Ysabel Roque speaks to supporters outside Van Nuys Courthouse West during the preliminary hearing against suspect Nicholas Weber, who allegedly assaulted her parents, Gabriel and Nerissa Roque, at a McDonald’s restaurant. (Photo Courtesy of Jhenine Cordero)

After three days of testimony, the preliminary hearing for the case against suspect Nicholas Weber for allegedly assaulting Gabriel and Nerissa Roque at a McDonald’s restaurant in North Hollywood has recessed as the judge decides if there is sufficient evidence to go to trial.

The hearing began on April 4 at the Van Nuys Courthouse West with members of the Filipino  family taking the stand. First to provide testimony was daughter Patricia, followed by her mother Nerissa and her father Gabriel. Each told what occurred from their vantage point last May when they were allegedly assaulted by Weber. 

Weber was previously charged with felony battery and misdemeanor battery. Both counts carry hate crime enhancements. He entered pleas of not guilty last July.

His defense attorney made two motions: one to dismiss the case due to “insufficiency of evidence” and the other to reduce the charges by removing the hate crime enhancements and reducing the felony battery to a misdemeanor.

The Roque family and their supporters outside Van Nuys Courthouse West on April 4 for the preliminary hearing against suspect Nicholas Weber, who allegedly assaulted the family. (Photo Courtesy of Jhenine Cordero)

At the end of the third day, the court had not yet decided if it would advance the case to trial. Judge Neetu S. Badhan-Smith, who is presiding over the hearing, cited a need to review all the evidence before deciding. The final hearing will take place on April 17.

The Roque family and their supporters have persisted in bringing Weber to court nearly a year since the alleged assault occurred. 

On May 13, 2022, Patricia with her mother Nerissa told police they were waiting in their car in a McDonald’s drive-thru line when they were rear ended. They said the other driver came up next to them and hurled racial slurs before driving off.

They said the suspect then came back and threatened to kill them. The women called 911 as well as Patricia’s father Gabriel, who arrived before the police did. The family alleges that the suspect pushed Gabriel to the ground and wrapped his hands around Nerissa’s neck. A bystander helped to subdue the assailant and stayed at the scene until the police arrived.

Gabriel sustained multiple injuries, including a broken rib, and was taken to a hospital.

With the hearing a long time coming for both the family and their supporters — the slow court process and seeing the Roques repeatedly scrutinized by the defense frustrated many from the Filipino community who came to witness the proceedings.

During Patricia’s testimony, the defense said that, while being interviewed by police, she seemed more interested in the damage to the car than the altercation and claimed that Gabriel threw a punch before the suspect pushed him to the ground.

In a news release issued by “Justice for the Roques” — a coalition of community members and organizations including the Filipino Migrant Center and the Progressive Asian Network for Action — said the defense “questioned the validity of their experiences, twisted their testimonies and painted a false narrative of the Roque family’s intentions to pursue the hate crime allegation.”

“It was especially undignifying that the court made over 150 people wait an entire day for the family to be heard, only to see the justice system attack and fail them,” the press release stated. “The community saw upfront the limitations of the system to deliver true justice for the most marginalized and oppressed in society.”

The defense attorney representing Weber in court implied the Roque family has financially benefited by receiving donations from the Migrant Filipino Center since the incident, as well as sales from shirts to support the campaign.

In response, the news release stated that multiple organizations have been helping the family financially “as none of their lost wages from appearing in court was ever compensated by the Los Angeles County Bureau of Victim Services.”

Romeo Hebron, executive director of the Filipino Migrant Center, said, “If resources to victims aren’t being provided by the ones who should be doing it, then we as a community will continue to support the family. They’ve been through enough and we can’t stand by without doing anything.”

The large group of supporters for the Roque family was offended by the defense attorney and the lack of court resources. 

Jhenine Cordero, a youth leader for the organization, Anakbayan Los Angeles, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol that both Nerissa and Gabriel used an interpreter when taking the stand. She said that the defense’s line of questioning during Nerissa’s testimony focused on her ability to speak and understand English, with the implication that she didn’t need an interpreter at all.

For Gabriel, the court had a hard time finding an adequate interpreter, further delaying the proceedings. At one point during his testimony, the interpreter mistranslated one of Gabriel’s statements, incorrectly translating that  Weber “fell” on Gabriel instead of pushing him. Another interpreter on standby had to stop the court proceedings to give the correct translation.

The defense also questioned the severity of Gabriel’s injuries, since he didn’t have surgery or get stitches.

“I think it was just kind of an example of how it’s really difficult for migrant communities or people who don’t speak English as their first language to navigate the court system and also have their testimony represented well in the courtroom,” Cordero said.

Ysabel, Patricia’s older sister, said that she was “emotional” over her family’s treatment in the courtroom. Nonetheless, she urged supporters to not give up and to continue mobilizing.

“I’m asking all of you to continue to fight for what’s right,” Ysabel said.