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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ironhorse43's picture
Submitted by ironhorse43 on
Skinheads and the people that follow them are nothing but a boil on the ass of humanity.They have no place in ANY society.To have their acts condoned by law enforcement or in any way "overlooked" is a slap in the face to all of us in that profession.As a law enforcement officer I should feel that the justice system will prevail and take care of these animals and prosecute those so-called "law enforcement" officers to the fullest.But I also am a realist and know this is not usually the case.Sad but true as this has been going on for years and I see no end to it as long as they're are these knuckle dragging mouth breathers who hide behind the badge and continue to let these single digit IQ cowards crawl thru life without reproach.

mbhopi's picture
Submitted by mbhopi on
Found the skinheads profiles on facebook. Now I know what they look like and u can to buy copying and pasting their names into the search engine on facebook.

rebelchermouh's picture
Submitted by rebelchermouh on
yes. disgusting. now he can go overseas and rape and murder innocent civilians with impunity. i can just imagine whats in store for people in nevada if he makes it back after a blood crazed rampage over there. i'm praying for a higher justice to prevail and let God deal with his evil behavior.

rebelchermouh's picture
Submitted by rebelchermouh on
wonderful! i am so happy to read your words. i live in tucson, and i wish someone in fernley could help them out with another car...maybe someone will read their story and see to it they have one. but, thanks so much in stepping up and helping them with transportation !

rebelchermouh's picture
Submitted by rebelchermouh on
Yes. Stop him now. He should not be able to go into the service, even if it is the reserves. He's just the type to shoot someone in the back. The military needs to take action and discharge him NOW. This wasn't some boyish prank they can overlook. He is NOT fit for duty. Don't let him escape justice by wearing a uniform and pretending he is a hero when all he is is a violent, racist thug. His momma ought to be so proud of her little monster! See what she and his daddy created? But, then they say, the apple doesnt fall far from the tree.

dbender's picture
Submitted by dbender on
Well I think what we need to do is organize a militia. The FBI are the wrong ones to get involved. If anything they will try to turn this around on us Natives. We need our own people to conduct an investigation. How else can they be held accountable? Nothing has changed "in this day and age".

mzjames's picture
Submitted by mzjames on
Found this posted on the city's website. How funny that they can promote such an historic event and still be ignorant of hate crimes in their own town, right under their nose. Way to go Mayor Todd!!! DetailsReturn to Previous Date:September 11Time:All Day Time Details:Ceremonies begin promptly at 9:00 am Location:Out of Town Park Address:Out of Town Park - Bandstand Area Hwy 50 A and Farm District Road Fernley, NV 89408 Contact:775-575-3351Cost:n/c Open to the Public Fernley Stand United 911 Memorial Tuesday, September 11th 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony Tuesday, September 11, 2007 9:00 Am Out of Town Park. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- On this September 11th, let us remember and honor the innocent lives of those that died six years ago in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania; needlessly sacrificed on an altar of hate. On this September 11th, let us stand united with the brave men and women of the armed services, police, firefighters, emergency personnel and volunteers, who rush unselfishly into the unknown to protect our lives , our neighborhoods and our way of life. Please join us to remember. Mayor Todd

monapona's picture
Submitted by monapona on
Natives in Nevada! The latest report from Fernley is many racist people are treating us with rude comments and trying to egg us on. The latest incident happened last nite at WALMART where a very young new mother was on her way home to Nixon when she was verbally attacked by several white women who berated her for carrying her child in a cradle board & for being a proud Native American. We must become one people and stop this nonsense! THIS IS AMERICA! We should not have to tolerate this kind of abuse. If they don't like us let's do our business else where. We need to stop shopping there. We need to let the Warehouses that are there (AMAZON, WALMART, ETC)& those who may be planning to set up shop there that this is intolerable and by them setting up shop there it shows that they accept this behavior

dotson5136's picture
Submitted by dotson5136 on
Its outrageous what has been done to this family, why don't the tribe get together in front of the police station with signs demanding that justice be brought against these boys. You probably will get attention from the news from it then. "Just a thought."

sbrown's picture
Submitted by sbrown on
Rebel - as a fiance of a Native American currently serving in Iraq, I'm absolutely appalled that you would classify some ignorant moron, with the men and women who serve our country. They don't go around raping and murdering people and those kinds of comments have absolutely no need to be on this post. Please don't be so blatantly disrespectful to those who fight for your freedom!!

