Marek Warszawski

Slatic did not tell the truth about tussle. Did Fresno authorities take him at his word?

I didn’t believe Terry Slatic from the start.

Wrote as much in this space. Said as much to Slatic and his attorney, Charles Manock, while they sat across a table from me a few days after Slatic’s tussle with a 15-year-old Bullard High student became public fodder.

Now we have a report by a private investigator, hired by the Fresno Unified School District and released to The Bee last week, that supports my suspicions: Slatic did not tell the truth about the events of Jan. 11.

Which makes me wonder if the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office took Slatic at his word when they decided not to charge the gung-ho Fresno Unified trustee with assault. Because it sure appears that way.

As you recall, Slatic claimed the student threatened to kill him and district liaison Michelle Asadoorian while they walked past him on campus. Slatic also claimed the 15-year-old reached into his backpack, which the retired U.S. Marine Corps major said he feared contained a gun.

(Slatic made those statements to GV Wire, a local website owned by developer Darius Assemi, who has publicly defended him and donated to his campaign. Slatic has not repeated them to any other media source, which also makes me question their veracity.)

We already know, from video surveillance, the student never reached into his backpack. That was a lie. And according to the district’s report, the teenager admitted to saying “I’m going to beat your ass and shoot you” – but only after Slatic confronted him.

Which if you believe the student – and I do – means Slatic was caught in another falsehood.

You might think it doesn’t matter whether the student made that threat before or after he and Slatic squared off. Except it does. It does because the Fresno County DA’s Office, according to its own news release, said it could not charge Slatic unless it could be proven that Slatic touched the 15-year-old in a harmful or offensive manner, and that Slatic did not act in self-defense.

“(The) threat to Mr. Slatic, in conjunction with the recorded video and statements of witnesses, resulted in the legal conclusion that the prosecution would not be able to disprove that Mr. Slatic acted in self-defense,” the news release said.

If the student made the threat as Slatic and Asadoorian initially walked past him, then yes, I can see how Slatic’s reaction can be taken as self-defense. But if the threat was made after Slatic and the student squared off, before Slatic ripped the backpack off the student’s shoulders, then it can’t.

Fresno Unified Area 7 trustee Terry Slatic watches proceedings at the FUSD school board meeting Wednesday night, Jan. 16, 2019 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

That’s not self-defense. Those are the words of a frightened and confused 15-year-old staring down a hulking ex-Marine who he thinks is squaring for a fight.

Timing and context make a huge difference.

“I think the report shows that Slatic was the aggressor, and that’s out of the bag now,” said Roger Bonakdar, the 15-year-old’s attorney.

It sure is.

Which raises the question of how thoroughly the Fresno Police Department investigated the incident. Did they interview the parties involved, conclude it was a case of “he said, he said” and elect not to file charges?

Or did authorities simply take the school board trustee at his word, which has shown to be less than truthful?

“When people commit crimes that we can prove, we file them,” Fresno County DA Lisa Smittcamp said.

I’m going to connect a few dots here, dots that many in the community are connecting. In fact, several dot-connectors got in touch with me shortly after my recent column stating I didn’t think the misdemeanor child abuse charges against Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula were politically motivated.

What about Slatic, these dot-connectors asked.

What about Slatic? I’m not going to conflate Arambula and Slatic because the two situations are entirely different. Still, the question needs to be raised.

Lisa Smittcamp 2018 sm.jpg
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp Contributed Fresno County District Attorney's Office

Smittcamp and Slatic run in the same political circle that also includes former Fresno Unified trustee Brooke Ashjian, Slatic’s predecessor.

Slatic counts Ashjian as one of his closest advisers. In fact, Slatic told Bee reporter Aleksandra Appleton that he and Ashjian have discussed district matters and gone over documents “at his kitchen table.”

The ties between Ashjian and Smittcamp are well-established. In 2014, Smittcamp endorsed Ashjian’s school-board run and even spoke at his formal announcement. Brent Smittcamp, Lisa’s husband, donated $5,000 to Ashjian’s campaign. The following year, Ashjian provided the DA’s office with $5,700 worth of furniture, a donation that raised eyebrows over conflicts of interest.

Last November, when Slatic won his school board race, the election night party was held at The Lime Lite Restaurant & Lounge owned by Brandon Smittcamp, Lisa’s nephew-in-law. The party cost more than $2,000, according to campaign disclosure forms.

When I brought up these threads to Lisa Smittcamp, the DA insisted she and Slatic do not know each other. Her exact words were: “I’ve never met the man. Never even had a conversation with him.”

Smittcamp told me the decision not to file charges was based solely on police interviews and the video footage. Which led prosecutors to conclude they could not establish “beyond a reasonable doubt” that an assault took place.

I get that explanation. However, to believe that version of events you also have to buy Slatic’s claim that he acted in self defense.

Which appears less truthful the more we find out.

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Marek Warszawski writes opinion columns on news, politics, sports and quality of life issues for The Fresno Bee, where he has worked since 1998. He is a Bay Area native, a UC Davis graduate and lifelong Sierra frolicker. He welcomes discourse with readers but does not suffer fools nor trolls.