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
6/27/11

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 change.org 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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marcea5280's picture
marcea5280
Submitted by marcea5280 on
So what we do, who can we write to what actions can we take to help this family & get justice for them? Jacob Cassell is obviously a product of his upbringing; the local law enforcement that allows such blatant racism needs to be taken apart & made into an agency that protects ALL citizens!! Who knows how many native people have suffered similar outrages that weren't publicized!! Only a massive show of support will accomplish that since it's clear they have been getting away with this crap for awhile! Have any accounts been established to help the Bonta family if not then why not?? WE ARE ALL RELATED come on ICTMN lead the charge!!!

ravenwarrior's picture
ravenwarrior
Submitted by ravenwarrior on
Blacks and Hispanics know all too well that local cops are often nothing more than agents of oppression. We Natives know this too, apparently. Remember John T. Williams?

rrredhd's picture
rrredhd
Submitted by rrredhd on
This kind of hatred is sick and discusting. Anyone that feels they are better than someone else due to skin color in this day and age normally have to "hide" it unless they are with other similar minded people! I can't even imagine how many people saw that happening and just drove on? Should have stopped, called 911, done something? Even I, at 58 yrs old, with health problems, and caucasion, would have stopped! There is no excuse to turn your head and keep going. As far as I'm concerned, they are just as discusting as the people with the baseball bats and crow bars and knives!! After the fact..all I can do from where I stand in Northern Calif. is PRAY and say what I feel! I wish I was in a financially positive situation so that I could do more!! The evil one is running strong in this world for sure! I am ashamed of my people that act in any way like this!

tnelson's picture
tnelson
Submitted by tnelson on
I'm with marcea5280, ICT what can the public do to help? Where or who do we call/write/email/fb? This is unacceptable! I may not be able to vocalize this, but I sure can type and write.

tmillsd's picture
tmillsd
Submitted by tmillsd on
This makes me angry that there are low lifes that still think of a supreme race and it is thier job to punish others. It makes it twice as hard to correct hate crimes when you have a corrupt justice system protecting the criminals. I travel through Reno most every year and will make it a point to stop in this specific area. Oglala Lakota

lynettegordo's picture
lynettegordo
Submitted by lynettegordo on
someone needs 2 happy this family out.... I hate towns like that they do whatever they what 2 do and weres the law we live in 2011. Iam going 2 pay ever day till my native fam gets justice...

carlyhamilton's picture
carlyhamilton
Submitted by carlyhamilton on
How is it possible in this day and age that a young person can do this and brag about it on Facebook and he not be in any kind of trouble? What he posted should be considered evidence and his mother should be charged with accessory or something. Why hasn't this story been aired on the national news? Is it because they are American Indian? I hear about homosexual's and African American's being the victim's of hate crimes and even foreigner's, but not American Indians. What will have to happen to hear about the American Indians?

carlyhamilton's picture
carlyhamilton
Submitted by carlyhamilton on
Ya well the boy is in the army now and will called a "hero" someday, a big sarcastic woo-hoo

rindyhart's picture
rindyhart
Submitted by rindyhart on
I am deeply sorry for this incident. It just flat sickens me that in 2011 this kind of hate crime is still going on. I have e-mailed the governor of Nevada expressing my concerns. I hope the Banto family wins their lawsuit and hope the skinheads grow up and are punished.

unique's picture
unique
Submitted by unique on
This is revolting. Where is the ACLU when they are needed? We need a Karma alert. Jacob Cassell is the kind of person that gives all white people a bad name. There is some hyena in his bloodline.

thechief's picture
thechief
Submitted by thechief on
this is why i carry a gun when i am going through "redneck" areas. especially now that i have kids. i looked at those jokers facebook pages and they are friends in the same battalion in the military. Maybe some correspondence with the military would help.

marcea5280's picture
marcea5280
Submitted by marcea5280 on
Contact info (for starters) I'm going to write letters because they carry more weight then e mails starting with these: Gov of nevada Brian Sandoval 101 N Carson St Carson City NV 89701 phone 775 684 5670 Attorney general: Catherine Cortez Masto 5420 Kietzke Lane Ste202 Reno NV 89511 ph 775 688 1818 FBI Field office Reno: 5310 Kietzke Lane Ste200 Reno NV 89511 ph 775 825 6600 thats all I can think of for now. Maybe state reps if anyone has any ideas pls share! I'm also going to spread this on twitter. LETS DO THIS!!

beadingqueen's picture
beadingqueen
Submitted by beadingqueen on
That is seriously revolting! I hope & pray someday that those assheads will regret every single thing they did to that family. I pray that Lyon County & Fernley, NV get what they deserve for what they did to this family & any other Natives or other non-"white" people/families. Do these idiots not realize how disgusting they are? They wouldn't like it if this was done to them & their families! I know they wouldn't like it!!

beadingqueen's picture
beadingqueen
Submitted by beadingqueen on
Well heres my idea on getting this issue more attention: Someone should make an Facebook page/group just for this family! Send the link to all your friends, family, etc. Also, link all the necessary info to contact certain governors, attorney generals, etc. on the page... Finally, link the page to those vile, evil, jerks!

