Taiji Miyagawa, a community supporter of the Roque family, speaking to other supporters outside of Van Nuys Courthouse West. He is holding a sign that reads "A hate crime happened here." (G. Arizon/SFVS)

On the morning of Friday, Aug. 18, the Roque family and their community supporters gathered on the lawn outside of Van Nuys Courthouse West before their court hearing, as they had done so many times over the last year and a half. This time, however, was the last time, as the assault case they had been attempting to seek justice for came to an end.

At this final court hearing, the defendant, Nicholas Weber, was given a plea deal – it was not what the Roque family wanted. But, although extremely dissatisfied with the deal, they felt they couldn’t take the case to trial after the judge had dropped the hate crime enhancements from the charges. 

So, instead of being convicted of a racially motivated hate crime, Weber was convicted of two counts of felony assault by means likely to cause great bodily injury and one count of misdemeanor DUI.

Patrick, Nerissa and Patricia Roque outside of Van Nuys Courthouse West Aug. 18 for the final court hearing in their assault case. They said they felt they had no choice but to take a plea deal after the hate crime enhancements were dropped. (G. Arizon/SFVS)

Weber was sentenced to two years of probation and is required to complete 40 hours of an individual anti-bias treatment program, 40 hours of a group anti-bias treatment program and participate in an 18-month alcohol program. Weber was also released from custody after the hearing was over.

For the family, this plea deal is a far cry from justice, but they were left with no other option.

“Because of the attack, we’ve been changed,” said Nerissa Roque. “I don’t know if I will never not know the feeling of fear … because he is being let go.”

On May 13, 2022, Nerissa and her daughter, Patricia, were waiting in a McDonald’s drive-thru in North Hollywood when they were rear-ended by Weber. He drove up next to them, hurled racial slurs at the Filipino family and drove off. Weber came back about 15 minutes later and threatened to kill them.

The pair called both 911 and Gabriel Roque, Patricia’s father; he arrived before the police did. Weber pushed Gabriel to the ground, causing a broken rib, and wrapped his hands around Nerissa’s neck. A bystander helped to subdue Weber and stayed at the scene until the police arrived.

From the onset, the family has had a difficult time trying to find justice. The police initially reported the incident as a traffic collision and discouraged the family from pursuing the assault as a hate crime, saying it would be too costly.

The family then faced numerous delays in the court system, as they had to wait for 11 months after the assault to give their testimony. Even then, they felt mistreated. Weber’s defense attorney’s line of questioning made it appear as if the family was more interested in media attention and receiving donations than resolving the case with the police.

In addition, a court interpreter mistranslated part of Gabriel’s testimony, causing it to be thrown out.

In an April 17 preliminary hearing, Judge Neetu S. Badhan-Smith dropped the hate crime enhancements from the charges, instead calling the attack a “general intent crime.” She said Weber wasn’t using racial slurs during the attack, which occurred roughly 10-15 minutes after the incident began.

With the enhancements gone, and even more delayed hearings, the family felt that they wouldn’t get the justice they were seeking through the court system and opted to go for the plea deal.

According to the Los Angeles County Commission of Human Relations, hate crime charges may be filed when there’s evidence of bias, hatred or prejudice based on the victim’s real or perceived religion, race/ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

Evidence of bias, hatred or prejudice can be direct or circumstantial, and it can occur before, during or after the commission of the offense. While the assault on the Roque family meets this criteria, in the end, the judge changed the course of action by not allowing the hate crime charges.

Roques Speak out Against Weber

Before Weber was sentenced, members of the family read their victim impact statements. Gabriel and his daughter, Ysabel, were not present due to contracting COVID-19, but their statements were read on their behalf.

Nerissa was the first to stand up. She held back her sobs as she said that she came to the United States to give her children a better life and how she’s had nightmares and had been afraid to turn off the lights in her home.

“I don’t know if our family can ever return to normal,” Nerissa said. “What did we do for you to break our family like this?”

She also said that she felt mistreated in court due to her lack of English, and she took the plea deal because she felt they didn’t have a choice and so her three children “could breathe.”

“I haven’t lost hope,” she said. “I know one day, we will attain the justice we deserve.”

