Rafu Staff Report
VAN NUYS — Hate crime enhancements have been dropped in a 2022 assault case involving a Filipino American family.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Judge Neetu S. Badhan-Smith resumed a preliminary hearing April 17 against Nicholas Weber of Sylmar, who is accused of assaulting Gabriel and Nerissa Roque at a McDonald’s in North Hollywood. Weber was charged with two felony batteries, both with hate crime enhancements. He pleaded not guilty last July. Another arraignment was held in a Van Nuys courtroom on May 1 and Weber’s next court date is May 26.
According to The San Fernando Valley Sun, Badhan-Smith said that she would remove both hate crime enhancements, but Weber still faces both felony charges. Although the defendant made “offensive and vulgar statements” against the family, she said the incident was “a general intent crime.”
The judge cited the time difference between the use of racial slurs and the alleged assault, roughly 10 to 15 minutes, and noted that the defendant didn’t use more racial slurs after coming back.
Each enhancement would have added up to three years in prison.
“The Roque family and community are devastated that the hate crime allegations were dismissed against Nicholas Weber at the preliminary hearing,” attorney Sandy Roxas of Torrance-based Roxas Law, who is representing the family on a pro bono basis, told The Rafu Shimpo. “Although there was video evidence of Weber making anti-Asian slurs and threatening to kill the Roque family, the judge was not convinced that Weber acted with bias motivation during the alleged assaults on the victims.
“The community feels that law enforcement should have made a deeper investigation into Weber to help solidify the hate crime allegations by investigating into his background (i.e. social media platforms, past criminal records, and affiliations to groups). Despite the dismissal of the hate crime allegations, the community will continue to stand with the Roque family to ensure that Weber is held accountable for his actions and to demand that he is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“I kind of expected this to happen,” Patrick Roque, the family’s eldest son, told The San Fernando Valley Sun. “It’s really disappointing how we’ve been treated so far and how the justice system has been treating this case when it’s really obvious that this is a hate crime. What more do we need? I think it’s really obvious from the video that it was a hate crime.”
At the same time, he added, “I think today got me feeling excited also because with this, we can show a lot of people what’s really going on inside the courthouse and how we can really see the state treating working-class migrants like us. I think we’ve learned a lot of good lessons … after today.
“I just want to take this moment to encourage folks … to join your local community organization, even build your own community organization. We wouldn’t have been able to go this far without the support from the community, especially the organizations that have been involved in this campaign.”
Community groups, including the Filipino Migrant Center, the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, Migrante Los Angeles, Neighborhood Safety Companions, and Anakbayan USA, have shown their support for the family every time there is a court proceeding in the case, which is seen as part of the nationwide increase in anti-AAPI hate crimes in the last few years.
The incident began when Nerissa Roque, then 47, and daughter Patricia Roque, then 19, were waiting in the drive-thru of a McDonald’s. Their car was rear-ended by Weber, then 31, who got out of his car and threatened the Roques.
In a statement, Patricia Roque said, “On May 13, 2022, my family and I were victims of anti-Asian hate. What initially started off as a minor traffic collision quickly escalated to verbal and physical assaults. We were taunted, ridiculed, and belittled because of our appearance as Asian Americans.
“Specifically, the suspect called us ‘ching chong’ and made squinting eye motions as he verbally threatened us.
“We called the police, but they were slow to respond, so we called my dad (Gabriel Roque, then 62) to help us. When my dad arrived, the suspect continued to verbally assault us, attempted to open our car door as I was seated in the passenger seat.
“When my father tried to stop the suspect from further attacking us, the suspect viciously attacked my dad … by beating him and throwing him on the ground. My mom tried to intervene to stop the attack on my dad. At that point, the suspect turned his anger and hate towards my mom and started strangling her with his bare hands.
“We all screamed for help. We all pleaded for the suspect to stop. Thankfully, bystanders helped stop the attack on my family.
“There is no doubt that the suspect’s actions and attacks were motivated by hate. This was the most traumatic experience of our lives. I feared that the suspect would kill us because of what we looked like — because we are Asian.
“We are demanding a full investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department and demand that this case be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“We thank the community for supporting us at this difficult time. The Filipino American and Asian American communities have rallied behind us, so we know we are not alone.”
Gabriel Roque’s injuries included a broken rib, according to the family.
Much of the encounter was captured on cell phone video, which was posted on social media. However, the judge said that her decision to drop the hate crime enhancements was influenced by the fact that Weber pushed a bystander before accosting the family again.
Weber was scheduled to be arraigned June 8, but failed to appear, prompting a judge to issue a bench warrant for his arrest.
“The Roque family is disheartened that Nicholas Weber was not arrested and taken into custody after his alleged verbal and physical attack on them,” Roxas said at the time.
Roxas has represented other hate crime victims, including Asian Americans who were attacked by the same woman, Lena Hernandez, at Del Amo Fashion Center and Wilson Park in Torrance.