Monday, January 11, 2010

People v. Fierro (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 11, 2010)

I'll have to agree with the Court of Appeal on this one. All that Michael Ibarra wanted to do was to pump some gas. Here's a case of a simple civility dispute that slowly but inexorably escalated, on both sides:

"The Ibarras and appellant never knew each other until August 8, 2007, when they met at an ARCO gas station. Both arrived, in their respective cars, at about the same time. Ibarra believed that appellant was blocking access to the pumps. . . . Ibarra asked appellant to move his car. In a sarcastic tone of voice, appellant told Ibarra to make that request in Spanish. Even though Ibarra speaks Spanish, he repeated his request in English. Again appellant told him to ask, politely, in Spanish. Appellant then went into the store to pay for his gas.

Perturbed, Ibarra followed appellant into the store and asked him again to move his car. And once more appellant said – in Spanish – to make the request politely in Spanish. When it became clear appellant was not going to cooperate, Ibarra said, “Well, fuck you, then,” and returned to his car, where he waited by the driver's side for appellant to finish fueling.

Once he finished, appellant got back in his car, opened a beer bottle, and gestured as if offering some to Ibarra. Ibarra “gave him the bird as he did that,” and appellant smiled at Ibarra. Appellant drove forward, slowly, until he was even with Ibarra. Again he picked up the bottle and gestured as if offering Ibarra a drink. And again, Ibarra gave appellant “the middle finger.” Finally, appellant drove away.

Ibarra repositioned his car so he could fill his gas tank. As he started to use his debit card at the paypoint kiosk next to the pump, he noticed that appellant had not left after all. Instead, he had circled and was driving back toward Ibarra. Ibarra canceled his purchase and attempted to leave in order to avoid a second confrontation. Since another car was in front of his, Ibarra backed up, turned, and started forward. That is when appellant got out of his car and walked toward Ibarra.
Appellant called a nearby patron to interpret and, in an aggressive tone of voice, told this person several times to ask Ibarra, “Do you want to fuck with me now?” The interpreter said in Spanish to appellant, “I think he understands you,” and the interpreter left.

But appellant did not leave. He stood about seven feet from Ibarra on the passenger side of Ibarra's car, and he lifted his shirt to display what Ibarra and [Ibarra's son] believed was a weapon tucked into a waistband. Although father and son described it differently, they both said the weapon was in a holster and believed it was either a handgun or pistol. This got [Ibarra's son's] “heart pumping. I got a little scared. . . . Like he might pull the gun out of the holster and shoot us or something.” Ibarra wanted to drive away but still could not; other vehicles were blocking his car. He said that during the minute or so that appellant displayed his weapon, “. . . the game changed. I was in fear for my life. I was in fear for my son's life. . . . The only thing that kept me there was I was completely backed in. . . . I was afraid for my son and my life. I was afraid . . . . I was have [sic] afraid of losing my life that day.”

While Ibarra looked for an escape route, appellant harangued him. In Spanish, appellant uttered profanities, asked appellant if he was “a faggot,” said words to the effect that he should have more respect for people from Jalisco (a state in Mexico).

Then -- still in Spanish -- appellant said, “I should kill you. I will kill you.” Appellant also said, “I ought to kill you and” --pointing to [Ibarra's son] -- “the stupid mother fucker too.” Worse yet, appellant said he ought to kill them “ahorita,” which means “right now.” Finally, appellant said, “Now get the fuck out of here.” Ibarra obeyed him. . . .

Ibarra tried to get a grip on his emotions as he drove away. He had been “scared to death during the whole ordeal.” Within about 15 minutes -- once he was on the freeway and “out of harm‟s way” -- he called 9-1-1 and told the operator that he was “scared shitless.”

One can learn a plethora of lessons here. About the decline of civility in general. Or about how it's generally not a great idea to give someone you don't know the bird. Because even if you're bigger than them, a gun -- or the threat of a gun -- is a great equalizer.

Both sides should be happy this didn't turn out worse than it did. Though even how it turned out was bad enough.