debrinconcita's picture
Submitted by debrinconcita on
WE were the first inhabitants of these lands, & this is what we get for living. THAT's why they should change the HISTORY books now! People need to know that we are not foreignor's of any kind. WE Are the ONLY INDIGENOUS PEOPLE who belong in this LAND. THIS HAD BETTER STOP NOW, PEOPLE NEED TO RESPECT OUR NATIONS & TRIBES. All they know or hear is those INDIANS with their CASINO's their all rich. THEY SHOULD PAY TAXES. We paid our Dues and how much longer do we have to keep paying for being NATIVE TO THE USA.

csbullock's picture
Submitted by csbullock on
So nothing has really changed in this time and age!! 2011 and we're still in the old age. Where we're hunted down still and not really have any help for us, Natives!! Humm, that is messed up big time!! For the family that were brutually attacked for nothing other than the color of their skin!!

bilpal13's picture
Submitted by bilpal13 on
As a 59-year-old American I'm appalled you can repeat the idiocy that "our" soldiers fight for "our" freedom. If you had any knowledge of history, you'd know that your fiance is fighting for the world's wealthiest 1%'s rights to own the rest of us. In this case, your fiance is in Iraq helping waste $5 trillion to confiscate Iraq's oil fields to benefit the Saudis. Keep repeating your little "Freedom Isn't Free" mantra if it comforts you, but don't think for a minute the rest of us are fooled.

englishrose's picture
Submitted by englishrose on
I'm not ignorant to all the hatred of small minded people that unfortunately exists in the world however I find it extremely shocking, disgusting & saddening that we live in a world where the people who took oaths to protect the innocent could behave in such a way. I cannot believe that in this day and age it is necessary for people to have to create petitions & contact governors to get justice for the innocent. However people such as yourselves do give me hope that the world may not be such a bad place & I hope the victims can take some comfort from the fact that they do not stand alone and hopefully some good can come from all of this.

chett2cleve's picture
Submitted by chett2cleve on
Racially Motivated No News Sources But About 15 Witness For Native American Being Attacked By SkinHead For No Apparent Reason Except Native American Told To Go Back To His Own Country While Getting Beaten Up !!!Skinhead had neo-nazi tattoo's Of Nazi Crosses on his front side of body he was about in his 30's and the Native American was a 19 year old teenager real man beating up on Teenager !!!Also In Town Park Has Video Surveillance Camera's where beating took place so What more Evidence Does Lyon County Sheriff's need to make an arrest !!!Please Help Us Natives From These Vicious Attacks Bccause we are not The Supreme Being Or Our Skin Is Not White !!!!"The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less."

ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
There is no excuse on earth for the way this police department acted. I hope there is a kindly attorney who will take this family's case pro-bono and get them the justice they deserve, put the skinheads benne bars, and that restitution is paid for the family to get a new car and to move somewhere else. I am only part Cherokee and don't know what percentage, but even if I weren't, I find this treatment by law enforcement as a failure to do there sworn duty to serve and protect the people and I mean all thoe people. My heart goes out to this family and I hope that justice is sought and duly received with jail time for the skinheads and early retirement or firing of all law enforcement officers who had any part of this cover-up. They are building a new casino in central Ohio. Perhaps they could make their way here. They are hiring construction workers and will need people to run the casino. There are other places to go and it sounds like it's no longer safe for this family to be there. i wish the best for them both now and in their futures.

ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
Sorry about all my typos. I was really angry after reading the article and forgot to proofread. I also need to get new glasses. But this topic is serious and I noticed some replies before putting mine where people were getting caught up arguing about the war. This isn't about that war. This is about the War of Hatred that has existed in America forever, even before the white men came, Indian tribes had wars, it was nothing as horrible as what the white men did to the Indians and Blacks, but this Hatred has to stop NOW between everyone. Now is a time we need to pull together as one because it won't be long until our nation has become a second or third rate nation with the way people treat one another and the way the political talking heads run this nation. We are being run to ruin and people choose to ignore those in need. And, to quote Sue from "Glee", is how I see it.

Darrick's picture
Submitted by Darrick on
I'm in Fernely, Nv. right now visiting my grandparents. I see many Natives out here and it feels great to see my people! But hearing this story really pisses me off.. and the 3 skinhead fucks that did it will get dealt with. Pieces of shit like them deserve to be locked behind bars. And thank you Fernley police, racist bastards don't give a damn about anybody but yourselve's. You all deserve to get shot. Native pride!