marcea5280's picture
marcea5280
Submitted by marcea5280 on
Thats a great idea! I don't know squat about facebook yeah theres a few of us lol & don't have a pc or I would! can you do that or would someone not as technically challemged as me take the time to do that? This family have had their lives totally derailed by hate!! Lets show them love & support

armysoldier's picture
armysoldier
Submitted by armysoldier on
This is disgusting! I can't believe these guys are getting away with this! It looks like he's in the military right now. I'm a former 11B E5 U.S. Army Veteran and I would encourage this family to contact the Army with this issue. This is definitely grounds for a Dishonorable Discharge. If he gets stationed in Ft. Bragg, I know more than a few CO's that would LOVE the opportunity to contact him about this issue!

zelbe1's picture
zelbe1
Submitted by zelbe1 on
Unfortunately, violence is the only language these people respect and hear and I think they need an answer quickly, the skinheads and the laws of Nevada.

ferrferr's picture
ferrferr
Submitted by ferrferr on
If someone from the website could contact me I would be more than willing to help this family with driving. I live in Fernley and I'm APPALLED by this.

louis777's picture
louis777
Submitted by louis777 on
Go down to the sheriff's office and file charges against the people that did this to you. You're the aggreived party in this situation. You have rights under the Constitution that were violated. They are not going to file charges for you, you have to do that on your own.

ndngirl1977's picture
ndngirl1977
Submitted by ndngirl1977 on
Please go to www.change.org and search for "Tell NV Governor Brian Sandoval to investigate law enforcement in Fernley, NV". It is a petition. Please get the word out! Thanks!

beadingqueen's picture
beadingqueen
Submitted by beadingqueen on
Sorry, but I don't think I can do it either. I'm not exactly computer or Facebook savvy. Thats why I posted my idea on here, figured maybe someone more FB smart could see it and make my idea into a reality.

tylerstwit's picture
tylerstwit
Submitted by tylerstwit on
May I just say how sorry I am that Johnny & Lisa Had to go through this awful ordeal. Sometimes the only comfort we can get is knowing that someday, these people who attack others will have to pay for their inhumane actions. My hope for you is that you can heal from your injuries and never have to endure this treatment again. My prayers are with your family!

christinafloyd's picture
christinafloyd
Submitted by christinafloyd on
There is an online organization that lobbys and targets crimes like these appalling stuff. How do I contact the author of this piece to see if they will allow me to use the article in an online petition to Change.org? This senseless hate and behavior from the "officials" should not be brushed away! The perps were bad enough but then to be charged and lose everything for being attacked!!! WTF?! pls message me on how I can help christinafloyd@yahoo.com

christinafloyd's picture
christinafloyd
Submitted by christinafloyd on
I am waiting for my husb to get home right now so I can log on to AKO do you have an AKO(army knowledge online)? when you are in the service or retired you can find the individual and what unit they are attached to. I am going to find mr. Jacob Cassell unit info and email his LTC this wonderful article!

lidee's picture
lidee
Submitted by lidee on
Wonderful idea.

daveed308's picture
daveed308
Submitted by daveed308 on
Enough is enough, when will this violence stop. When I read this artical, i had so many mixed feeling. But my heart goes out to Johnny and Lisa Bonta, they are in my prayers.

carisegonz77's picture
carisegonz77
Submitted by carisegonz77 on
I have already spoke to some higher COC from my end. This "kid" is in the Army Reserves in Reno Sparks,NV. I have many native brothers and sisters who serve the military and a vet myself. My husband is still serving today. I refuse to let this "ignorant kid" serve side by side with the rest of us. He needs to go and I have begun karma:) Let's keep this going by spreading the word. I have put this on blast on FB already. He has upset so many of our vets and those that are still serving. He needs to Go! If the town will not serve justice, at least the military can do something about it. He will not get away with it. Unfortunately, border towns such as this one, hate crime exist. It's just there, it's everywhere around this country. I've seen too many but this is beyond letting this so call "soldier", which he is not, get away with such a horrific crime.

imarebel's picture
imarebel
Submitted by imarebel on
Lyon County Sheriff's Office. 30 Nevin Way. Yerington, NV 89447. Phone: (775) 463-6600. Fax: (775) 463-6610. Allen Veil, Sheriff. This is just sickening!!! Corruption at its finest. I'm also contacting the mayor, governor, etc... Those skinheads need their just desserts and so does the above-the-law Sheriff Dept.

felitru's picture
felitru
Submitted by felitru on
My prayers go out to this family--The Reno area is one of the most racist. In 2006 a Paiute tribal member, James Chavez, was sentenced to 85 years for molesting his daughter--despite proof by the CSI and the ER doctor that this was not true. He was dark, a successful Iron Worker, and his daughter was blonde. So his life is over due to the media coverage and racism of a jury that had no Native Americans serving on it.

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