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August 22, 2012 - 10:56pm

Witnesses punch holes in defense contention that Jacquetta Simmons hit victim accidentally

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Jacquetta Simmons.

The defense of Jacquetta Simmons, the 26-year-old Batavia resident accused of punching a 70-year-old Walmart employee on Christmas Eve, seems to rest on convincing a jury of 10 women and two men that Simmons swung her arm to escape the grasp of another woman and hit Grace Suozzi by accident.

Witness after witness today offered testimony that either contradicts or doesn't support that theory of the case.

Suozzi herself testified that she clearly saw Simmons draw her arm back to prepare a punch, causing Suozzi to try and raise her arm in a futile attempt to protect her face from the punch.

Testimony today was laced with profanity as witnesses recounted what they remember Simmons saying during an argument over producing a store receipt that escalated into the alleged assault.

Early in her testimony, Suozzi apologized to the jury for the language she would have to use, but the Italian immigrant grandmother was required to repeat one F-word after another as she recalled Simmons streaming verbal abuse.

The one profane word Suozzi didn't attribute to Simmons, the C-word, was mentioned by a young male Walmart employee, and when he uttered it, a ripple of reaction went through the mostly female jury.

Jurors were also shown three videos that captured some of what happened Dec. 24 inside and outside Walmart.

The sequences are not true video, but more like a string of still-frame pictures, making the visual record jerky and filled with gaps.

The key event of the video, when Suozzi was hit, is off to the left of the frame. It's a small portion of the frame, and with other people standing around it's hard to discern exactly what took place just prior to Simmons swinging her arm.

Numerous news outlets, including The Batavian, have requested copies of the video. Judge Robert C. Noonan said he is inclined to honor the request, considering the video at this point to be public record. But defense attorney Earl Key, who said already he opposes the release, will be able file a formal motion against the release in the morning, if he chooses.

The first witness called by the prosecution was James Gayton, of Batavia. Gayton said he and his finance were in the next check-out line over when he heard somebody starting to yell profanities.

"I don't need no fucking receipt," is what he said he heard.

He was close enough, he said, to hear the man with Simmons -- identified as her brother Isaac -- on the phone saying, "Mom, come quick. Jac's flipping out at the cash register and we need a receipt."

He said after he saw Simmons hit Suozzi, the brother and sister ran from the store and he ran after them. 

Simmons had parked the minivan she was driving in a handicapped spot -- her mother is reportedly handicapped -- Gayton said, and there was another car parked at an angle, apparently illegally. Gayton said he convinced that driver to back up so Simmons was unable to pull the minivan forward. When a truck came down the parking lane, he convinced the driver to park behind Simmons' van.

Somebody else grabbed the car keys from Simmons (another witness testified the keys may have been taken from the van's ignition). Simmons and her brother then began walking away from the minivan but store patrons pursued them.

Gayton testified that at no time did he see anybody, inside or outside the store, grab Simmons.

His finance, Nichole Newton, also testified that she didn't see anybody grab Simmons.

Newton testified that she heard Isaac Simmons on the phone while in the parking lot talking on his mobile phone, saying, "She punched an old lady, Mom. You need to come. She punched an old lady and she's going to jail."

The next witness was Alex Derefinko.

He said he became aware of the argument while he was in the store when he heard Simmons say repeatedly, "Give me my shit, bitch."

He said the observed a Walmart employee trying to ask Simmons something, but Simmons continued to yell profanities at her.

He said he had turned away for a second to complete his own purchase and when he turned back, he saw Suozzi get hit and go flying across the store floor.

Under cross examination by Key, Derefinko said he didn't see anybody standing next to Simmons prior to the punch being thrown.

Sharon Reigle, a Walmart customer service manager, testified that she came to Suozzi's register after she heard a call on her walkie-talkie for another CSM to respond.

When Reigle arrived, she said, Suozzi was behind her register, holding a bag of merchandise and Simmons was yelling at Suozzi.

"I wanted to try and defuse the situation," Reigle said.

