The daughter of former Fresno police officer Jesse Joe Ruelas tearfully testified Thursday that her father struck her four times in the right temple of her head with the heel of his right palm in May 2015 after she blamed him for the breakup of the family.
When the first blow was struck, the 15-year-old girl, who was identified in Fresno County Superior Court only as Randi, said, “I was shocked.”
Each additional blow to her head was harder than the one before, she testified.
She said she got scared because her father was driving on the freeway toward Clovis when he began hitting her.
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Her fear intensified, she said, during the fourth blow. Her father got so angry, he lost control of his pickup, causing it to swerve or jerk on the freeway, Randi testified.
“I was scared. I just wanted to go home. I wanted the ride to be over with,” she told the jury.
I was scared. I just wanted to go home.
Randi describing her feelings after her father hit her
On the first day of testimony, prosecutor Nicole Galstan presented her case by calling Randi, her younger brother, Andy, Ruelas’ mother-in-law, Lucy Pacheco, and Fresno police Detective Lisa Ramos.
On Friday, Ruelas will give his account of what happened.
Ruelas, 45, faces two misdemeanor counts of corporal injury to a child. If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail and/or a fine. He also will lose any chance of getting his job back at the Fresno Police Department.
The incident happened during the evening hours of May 21, 2015 – the one-year anniversary of Ruelas’ separation from his estranged wife, Marisela Ruelas.
Fresno defense attorney Roger Wilson, who is representing Ruelas, told the jury that his client is innocent because Ruelas was just trying to discipline his mouthy daughter, who wouldn’t stop badgering her father about the family breakup after he told her he didn’t want to talk about it.
In court papers, Wilson also contends that Marisela Ruelas is using her daughter to get an upper hand in an ongoing divorce and child custody proceedings.
Ruelas, a 19-year police veteran, had a spotless record with the Police Department before his daughter accused him of striking her. He lost his job once the District Attorney’s Office filed misdemeanor charges against him.
In her interview with police, Randi admitted “that her mother repeatedly asked her children to spy on their father and report his movements to her.” She also told police that her father hit her with the heel of his right palm behind her right ear.
But in court Thursday, she testified that her father hit her in the right temple, not behind her ear. Randi said the blows left a bump.
Ramos testified that she saw no visible injuries on Randi. But the detective said she felt a small lump behind the girl’s right ear. On cross examination, Ramos admitted she had no medical training and that she did not check Randi’s head near her left ear to compare it to the right side of her head.
Throughout her testimony, Randi spoke with a soft voice and cried. She told the jury that her father had picked her and her two younger brothers up from her grandmother’s home. She said she was in the back seat of a extended cab pickup and sitting behind her father. A younger brother named Jesse Jr. sat in the front passenger seat and Andy sat next to her.
On the trip to her father’s home, she recalled her father was on the phone, talking to someone from work. She couldn’t recall if she told her father that he loved work more than his family, or just thought it.
After he got off the phone, Randi testified she brought up the divorce because she said her father had never explained why he wanted to break up the family. When he said he didn’t want to talk about it, Randi testified she kept asking him about it anyway.
I’m sorry. But it’s discipline.
Jesse Joe Ruelas allegedly told his daughter
Randi testified she and her father argued and that his voice was loud. She said her father first punished her by asking for her cellphone. She said she gave it to him.
She didn’t recall cursing him but admitted that she had used foul language in the past toward her father.
She said her father got so mad that he pounded his fist into the console between the front two captain’s chairs. She said she kept asking him about the divorce, but he told her that he didn’t want to talk about it. When she kept arguing with him, Randi said her father began swinging his right arm toward her while he drove on the freeway.
Randi testified that her father adjusted his body in order to hit her. She said she dodged many of his attempts. “They came within inches of my face,” she told the jury.
After she was hit, Randi recalled her father said something like “he could hit me wherever he wanted and as hard as he wanted as long as he was disciplining me.” But once they got to her father’s home, she said her father apologized and gave her phone back. “I’m sorry. But it’s discipline.”
In his testimony, Andy said he only saw his father strike Randi two times above the shoulders. He also recalled telling police that Randi had a red right cheek. But the boy’s demonstration of the blows conflicted with Randi’s version. He testified that his father, while driving on the freeway, nearly turned around in the front seat and whacked his sister two times. Andy also recalled seeing his sister move away from the blows and put up her hands defensively.
Randi testified that the blows caused to her feel fatigue and dizzy and have headaches. She said she called her mother that night but never complained to her father about having headaches. “He would have gotten mad or said I was lying if I told him about the headaches,” she explained to the jury. “Or he would say I was exaggerating.”
The next day, Randi testified that her father dropped her and her brothers off at their grandmother’s home.
“She looked out of it,” Pacheco said of her granddaughter’s demeanor. “Then she started to cry.”
When Pacheco asked why she was crying, Pacheco testified that Randi told her that her father had hit her.