Juan and Rosa waited and waited outside in the truck. It seemed Graciela would never come out of the house. In fact, Graciela didn’t come out until after the police arrived.
Rosa was the one who drove to the house in Escondido. She knew that her husband had had five or six beers at the Christmas party.
Rosa owned an Alberto’s Mexican restaurant in Escondido. That night, owners and workers enjoyed a Christmas party hosted by the chain’s biggest supplier. The family-friendly posada was held in the supplier’s warehouse in Vista. Most guests arrived between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. that Saturday, December 17, 2011.
During the party, Rosa got a phone call informing her that one of her employees had not shown up for work. (Her restaurant was open 24 hours.) Since she knew where the employee lived, she decided drive over and give her a ride.
Husband Juan didn’t like that idea; he wanted to go home. It was after midnight, they had been at the party for more than four hours, and they had their two kids with them — a one-year-old and a five-year-old. Plus, Rosa was eight months pregnant. But Rosa would not be dissuaded. So they went to get Graciela.
Go get Graciela
Rosa pulled up in the driveway of Graciela’s home on Elm Street at a little before 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. She parked her truck behind a car carrying several taco-shop employees. Everybody arrived at almost the same moment; they’d all come from the same party in Vista. The home on Elm Street was shared by a group of employees who worked at various Alberto’s restaurants.
Tereso stepped out of his white Ford Explorer after parking in the drive. He called out a greeting to his bosses and walked over and bummed a cigarette off Juan. Juan stepped down out of Rosa’s truck. The two men began to chat. “We both were smoking,” Juan remembered later.
Later, for a jury, Juan recalled, “Tereso yelled to Oscar Salazar that he should go talk to Graciela, because we were going to give her a ride.” Oscar Salazar was another employee, and he was married to Graciela.
Oscar went into the house to get his wife. She hadn’t gone to the Christmas party with everyone else, because she was scheduled to work that night.
Rosa’s husband Juan works at the taco shops, too. “I’m a cook…. Sometimes I work in Escondido, sometimes I work at the Oceanside one.”
After Tereso and Juan smoked and chatted for a while, “My wife asked again. ‘Talk to Graciela, it’s getting late.’” There were other men idling around, five or six persons out in front of the house. “Tereso told Jorge to go ask Oscar what was happening with Graciela,” said Juan. Everybody, he said, was speaking Spanish.
Jorge went inside, came back out, and said, “She’s coming right away, she’s coming right away.” Rosa and Juan waited. But Graciela did not come.
In California Superior Court, in June 2013, a prosecutor asked Juan if it bothered him to wait around for an employee like that. “Well, yes, a little bit,” Juan said. But he wasn’t upset because the employee had not come to work. “Well, I’m already used to that. That happens.”
Neither Graciela nor her husband Oscar came out of the house. So Rosa, still waiting in the truck with her kids, had another idea.
Later, from the witness box, Juan remembered, “My wife said, ‘Well, go and ask Omar, and see maybe he could go to work.’” After all, the house was full of Alberto’s employees; surely Juan could find someone else who was available.
Juan trudged into the house. He spoke with Omar. But Omar said he was too busy with visiting relatives to come in.
In court, Juan sounded tired when he testified: “He said no.”
How the fight started
Juan said that he walked back toward the truck from the house, and Oscar followed him out. “Oscar said, ‘No! No more to work!’” Juan had already climbed into the truck when Oscar said again, “No! No more to go to work!”
Rosa confirmed that she heard Oscar say that neither he nor his wife would come to work anymore. She testified: “Oscar said, ‘Graciela is no longer going to work with you.’… And he [ended] by using a bad word.”
Juan said he got back out of the truck and calmly asked, “What’s going on, Oscar? We are waiting so long, and now you are telling me all of this? And I told him, I said, ‘You need to be a little more responsible, also.’ I told him…and then Oscar said, ‘No, we just don’t want your fucking job anymore.’
“I said, ‘That’s fine. If you don’t want to go, don’t go, no problem. If you want to, you can come tomorrow, and just get the money that we owe you.’” Juan wanted to let Oscar know that he could come and get his final paycheck.
But “when I said that, he lunged at me to hit me,” Juan testified.
Juan said that Oscar took a swing at him, so he pushed Oscar backward. Some witnesses described Juan cursing, but both Juan and Rosa denied it. Juan also denied that he punched Oscar in the face. This act was later charged as misdemeanor battery.
The confrontation quickly turned into a brawl. Other men joined the fracas. Participants in the fight later testified as witnesses. Each told the jurors about how he’d felt obligated to defend his brother — it seemed they were all related, somehow. (All of the men grew up together on the same rancho in central San Luis Potosí, Mexico.)
Juan said he was shoved from behind. “That’s when they got me to the ground.” He claimed he was not trying to fight back. “No, I was just trying to get up, just get out of there. There were too many against me. There were five against me…they started kicking me.” The men still had on the cowboy boots they’d worn to the Christmas party. “I was trying to get up, but I couldn’t,” said Juan.