By Saraí Ramos Gonzalez
What do we do when the power strikes back—and puts you in the hospital? That is the question 15-year-old Cristelle Sanchez and her mother have after Sanchez was physically assaulted while she was collecting petitions for the removal of two members of the Raisin City Elementary School District. The petition was for the removal of School Board members Tina Medina, School Board clerk, and Dr. Anthony Monreal Jr.
This is not the first time Raisin City, with a population under 400, has been involved in turmoil surrounding the Raisin City School Board. Five different superintendents led the district from 2014 to 2017, when a statewide educational agency performed an audit. The audit showed “a great deal of instability in leadership at all levels including [the] governing board, [the] superintendent and administrative positions.”
In April 2016, three of four School Board members were recalled: Board President Monreal, Nancy Schwabenland and Federico Garcia. Evangelina Urias, a community activist, retained her position and was joined by Laday Ramirez.
Monreal previously was employed as the Delano Union School District superintendent until he was fired in May 2015 following the death of a 13-year-old student. Jose Manuel Beltran collapsed and died from heart complications during PE when the staff failed to follow appropriate procedures including efforts to resuscitate.
By December 2016, ousted member Schwabenland was back on the Board, along with a new member, Mario Alvarado. In January 2019, Urias was off the Board and two new members, Monreal and Medina, were seated. They now form a solid block against the one opposition vote of Ramirez.
Community members felt that the majority of the board was not sympathetic to their needs and did not support GED and bilingual programs. These conditions triggered the recall petition and the chain of events that resulted in the assault.
How does a School Board member get away with the physical assault of a teenage girl? How are recalled Board members able to resume their positions as Board members? How can we ensure the victims receive answers and, most important, justice?
One brave community member who dared disrupt the power that controls Raisin City is Urias. Urias is a community member who, after multiple concerns were raised by Raisin City residents, started a petition to remove these officials because they did not support bilingual programs in a city where 74% are Hispanic (defined per the Census) and 43% are Spanish-speaking.
As the mobilizing for support of the petition began, Urias unfortunately contracted pneumonia and Maria Barajas stepped in as the lead organizer. Fortunately, Barajas did not have to do it alone. Young volunteers like her daughter, Catherine, and Sanchez stepped up to the plate, excited to be able to make a difference.
On Jan. 24, at approximately 3 p.m. Maria and Catherine Barajas and Sanchez began to collect as many petitions as possible before sunset. After two-some hours, the highly motivated teenagers were doing a great job knocking on doors and interpreting for Barajas. Unfortunately for these students, they had no idea whose house they were about to knock on next.
At around 5 p.m., Catherine Barajas rang Medina’s doorbell and was greeted by her husband. After catching on to the reason for the petition, in a full-blown outburst Medina’s husband accused Sanchez of not knowing the facts and asked her: “Do you know the facts? You are [telling] lies!” Then he proceeded to yank the clipboard from her hand.
Medina then came to the door and joined in the verbal aggression. At this point, the girls, after failing to get back the petition from Medina’s husband, retreated to the street—no longer on the Medinas’ property. Medina charged at Sanchez and shoved her; Sanchez reacted instinctively, pushing her away in self-defense. After this exchange, Medina’s husband’s outburst turned into egregious anger.
The husband grabbed Sanchez by her hair. The sudden yank made her fall to the ground where she sustained bruises, scrapes and a concussion. He continued to violently drag her back onto his property.
Sanchez says, “I didn’t even try to get him off of me [he was too big], and then everything went black.”
Catherine and Maria Barajas were in complete shock, not knowing what to do. Sanchez took the first opportunity she had and went to the car, “still dizzy [from the fall].”
The interaction was over at 6:11 p.m. At that time, the first 9-1-1 call was made. The operator asked Sanchez if it was an emergency, to which she responded, “yes.”
The operator proceeded to tell her that she’d have to wait a long time. “It’s too far for the sheriff to get there. Raisin City is a small, rural town.” The operator proceeded to hang up. At 6:23 p.m., a second call was made. This time, the operator just hung up.
Maria Barajas, her daughter and Sanchez tried waiting for the sheriff’s deputy to get there. They were becoming impatient and felt unsafe as Medina’s husband was still calling the teenagers back onto his property.
After waiting several minutes, Barajas, concerned for Sanchez’s health, made decided to drive Sanchez to her mother’s work. From there, Barajas and Sanchez rode in the ambulance to Valley Children’s Hospital and Sanchez’s mom followed.
At the hospital, Sanchez was found to have substantial bruises and scratches. She had a tennis-ball-sized bruise behind her head, a bruise on her neck, a bruise on her right shoulder, scratches and bruises on her right forearm, bruises on her knees and deep abrasions at the base of her skull.
Sanchez was diagnosed with a concussion at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera.
When the sheriff’s deputy came to see them at the hospital, he took pictures of the bruises and scratches and asked if they wanted to press charges. To this question, Sanchez’s mother immediately responded “Yes.”
The sheriff’s deputy then proceeded to ask if she was sure because Medina, the School Board member, already had pressed charges against them for “assault and battery.”
To this response, Maria Sanchez, Cristelle’s mother, was perplexed.
She felt like she was being discouraged from getting justice for her daughter. She also felt helpless because this meant the sheriff’s deputy had visited Medina’s house before they responded to the 9-1-1 call, which, coincidentally, was also made from the “far” and “rural” Raisin City.
These events led to a letter asking for the resignation and the dismissal of School Board member Medina. The School Board denied the request with the statement, “The School Board does not have that jurisdiction and will allow the Sheriff’s Department to do its job.”
Leticia Willow, a sexual assault and child abuse detective, advised Maria Sanchez to “stay away from Raisin City during the investigation.” Despite this, she has not given up and will be working on a new petition and will continue to show her presence there, contrary to Willow’s advice.
As for Cristelle Sanchez, she is still in distress three weeks after the incident, experiencing lack of sleep, anxiety attacks and PTSD-like symptoms. Still, she remains hopeful that the community will bring justice to her case and justice to the students at Raisin City Elementary School District.
Saraí Ramos Gonzalez is a 22 year-old Mixteca from Farmersville. She recently received a B.A. in Chicano studies. After graduation, Gonzalez decided to put her studies into praxis and use the community organizing skills she acquired in Los Angeles to facilitate empowerment, consciousness and self-determination in the indigenous oaxacan diaspora throughout the Central Valley. She is currently a community worker for a community-based organization in Fresno.