LatinaLista — Chances are you haven’t heard about Samuel Bonilla. Hopefully, that will change on February 25. That’s the day Bonilla gets his day in court in Dodge City, Kansas to prove his innocence in a town, known historically as the gateway to the Wild West, and currently as a town with a lousy track record for how they treat Latino defendants.
For the past 20 years, Bonilla, a successful business owner of a martial arts studio and legal resident immigrant has called Dodge City, Kansas home. Dodge City, with a population of 26,101, according to 2006 US Census estimates, is home to a substantial Latino population. In fact, Latinos are the largest minority in the city, constituting 43% of the population.
The reason why so many Latinos have traveled to the area is to work in the beef packing industry. Yet, according to local Latino community leaders, there is strong anti-Hispanic sentiment by some of the city’s population.
It’s a town, according to one Latina Lista source, “where there are no Latinos on the county board or city commission, and only one (the first) on the school board – in a district with a Latino enrollment of nearly 80%.”
It’s a place if an undocumented Latino is caught walking home from a bar, he is arrested for “pedestrian under the influence,” since he can’t be picked up for driving without a license. And it’s a place where some of the “white” locals like to play a game they call “Border Patrol” where they use their truck to intimidate Latino pedestrians.
Unluckily for Bonilla, two men decided to play this game as they saw Bonilla and his son and nephew jogging along the Arkansas river bottom last Labor Day. Being a former bounty hunter, Bonilla carries with him a 22 pistol, which is legal under Kansas’ open carry law.
It was this gun that Bonilla contends saved the lives of his son, nephew and himself as these men, Steven Holt and Tanner Brunson, revved up the engine of their four-wheeler and chased down Bonilla and his son and nephew. Bonilla and the boys jumped out of the way. The truck backed up and the men jumped out and quickly walked over to Bonilla.
Bonilla drew his weapon, told the boys to stand behind him and warned Holt and Brunson to stop or he would shoot. The men didn’t stop and just as they were within reach to grab Bonilla’s gun, Bonilla fired shots hitting both men.
Bonilla told the boys to run and he did too as soon as one man fell to the ground and the other staggered back and fell against the truck. One of the men, Steven Holt, died. The other lived. Both of these men had extensive criminal records, along with one of the men, Tanner Brunson, believed to be affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood.
Bonilla turned himself into authorities after the incident and was questioned and released only to be arrested a few days later on second-degree murder charges. By all accounts, he could have posted on his $100,000 bond and been released — it’s reported he has the support and belief of the local Latino business community — but a local bail bondsman, Rebecca Escalante, told Daily Globe reporter Claire O’Brien that she would have posted Bonilla’s bond if it weren’t for the fact that she had been warned by several people that if Bonilla was released his life would be in danger.
So, Bonilla sits in the Ford County jail hoping above hope that he will be found innocent of the charges.
Yet, that’s not the end of the story.
Claire O’Brien, the Dodge City Daily Globe reporter who interviewed Bonilla in jail, also quoted an anonymous source in her story that Tanner Brunson, the guy who was wounded in the shooting, has a “base of support that is well-known for its anti-Hispanic beliefs.” The same source tells O’Brien that they have seen evidence this “support base” also has a supply of semi-automatic weapons.
The same source told O’Brien that they wouldn’t characterize Holt the same as Brunson. In fact, Holt’s family has gone on record, sending a Letter to the Editor, as saying that they themselves are an interracial family and have denied Holt was a racist.
Yet, Holt was alongside Brunson on that day. If it’s found that Holt and Brunson were targeting Bonilla and his son and nephew in that deranged game then this case quickly goes from being a second-degree murder case to a hate crime – with Brunson on trial.
It seems Ford County Attorney Terry Malone doesn’t like that Globe reporter O’Brien was able to get such an admission from an anonymous source. He’s won the latest round of legal battles to force O’Brien to hand over all her notes on the case and divulge the name of her anonymous source.
On the one hand, to the layperson, divulging the source looks like it would be a good thing so the attorneys could call on this witness to clarify the affiliations Holt and Brunson had.
Yet, if the Aryan Brotherhood is prevalent in this town and Brunson has extensive support among this known Hispanic-hating group, chances are the life of that anonymous source will be in danger as soon as their name is revealed.
If something happens to that source, then conveniently, the case against Bonilla gets stronger and the County Attorney won’t have anyone disputing his intent to convict Bonilla.
As it stands now, the county attorney is already building his case against Bonilla and wants to make sure anything that reveals the true affiliations of Holt and Brunson are never seen :
Defense attorney Lucille Douglass wants the jury in Sam Bonilla’s murder trial to hear evidence about the tattoos on shooting victim Steve Holt. But Ford County Attorney Terry Malone contends allowing the jurors to hear about Holt’s tattoos might prejudice them.
After hearing arguments on both sides, Ford County District Judge Daniel Love said Tuesday he would not rule on the issue until the trial begins next month.
Bonilla is charged with shooting Holt and Tanner Brunson on Labor Day in the Arkansas Riverbed. Holt died of his injuries, and Brunson was injured.
For the reporter, it’s always bad when authorities force the divulging of sources. Without these sources, the truth, many times, cannot be told or known, and potential sources don’t have the same level of trust in the reporters that their names won’t be revealed. Retaliation is a known consequence against these people for speaking out and exposing such wrongs and/or misdeeds.
It makes the job of the reporter all that more difficult.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to get any information about the Bonilla case since the only local general news newspaper is the Daily Globe and it has put its content behind a pay-wall.
Though O’Brien wishes this weren’t the case, it’s fortuitous that she has been drawn into this case. Because of it, the AP and other news organizations are keeping an eye on what happens with her.
By watching, everyone will also know what happens with Bonilla — and he is the real victim in this case.