keep on this!

sayitloud's picture
Submitted by sayitloud on
This is really messed up. If I were you, I would contact the Southern Poverty Law Center and get a hold of Morris Dees, he is the preeminent attorney in the US on getting after hate groups. The Sheriff should be recalled. We need to call his office and force him to resign. He is supposed to uphold the law! His son and friends should be arrested...those idiots!

sayitloud's picture
Submitted by sayitloud on
Contact United States Senator Harry Reid's office and get him to take action, too. I will be calling his office asap. I urge EVERYONE to place a call, send an email and tell a friend to contact Sen. Reid and demand that the perpetrators be prosecuted.

blister's picture
Submitted by blister on
I don't know anyone of any race/color who trusts the police of believes that they are here to protect any of us. This bunch in Nevada are obviously living some fifties mentality and are completely out of touch with where the rest of the world outside of their hate-filled redneck reality is headed.

lynnie's picture
Submitted by lynnie on
Bonta Family, There are no words for the way I feel about what has happened to your family. I have been sitting here for 15 minutes trying . I am sickened. Skinheads are not white, they are the definition of evil. But I am white and I will be following your story and supporting you in every way you need. Peace and love to your family...Lynn

moonika's picture
Submitted by moonika on
How shameful that at these times and after 500 plus years we still have to tolerate these abuses from the snake evil people like them i hope you sue them for all they got i be sharing for you ...please tell me how can i help these family i feel for them with my heart...sniff i hope they are doing better but the more publicity the better get all the news over there and tv stations these is an american shame...!

paul27's picture
Submitted by paul27 on
This alleged action by the three Fernley "skin-heads" and their supportive family is exactly the way Hitler's "Brown Shirt" thugs acted during the late 1920's and early 1930's in Germany. I'm Anglo and have never suffered a hate crime. As an American I demand a full and proper investigation, with justice to follow. When one American citizen is brutally victimized, we are all brutally victimized! When one citizen's rights are denied by thugs, my rights are equally threatened. I hang my head in shame over what the three young men and the Lyon County Sheriff's Department allegedly did to the four fine innocent American citizens. No one has a right to treat our citizens that way. Not Hitler, not Bin Laden, not Fernley skin heads, and not the Lyon County Sheriff's Department.

pokanabe's picture
Submitted by pokanabe on
I'm brom the Benton Paiute Reservation near Benton, California. This place is close to the Nevada/California boundary on U.S. 6. I have travel many time through Fernley, Nevada, with out incident. However, in these type of redneck towns and Counties both in California and Nevada, the treatment of American Indians have alway been the Same. In Inyo County, the DA's Office attempted to put my son in prison for 8 years for beating up and illegal Mexican that wanted to fight my son. The Public Defender was worthless. I have to hire an attorney from out of the area. My son did not go to prison. It seem that law enforcemnet in Fernley, Nevada is the same as Inyo County, California. American Indians are quilty before proven innocent. The white people always get away with what they do to American Indians and the Indians are found guilty no matter what. Jim crow laws against American Indians in Fernley,Nevada. I guess American Indians need to acquire consealed weapon permits to protect them self in Nevada in general. Lets hope that theFBI will realy do somethiing in this case.

chett2cleve's picture
Submitted by chett2cleve on
I live here in Ferntucky and about 5 years ago My son was viciously attacked by 3 white supremacist at the park and the police department did not persue the matter at all I went personally looking for these indivduals I thank my creator to this day that I did not find these thugs because they would have joined Custer that very day and I would have not had any remorse for my actions still be in Nevada State Prison Today so I feel for this family and to have one of the attackers be a former sherrif's son that is despicable to this day my son is mentally challenged from that beating that he survived that day and will never be the same.They kicked him with steel toed boots until he was unconscious and left him there bleeding profusively Something definitely needs to be done before someone dies from this uncalled for behavior.

clavel's picture
Submitted by clavel on
That is so good to hear that you put it on FB. It's sad that red, black & brown people have to suffer because of the ignorance & hate of people who apparently have no idea of what it means to respect others. I also believe that Karma will happen... Not today or tomorrow, but it will, and when it does, it will be worse on him.

chett2cleve's picture
Submitted by chett2cleve on
Now Tell Me Who Is The Real SAVAGE Here !!!!!