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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : CHP Officer Says She Tried to Shoot Attacker : Hearing: Amy Bonilla testifies that her gun jammed after Palmdale man lunged at her during traffic stop.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

California Highway Patrol Officer Amy Bonilla tried to shoot the man who attacked her after she stopped him for speeding on the Antelope Valley Freeway, but her gun jammed two of the three times she pulled the trigger, the officer testified Monday.

“I feared for my life,” Bonilla said.

During a preliminary hearing at Newhall Municipal Court, Bonilla said she drew her baton, then her gun, a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson semiautomatic, because her attacker “was so big.”

Ronald Arnett Coleman, 33, of Palmdale, is accused of beating Bonilla, 28, during an Aug. 1 traffic stop, punching her repeatedly in the head and face and trying to grab her gun until passersby restrained him.

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Coleman is about 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs more than 200 pounds. Bonilla is about 5 feet, 4 inches tall and 135 pounds.

Judge H. Keith Byram ruled after the hearing that enough evidence was presented to try Coleman for attempting to murder a law enforcement officer. A trial date was set for Aug. 29 in Van Nuys Superior Court.

During the hearing, Bonilla, her eyes still bruised from the incident two weeks earlier, calmly told prosecuting attorney Craig Richman that Coleman’s size and refusal to follow her instructions made her afraid.

Bonilla, a five-year veteran of the CHP’s Newhall office, said she pulled Coleman over after timing his green 1977 Cadillac northbound at more than 80 m.p.h. Coleman stopped along the right shoulder of the road and quickly got out of the the car, then got back in the vehicle when she instructed him to do so, Bonilla said.

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“Any time someone jumps out of their vehicle like that--I don’t know how to explain it--you’re alert to that,” Bonilla testified. “It’s scary.”

Bonilla said she spoke through the open passenger-side window, asking Coleman repeatedly for his license and registration. The Palmdale man twice leaned over and reached under the passenger seat of the green Cadillac during the traffic stop, Bonilla said.

Investigators later found a loaded .22-caliber revolver under the passenger seat.

Coleman took the car’s pink slip out of the glove compartment, crumpled it and threw in on the floor of the car. Then she asked him for the car keys, and he got out and started walking around the vehicle, Bonilla said.

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The officer said she pulled out her baton after Coleman ignored repeated commands to turn around, and continued to walk “aggressively” toward her. “Put your hands on me. Put your hands on me,” Coleman reportedly said to Bonilla.

Bonilla held the baton in a combat position, similar to a baseball bat, but dropped it to draw her gun when Coleman lunged from about three feet away, she said.

The two grappled over the gun with Bonilla firing and missing Coleman with a single shot. Coleman tried to twist the weapon toward her, but she was able to get it pointed back at him, Bonilla said.

“I tried to fire again when it was pointed at his stomach and nothing happened,” Bonilla said.

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Coleman kept struggling for the gun with his left hand as he punched her in the forehead with his right hand, Bonilla said. She was knocked to the ground on the third blow, and tried to release the gun’s magazine so it would have no bullets if the suspect pulled it away.

Bonilla said she had tucked herself into a fetal position, wrapping her hands and knees around the gun to keep her grip on it. But Coleman continued to hit her, she said.

At that point Jim Clark, a passing limousine driver, appeared and pulled Coleman off of her, Bonilla said.

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Bonilla managed to stand and tried a third time to fire the gun, but it would not shoot. Other motorists, including two off-duty Burbank police officers, subdued Coleman, she said.

After the altercation, Bonilla was taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, where she received 16 stitches and was treated by a plastic surgeon for three cuts to her face.

Coleman did not testify Monday, which is typical during a preliminary hearing.

Public defender John Ponist, Coleman’s attorney, noted some discrepancies between Bonilla’s statements at the hearing and in the initial police report taken after the incident. Most notably, he said, the report didn’t mention any attempt by Coleman to reach under the passenger seat where the loaded handgun was later found.

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Bonilla has not yet returned to work. She said she has suffered from headaches several times a day.


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