Twenty months after they were attacked in their home by a gang of family members and friends, David James “DJ” Bell and Dan Fair can see the possibility of justice as the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office has filed charges against his former neighbors for their alleged roles in their assaults.
A total of 16 charges, ranging from first degree felonies to class A misdemeanors, were handed down to the seven defendants on March 2.
Bell was accused by his neighbors of taking two children from an all-night Independence Day party at their home in 2008.
Bell fought felony charges of kidnapping and burglary for 14 months, but was acquitted last October in a trial that raised strong emotions between Salt Lake Valley’s gay and Pacific Islander communities. Bell is white; the neighbors are Pacific Islanders.
“After waiting for what has seemed an eternity for the right thing to happen, the appropriate charges for the real crimes committed on that forever-ruined holiday, have been filed,” Bell said. “Today we can breathe a half-hearted sigh of relief, knowing that some of the people who attacked us will be off the streets and will have to account for the senseless and hateful crimes perpetrated against us, our family, and our community.”
Charges of third degree felony riot were brought against all of the defendants, including Lulu Latu, the mother who accused Bell of kidnapping her children, and her common-law husband, Ieti Mageo.
According to District Attorney records, Latu called 911 the morning of July 4, 2008 and reported that her family was assaulting neighbors Bell and Fair because they had taken two children. Latu had discovered the children missing and found them at the Bell-Fair house. Fair heard Latu say, “You better lock the doors because I am going to tell my family.”
She returned to the party going on at her house, told the other family members and friends where the children were, and Mageo, along with friends Ricky Peace, Lisa Aione, Marsha Finau, Ietitaia Nuusila and Ioane Falaniko, rushed over to the neighbors’ house, according to the warrant.
Fair had gone to the front door to keep it closed and Bell was at the back door. Fair identified Mageo and Aiono as two people trying to get through the front door. Fair said he was attacked from behind by Ricky Peace as he was holding the door closed. Fair said he was then assaulted by a number of people. Police found a chair, frying pan and a large-screen television with “large amounts” of blood on them “which were consistent with objects that caused some of Daniel Fair’s injuries.”
Bell said he was pushed from behind while trying to keep the back door secured, then pulled by his hair from the home and body-slammed to the ground. He was cut on the neck and chest with a piece of glass and kicked in the forehead.
Fair was hospitalized with multiple cuts, abrasions and bruises and a broken eye socket, which has required several surgeries. Bell was treated for cuts to his neck, chest, and foot and has lost hearing in one ear. He also suffered brain trauma.
In addition to felony riot charges, the DA’s office also levied class A misdemeanor assault charges against Nuusila and Angelina Dibella, first degree felony aggravated assault and first degree felony aggravated burglary charges against Peace, Nuusila and Mageo. Nuusila is also charged with class A misdemeanor false personal information to a peace officer for giving the name of a 71-year-old Murray woman as his own.
No hate crime charges are included in the charging documents, as Utah’s hate crime law is only relevant for class C and class B misdemeanors.
Several statements made during the Bell kidnapping trial are being used against the defendants, as well as statements made to the media covering the case.
“We regret beating them up as badly as we did,” Latu told the Deseret News in December, 2008. “But we don’t feel bad, because what if it (had turned into) another case of murdered children?”
South Salt Lake police are now charged with arresting the seven defendants, some of whom have left the city at least one is out of state.
Warrants issued show bail amounts ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. During testimony in the kidnapping case, it was revealed that many of the assailants, including Latu, have previous criminal records.
Bell says the incident has destroyed the couple financially. He is thankful for those who have donated through their Web site, Injustice801.com.
He also says the event has taken an emotional toll.
“We not only had to endure the thought and possibility of my being incarcerated for a minimum of 30 years to life for simply being a kindly neighbor, but also had to watch our backs wherever we went with the fear that we may run across the violent criminals who attacked us,” he said. “I may be free from wrongful incarceration, but since July 4, 2008 we have not been free from fear, flashbacks, night-terrors, and the possibility that we will be attacked again by these people before justice is truly served.”
Fair did not attend Bell’s trial for fear of his life after he says he received threats against him on the first day.
He says that both are going through therapy for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
He says even though Utah once feeling like a safe home from Dan and him, they just can’t leave the state.
“I love Salt Lake City. I have moved away three times only to return to this place,” he said.
Though he knows that not all of his attackers are being charged, he takes solace in the fact that most are.
“We are greatly satisfied that the most vile of the troglodytic bunch will suffer the consequences of their actions,” he said. “I only hope that, as a result [of the charges], we are afforded some amount of peace.” Q
More information on the case and how to contribute to Bell and Fair’s legal and medical bills can be found at Injustice801.com.