After waiting more than 19 months and enduring a dozen delays in court hearings, Navajo/San Carlos Apache nurse Patty Dawson finally heard the verdict that she had been waiting for—“Guilty.”
On January 18, an all-white jury in Fresno Superior Court convicted Jennifer Davette Fraser, 29, of felonious battery for her vicious attack of Dawson in June 2011. (Dawson’s family and supporters believed the attack was a hate crime, but prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence to support that charge.) Following four days of testimony, the jury deliberated three hours before handing their decision.
Fraser, whose new baby was recently taken by Child Protective Services in an unrelated case, was handcuffed, led from the courtroom, and jailed without bail until her sentencing by Judge Arlan L. Harrel today. Fraser faces from two to four years in prison, and a possible fine of up to $10,000. In that February 21 hearing, both Fraser and Dawson will be allowed to make statements to the judge.
Jennifer Davette Fraser
In the courtroom, Dawson sobbed when she heard the verdict, and was quickly surrounded by family members and supporters who cried, prayed and held hands. “We’re elated about the conviction, especially from an all-white jury,” said her father, John Dawson, in a telephone interview. “It’s a win for all Native Americans who have been senselessly attacked, like my daughter. It’s been a long struggle for our family, but we just kept praying, having ceremonies and keeping a positive attitude. Very seldom do Native Americans win justice in the courts, and we hope this is an example to others that they will get what they deserve.”
Fresno County Sheriff had been heavily criticized for failing to fully investigate the crime in a timely manner. In court, two witnesses said they called police immediately after the assault with details of the crime—including Fraser’s license plate number—but said that no one followed up with them. Dawson and her family made repeated calls to Fresno sheriff with no response. (The Fresno County Sheriff's Department did not respond to multiple requests from ICTMN for comment.)
Dawson testified during the trial that she’d worked a long nursing shift and was on her way home when her car was bumped from behind at a stop sign. She looked in her rearview mirror, saw three people in a car and decided not to stop since she was in Clovis, a Fresno suburb with a reputation for being hostile to Indians and other minorities. As she drove on, Fraser, who was driving the other car, followed her. “She was driving wildly in and out of traffic, even driving on the right shoulder of the road trying to force me into oncoming traffic,” Dawson testified. “As I try to remember it, it was like a silent movie. I can see their angry faces screaming at me, spitting at me and making gestures, but I can’t hear it anymore. I knew they wanted to hurt me.”
Dawson tried to get to a gas station for safety, but when she stopped for a red light, Fraser jumped out of her car, rushed forward and spit on Dawson, then punched her so hard in the face that she immediately lost consciousness.
Dawson was bleeding on the street when she was rescued a short time later. She woke up in an emergency room, disoriented and in pain, where she was briefly questioned by a police officer. “There I was, bleeding, and I was surprised he asked me what I did to provoke the attack,” she said in a telephone interview. “He tried to make it sound like it was road rage and asked if I cut them off in traffic or flipped them off—like I had done something wrong. I don’t know these people and did absolutely nothing to them.”
Fraser and the two other individuals in her car fled the scene of the crime, but eyewitnesses chased them and wrote down the license plate number of Fraser’s 1995 green Dodge Neon. But it wasn’t until the Native community organized protests and went to the media that police finally contacted Fraser—more than three months later. She was arrested in September 2011; her passengers that day were never identified.
Dawson still does not understand why Fraser attacked her or why it took three months for her to be arrested. “It came out in court that witnesses, including a local attorney, reported her license plate number the day of the attack,” she said in the interview. “They had her address, but they never contacted her.”
Fraser—a tall, heavyset woman bearing numerous tattoos on her arms, hands and neck which she attempted to keep covered during the trial —came to court with her father, who has a shaved head, tattoos on his arms and neck that he covered in court, and a long white goatee. Her boyfriend was also in court—he also has a shaved head and numerous tattoos, which he tried to hide during the hearings.
During the trial, Det. Sergio Toscano testified that Fraser admitted under police questioning that she was the aggressor. She added that she had anger issues, that she could have walked away, and that the attack was fueled by road rage. (During the trial it was revealed that Fraser had been arrested for domestic violence on her boyfriend seven days prior to beating Dawson, and that her former husband had filed similar charges against her several years ago.)
As Dawson was leaving the courthouse with her victim’s advocate and family, she says she heard Fraser’s father cursing at the public defender who represented his daughter. He then turned to Dawson, who says he shouted, “Look out, I’m going to shoot you, Patty,” and walked away.
Stunned, Dawson and her family immediately asked her victim’s advocate to help seek a protective order. The Sheriff’s Office told the advocate that Dawson had to seek the order herself and she is still in the process of trying to secure a protective order.
Dawson says she now fears for her family’s safety on a daily basis. She lives with her husband, a Mono tribal member, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada above Fresno. This area is known to have enclaves of white supremacists—some men in line at the courthouse had swastikas and “white pride” tattooed on their faces and arms. One of Dawson’s neighbors drives by daily in a truck with a swastika painted on the door.
Members of the American Indian Movement and the Brown Berets offered to provide security for Dawson’s family for the sentencing hearing. Supporters from throughout California will join the drum group for ceremonial songs, and prayers will be offered for Dawson’s healing as she continues to recover from her injuries.
“She has missed numerous workdays for her part-time employment as an LVN with special needs students, first to heal from the beating, and then to attend court hearings,” said Hernandez. “It has affected her spiritually, emotionally and financially.”
Speaking to Indian Country Today Media Network the day before sentencing, Dawson said, “February 21 will be a very powerful day for me. This is the day I will finally be able to address the defendant and Judge Harrell. I am a victim no longer.
“I feel like all our relatives will be with me and have carried me through this ordeal. I am forever grateful to all who supported me and reached out with prayers. My spirit is stronger, and I will speak what is in my heart.”
Courtesy G. Hernandez
A local drum group has been present in support of Patty Dawson at most of the Fresno hearings. Local Native American, Latino and African American families have formed a coalition to demand justice for minorities who say they are targeted and assaulted by hate groups living in the area. Fresno is known for its history of white supremacist activities.