While Reigle said after eight months she couldn't remember exact phrases and sentences used by Simmons, she said Simmons dropped F-bombs multiple times.

A video taken from a camera directly above Suozzi's register reveals, according to Reigle's testimony, Suozzi standing at her register holding the bag of items purchased by Simmons and Suozzi discussing the matter with a person who is off camera (Reigle said the person was Simmons). Reigle is off camera as well.

At one point, it appears that Suozzi points her finger at Simmons.

A few seconds later there is a hand that reaches out toward Suozzi. It happens so fast and the video so choppy, it's hard to see. Then Reigle's arm is clearly seen outstretched toward Suozzi.

Reigle said she reached out because she was trying to protect Suozzi.

As soon as the bag of merchandise is snatched from Suozzi's hand -- Suozzi is still holding the plastic handles -- Suozzi is seen leaving the area behind her register and heading in the direction Simmons was apparently standing.

On cross examination, Key focused on why Reigle reached out toward Suozzi.  He expressed doubt that the motion was meant to protect Suozzi since Simmons wasn't making a motion toward Suozzi's face, but rather reaching toward her waist where she held the bag.

Key drew out from Reigle that it is against store policy for an employee to touch a customer and that such an offense could lead to immediate termination.

In questioning, Key tried to determine whether Reigle was attempting to touch Simmons as she reached for the bag.

Key then turned his attention to the video that shows the wider in-store angle.

Prompted by Key's question, Reigle identified herself as the woman in the maroon blouse who was implicated in Ann Nichol's opening statement as the person who grabbed Simmons' arm just prior to Suozzi being hit.

In response to Key's questions, Reigle denied laying a hand on Simmons.

Under questioning, Reigle also identified two of Walmart's undercover loss prevention officers. She also admitted that it's store policy that when CSMs are dealing with combative customers, the lost prevention officers should be summoned because they have more experience and training in dealing with difficult customers.

Reigle said she wasn't aware of the loss prevention officers being requested to the scene.

Next on the stand was Suozzi herself.

Cianfrini opened her questioning by asking about Suozzi's personal history, which begins in Italy on Dec. 9, 1941, when she was born.

Eight years later, her entire family -- two parents and seven children -- entered America through Ellis Island (for "freedom" Suozzi said).

One of her proudest days was the day, when pregnant with her first child, she received her official citizenship document.

Suozzi has been a member of St. Anthony's/Resurrection Parish ever since coming to America.

When it came to describing the events of Dec. 24, Suozzi said after Simmons paid for the hot chicken she and her brother purchased, she noticed Isaac Simmons was carrying a Walmart bag with merchandise in it.

The items were reportedly purchased by Jacquetta and Isaac several minutes earlier when they went through Lane One. They were going through Suozzi's lane, Lane Two, after deciding to purchase some hot chicken.

Suozzi said Isaac readily handed over the bag, but when she asked Simmons for a receipt, the first words out of Simmons mouth, she said, were "Fuck you. I don’t have to show you any fucking receipt."

Suozzi said Simmons used the F-word at least a dozen times.

"If we ever used that word at Walmart, we would be fired on the spot," Suozzi said.

According to Suozzi, the local Walmart store initiated a policy five months prior to the incident of cashiers asking to see receipts when encountering customers with Walmart bags filled with merchandise.

Both under questioning from Cianfrini and from Key, Suozzi did not seem to understand questions about what her policy training was when a customer refused to produce a receipt or becomes confrontational over the issue.

Suozzi said Christmas Eve was the first time in her experience a customer had refused to produce a receipt when asked.

Key asked that since the policy was only five-months old, surely there hasn't been many opportunities for Suozzi to ask a customer to produce a receipt. "It must be rare," Key said. "No, it's not rare," Suozzi replied.

After the incident started, Suozzi tried to summon help from a customer service manager. The process for requesting CSM help is for the cashier to input a code into the cash register, which Suozzi said she did three times.

"I just wanted to hurry her over so the customer wouldn't have to wait," Suozzi said.

While waiting for a CSM, Suozzi rang up purchases from two more customers.