Gabriel’s statement, read by his son Patrick, said, “This was the most traumatic event my family ever experienced. Not only was the incident itself traumatic, … the process of asking for justice was traumatic and was unfair.

The Roque family and their supporters outside Van Nuys Courthouse West Aug. 18, raising their fists in the air. (G. Arizon/SFVS)

“What was the most traumatic was how the justice system twisted events to make it appear that there was no hate crime, and that my rib injury was biological, as it was caused by sneezing and not from being attacked. It’s [been] a sad and frustrating experience with the justice system, as my family was subjected to the process of making what is wrong seem right and given no other choice to accept things as the system seems fit.”

Patrick also read his own statement, saying, “My family has been traumatized, not only from the hate attack, but also from their experience testifying in court. When we made efforts to provide for ourselves through fundraising and raising awareness of the issue, we were called opportunistic.

“Is it opportunistic to rely on the community to heal and recover from that hate attack?” Patrick continued. “If not for the community and organizations, we wouldn’t have been able to push the case this far and confront the emotional, mental or physical stress that this hate attack and this court case has done to us.

“There’s fear in knowing that a menace to society and to all people of color will now be released after this hearing, but we will continue to organize the community. We will continue to strengthen our community and we won’t stop until justice has been served.”

Patricia then read her sister Ysabel’s statement, where she directly addresses Weber. “It was you who endangered the lives of my parents and sister. … You could have gotten out of it on your own, though you didn’t. Instead, you persisted in contributing to the horrible events that my family went through before you almost killed my mom.

“Indeed, our lives have altered,” the statement continued. “You cannot imagine the suffering and terror you have caused us. It’s extremely unfair. We couldn’t live in peace because of your decision.

“Just keep in mind that even if this case may seem to be legally concluded, we won’t disappear. We will be on your mind constantly.”

Lastly, Patricia gave her statement: “Is there really closure when a portion of my life revolves around a traumatic encounter, to where I start to lose trust with the people around me, become paranoid, scared to death with the thought of leaving my house alone day and night? What I’ve experienced isn’t something that I can get over in a year.”

She also criticized the defense’s narrative that the family was opportunistic to use the assault to receive donations when they have been financially struggling — living in a one-bedroom apartment where the donations have been used to pay bills, some of which were past due.

She ended her statement saying, “Although the hate crime allegations were dismissed against you [Weber], in the eyes of the public, you will always be seen as the person who attacked my father and nearly killed my mother because of the hate that you have against Asian Americans. … I stand here today with my resolve unwavering, knowing I have people along with me as I read my statement.”

Continuing the Fight

With the case now over, the family is looking to expand their campaign to pressure and demand accountability not only locally but from the Philippine government for its neglect towards Filipino nationals. Throughout the case, the family has been petitioning the Philippine Consulate for aid but have received very little. Patrick claimed that, after a community meeting, a Philippine National Police (PNP) attaché put surveillance on them.

He also said that they’ll be organizing up to November in opposition to the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in San Francisco.

“Here in the San Fernando Valley, we’re trying to start up a coalition called No to APEC Coalition,” Patrick said. “We will continue to hold these conversations, raise it to an even broader analysis and then put pressure on the [Philippine] government.”

Despite the shortcomings they experienced throughout the court system, members of the family say that they still achieved a victory.

“I think that the challenges that we’ve faced go beyond the courtroom and what can be done within the law, but I think, as a collective, this was a victory and it felt really good to be able to stand there and make a statement,” Patricia said. “That alone is a victory, to be able to say what I wanted to say to the defense in the court.

“I hope that in whatever next step that we may face, whether good or bad, I hope that I will be there with you with my resolve unwavering.”

“Even if we might not have achieved victory upstairs, what happened with this Justice for the Roques campaign is that we were able to gather … 50 to 60 organizations in support of this campaign,” Nerissa said. “This fight is not over yet, and I hope and wish that we continue to see each other and that you do not tire of supporting others and fighting for others.

“I hope that people never get tired of fighting for other migrant workers who are facing injustice and are being exploited and oppressed, and I, as a Filipino migrant, will never stop fighting for them.”

Editor Diana Martinez contributed to this story.