Supporters of the Roque family gathered outside the Van Nuys Courthouse West for the first preliminary hearing of suspect Nicholas Weber, who allegedly assaulted them last year in North Hollywood at a fast food drive-thru. (G. Arizon/SFVS)

After waiting for 11 months to finally get their day in court, the Roque family had their preliminary hearing after father Gabriel and mother Nerissa were assaulted at a McDonald’s in North Hollywood in what was described as a hate crime.

Dozens of supporters of the Filipino family — along with community organizations including the Filipino Migrant Center and Progressive Asian Network for Action — gathered outside the Van Nuys Courthouse West Tuesday morning in high spirits, hoping that this would be the first step towards justice. Chants of “Stop Asian hate” and “Justice for the Roques” would occasionally erupt from the crowd.

But by the end of the day, the mood among the crowd had shifted to frustration and anger after daughter Patricia was put under cross examination by the defense attorney, who barraged her with a line of questioning which implied that her family was more interested in receiving media attention and donations rather than being in regular contact with police authorities about the incident. The Roque family has maintained they have reached out continuously about their case and viewed Tuesday’s treatment by the defense attorney as adding insult to their injury.

The April 4 hearing for suspect Nicholas Weber was the first time the Roque family took the stand. Weber was previously charged with felony battery and misdemeanor battery. Both counts carry hate crime enhancements. He entered pleas of not guilty last July.

On May 13, 2022, Nerissa and her daughter Patricia were in a McDonald’s drive-thru when their car was struck from behind. They said the driver then drove up next to them, saying “You’re so Asian” and other racial slurs. He then later said, “I’ll kill you!” 

The two women called 911 and Gabriel; he arrived before police officers did. The family allege that Weber assaulted Gabriel and Nerissa, striking the father several times and wrapping his hands around the mother’s neck. A bystander helped to subdue the suspect and stayed at the scene until police arrived.

Before heading into the courthouse, Patricia spoke to the crowd, expressing how nervous she was to finally be having her day in court, but was grateful for the show of support.

“I’ve done this so many times now,” Patricia said. “But it’s different when you’re speaking in front of a judge. It’s different from when you’re being interviewed. And it’s different when you’re telling your story to everyone. Regardless of that, you guys will be there beside us. You guys will be there in front of me while I take the stand and tell the story.

“I know that it may be difficult, maybe pressuring, but it’s very important for me to be smart and be level headed. Regardless of all that … at the end of the day, my family and I just want justice for what happened to us.”

Dozens of supporters gathered in the courthouse, each hoping to get a seat in the courtroom — which had a 50-person capacity. They waited outside the room around 8 a.m., but the hearing didn’t occur until close to 2:30 p.m.

Although there was a short break for a recess, the crowd was still undeterred, but the speed of the legal system — or lack thereof — caused some annoyance amongst the supporters.

One of them, who goes by Lorenzo M., was glad that the case was finally getting some traction, but was frustrated that the process was taking so long.

“People are so lucky they don’t have to deal with the judicial system,” Lorenzo said. “It feels like it’s made to wear you down.”

Jesse Rodgers came from Pasadena to support the family. She has been following the case since last summer. Although she was also frustrated with how slow the process was taking, she expressed her excitement for being able to attend the hearing.

“It’s finally an opportunity for the family to say their peace,” Rodgers said. “The turnout is honestly incredible. … It’s good news to see and hear so many people and organizations supporting the family. It feels encouraging.”

A Roque Takes the Stand

Finally, the family had their first day in court. With Judge Neetu S. Badhan-Smith presiding, Patricia took the stand. She recounted events of that day in May, the racial slurs thrown at them by the defendant in a mocking Chinese accent before driving off and how he came back around and threatened to kill them.

She alleged that Weber tried to get in their passenger door when her father intervened. She then said that Weber pushed Gabriel to the ground and got on top of him. Nerissa ran to Gabriel’s aid, but Weber then put his hands on her neck before a bystander broke up the fight. 

Gabriel had to be taken to the hospital for his injuries, including a broken rib. Patricia said that her father can’t run or carry heavy objects anymore due to the incident.

Under cross examination, Weber’s defense attorney brought up how the family, after getting hit from behind, continued to wait in the drive-thru for their food before calling the police. The defense went into minute details, including Patricia telling the police that the suspect said, “Give me a call,” which she does not remember, but was recorded on a police body cam saying so.

The defense seemed to suggest that, during her interaction with the officers, Patricia was more concerned with the damage to the car and getting the suspect’s name for insurance purposes than talking about the altercation.

Additionally, the defense claims that Gabriel punched Weber first before the defendant had pushed him. Although Patricia said there was physical contact, she did not recall her father throwing a punch.

Weber’s attorney claimed that, in a video taken by Patricia, Gabriel was able to push Weber off of him and stand up on his own, contrary to her earlier statements of her father’s injuries. Patricia denied this, saying a bystander separated them and she had to help her father stand up.

The attorney continued and said Patricia hadn’t uploaded all the videos she had taken of the incident to the LAPD for evidence, which she confirmed. Furthermore, the attorney brought up how the family has talked to many media organizations, including the LA Times and the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol, but not the police, and how the family has been getting donations from the Filipino Migrant Center since last year, as well as profit from shirt sales that say “Justice for the Roques.”

Disappointed, but not Deterred

The hearing ended there for the day, with it scheduled to continue the following day. After reassembling outside, the crowd expressed their disappointment and anger at the way Patricia was handled under the cross examination. Patricia herself appeared emotional when exiting the courthouse.

Nonetheless, the crowd was determined to keep coming, chanting, “Roques, we got your back!”

“This is what white supremacy looks like,” one woman shouted. “It was a hate crime!”

“My honest feeling is frustration and disappointment that this is the type of justice system we have,” supporter Karz Roxas said. “It’s a disempowering process. It’s trying to break their [Roque family’s] spirit. It saddens me.

“We need to work together to get some kind of justice, you know. Imagine all the people who went through this alone.”

Dominico Vega, a volunteer for the Filipino Migrant Center, wasn’t able to be in the courtroom, but said he could “feel a lot of hurt and feel a lot of anger” coming from the crowd. Nonetheless, Vega said he’ll keep coming back when he can to support the family.

“I’m hoping that the Roques finally get the justice that we’ve been fighting for,” Vega said. “I hope that they are able to receive whatever support that they need and are entitled to as people who need care, which is what our government should be providing.”

“What happened to the Roques is reality, and not some lie or ploy.”