During the process, she continued to hold Simmons' bag.

When asked why, Suozzi said she thought it would be rude to put a customer's bag on the floor and she had no place else to put it.

"Out of courtesy, I thought it was the right thing to do," Suozzi said.

While waiting, Simmons continued to hurl profanities at her, Suozzi said.

"How did that make you feel, to hear the F-word in your presence?" Cianfrini asked.

"It was humiliating," Suozzi said, "embarrassing."

After a pause, she added, "I was embarrassed for the customers who had to listen to that."

Suozzi admitted her exact memory is fuzzy on the sequence of events after the bag of merchandise was grabbed from her hand, but she did say she remembered two things clearly: Simmons calling her a "fucking white bitch" and just before hitting her, she saw Simmons draw her arm back, make a fist and start her swing.

As the swing came forward, Suozzi said she tried to raise her arm to protect herself.

At no time, Suozzi said, did she see anybody grab Simmons by the arm.

About the only time Suozzi cried on the stand was when recalling a nurse who came to her aid after she was hit.

"I remember a lady knelt right beside me and said she was a nurse, I don't remember from where, Michigan or Massachusetts, and she asked me not to move and she asked me if my back hurt or if my shoulder hurt and told me to stay still," Suozzi said. "She was a very kind lady. I wish I had gotten her name."

The first feeling Suozzi said she remembers was feeling numb. Later, when transported by ambulance to UMMC, she said the pain in her face, on a scale of 1 to 10 was an 8. By the time she was in the emergency room it was 9 or 10.

Under questioning from Cianfrini, Suozzi said she continues to suffer aliments from being hit to this day and continues to take Tylenol to help manage the pain.

For months she saw white light flashes and though the flashes stlll occur, they are not as frequent or intense.

She still feels pressure on the left side of her head, has blood pressure problems and is scared to leave her house.

"I haven't slept a whole night since the incident," Suozzi said. "I sleep sound for two hours and then I'm up for three hours and all I can think about is the assault."

Ann Nichols handled the cross-examination of Suozzi and she focused on a statement Suozzi made to State Police while in the emergency room. Nichols tried to get Suozzi to admit that she told a trooper that she "took the bag" from Isaac Simmons.

Suozzi told Nichols that the receipt check policy was communicated to her verbally and she was given no other instructions.

After Suozzi's testimony, another cashier, Dylan Phillips, took the stand.

Phillps said he was just starting his break, buying a few personal items in check out lane five or six, when he heard yelling. He moved to another vantage point, but not necessarily closer to the action and watched what was going on.

He said he heard Simmons direct the C-word at Suozzi.

Key wanted to know where Reigle was standing in relation to Simmons just before Suozzi was hit.

Using the podium as a prop, Key asked Phillips to tell him were to stand. Phillips directed Key to move a couple of steps forward. Phillips said Reigle was three or four feet away from Simmons.

With that response, Key sharply turned on his heels toward the defense table and said, "Nothing further for this witness, your honor."

Following Phillips was Lisa Biegaswiecz, a cousin by marriage of Suozzi's who happened to be in the checkout line behind Simmons.

She said Suozzi politely asked Simmons for a receipt and Simmons immediately became confrontational.

Biegaswiecz quoted very little profanity from Simmons but said she did hear something like "fucking white ..." but couldn't hear the next word.

She also said she didn't see anybody grab Simmons and she saw Simmons draw her arm back and make a fist.

The trial resumes at 10 a.m., Thursday. Judge Noonan told jurors he expects a full day of testimony and evidence presentation, but that he still thinks the trial will wrap up by Friday.

Last seen: 7 years 8 months ago
Joined: Apr 14 2010 - 10:51am

I don't care if the woman took the bag from her! There was NO reason on this earth to hit a 70 year old woman period. Not only that, to hit her so hard she broke 5 bones in her face. No excuse. She obviously has some anger management issues and needs to go to jail and do some time.

Rich Richmond
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A quick impression from the beginning and up until now: Arrogant, self-righteous, pugnacious and recalcitrant just seem to drip from Jacquetta Simmons.

Doug Yeomans
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Sabrina, it sure sounds like the truth is coming out.

Richard, don't forget racist.

Quote: Suozzi admitted her exact memory is fuzzy on the sequence of events after the bag of merchandise was grabbed from her hand, but she did say she remembered two things clearly: Simmons calling her a "fucking white bitch"

Could this also be a hate crime? Jacquetta did use a racial slur before she assaulted Grace.

Pat McGinnis
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Doug its only a hate crime if the person doing the assaulting is white.

Kyle Couchman
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And that Pat is whats inherently wrong with the system...

Doug Yeomans
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Nobody has mentioned it but I love the play on words with the header of this news report.

Kyle Couchman
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LOL Doug only you would spot that.....Only sly Howard would put it up too... LOL

Thomas Mooney
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Reverse raceism is exatly our problem around this community . This is a great example that black americans can be at times more raciest then the KKK . Have a white gut try and live in a predominate black comunity and see what happens , but reverse that senario and it happens everyday in every city in america . Seperation isn't always a bad thing when two races have so many differences in how they live and act within the culture they were brought up in .

Jeffrey Houseknecht
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And if she was only bullied she would have $700,000 in the bank.Only in America

Billie Owens
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Hold that thought Jeffrey. Wally has deep pockets.

Kyle Couchman
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Thomas there is no such thing as reverse racism. The reverse of racism is acceptance. Just like the reverse of happy is sad, hate is love, stupid is smart. Blacks hating whites is just racism, period.

Dave Olsen
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Well put Kyle

Mark Potwora
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Doug is right...Simmons calling her a "fucking white bitch" just before hitting her,..That to me would make it a racial act and could be a hate crime....If Ms. Suozzi said give me that bag you black bitch you can bet your life that the defense would of made it a racial issue....

Kyle Couchman
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thats exactly right but as you can see when it's black on white it's treated different. Now this is my "opinion" straight from my gut that Simmons wanted to take this to a race issues saying that Grace singled her out for being black. I get the distinct impression Her lawyer refused to do that because it would open the door to bring Jaquetta's own racial biases foreward and possibly get more charges for Jaquetta. I'm pretty confident she will be found guilty. What I'm holding my breath for is the sentencing, is it gonna fit the crime? I hope so but I get the feeling it wont.

matt burns
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Kyle Couchman
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Check the net everyone.....the secuirty video from court has been released and is available to be watched...look for yourself and judge..

Doug Yeomans
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Kyle, I just watched it and it's pretty damn incriminating. Jacquetta stepped forwards putting momentum behind her swing and carried through. Check out these stills I capped using VLC player. Jacquetta is in the red shirt with a black jacket. It's obvious who Grace is when you see her flying 6' across the floor. These were taken frame by frame, sequentially.


Yeah, that's some "accidental" punch in front of her because she felt someone grab her. It just happened to be perfectly aimed at Grace's face. That swing and power should serve her well in prison.

George Foreman would give her a thumbs up for planting her feet and following through. Then he'd knock her block off for being disrespectful , rude and a coward. Bill Cosby would shame her by telling her to grow up, dress decently and have some self respect. Then he'd tell her to have a nice time in prison and to pay for her misdeeds.

Autumn Connolly
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Doug I agree you can see her arm come up and right for Mrs. Souzzi's face. You can also see Grace cover her face in the first pic you have. Ms. Simmons looks like she took a step into the punch to give it more force. I like how you can see the two running for the van. Like that isn't also incriminating.

Doug Yeomans
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Autumn, I watched it again and she steps forwards with enough momentum to cause the hood on her jacket to fly up over her head.

Great point about running. If a hit is unintentional, why run? Stay and give your side of the story. The story is right there in the video, though. Grace wasn't touching Jacquetta and Jacquetta had to take a step forwards to land the punch.

Rich Richmond
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In addition to my earlier impressions, the tape shows it all; the actions of a vile and abusive contemptible coward.

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