A Sacramento woman says she is looking for answers after being injured and robbed while in line for food Sunday at a Taco Bell in South Natomas — all while employees and other patrons of the fast-food restaurant looked on.
"The only reason why it stopped was because she chose to stop it, nobody else,” said Nichele DeGuzman, 34. Four days after the assault — with bruises on her arm, a black eye and a fractured jaw — DeGuzman recounted the incident, and says her mistreatment lasted well beyond the encounter.
DeGuzman drove to the Taco Bell on West El Camino Avenue in South Natomas with her sister and her sister’s 18-month-old child. Her sister and the baby waited in the car while DeGuzman walked into the storefront and got in line with $5 in her hand.
When DeGuzman got to the front of the line, a woman in a hoodie walked past DeGuzman and stood to her right. DeGuzman was initially suspicious — "it was like 95 degrees, no need for the hood," she said — but wasn't sure if the woman had intended to take her place.
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DeGuzman said she waited for around 30 seconds before letting the woman know that she was next.
"She turned around, screamed some profanities at me, punched me in my face, took me down to the ground, got on top of me, and kind of pile-drived me, all the while screaming at me," DeGuzman said.
DeGuzman said she then realized that the woman wanted her $5. “She said, ‘If you don’t stop I’m going to bite you,’ ” DeGuzman recounted. True to her word, the woman bit her on her forearm and wrestled the cash out of DeGuzman’s hand. Then the woman got up and walked out of the store.
DeGuzman estimates that the incident lasted about 90 seconds. Taco Bell employees and the estimated 15 bystanders did not attempt to physically intervene when she called out for help, DeGuzman said.
By calling a security officer, Taco Bell employees did follow the company’s policy when dealing with violent incidents, according to Taco Bell spokesperson Laura Nedbal. DeGuzman said that the security officer showed up after running outside and asking her sister to call the police.
When the police arrived, witnesses helped identify the suspect, who had walked “a short distance from the scene.” Latrish Brithany Seals, 33, was arrested Sunday and was charged in Sacramento County Superior County with second-degree robbery and is being held without bail for violating parole.
Seals has been arrested for different charges — ranging from trespassing to domestic violence — 14 times since 2005, according to Superior Court records.
DeGuzman said that when she returned to the Taco Bell and asked to fill out an incident report and speak with the manager, employees wouldn’t let her do either.
“I had to buy tacos to get the receipt to see — cause I knew (the manager) was on the register — that his name would be there,” DeGuzman said.
Taco Bell did not reach out to DeGuzman until Thursday, she said, when a franchise insurance representative called her.
DeGuzman, who met with a lawyer the same day to discuss Taco Bell’s handling of the situation, said she is still figuring out her insurance and legal options.
She says a Taco Bell representative told her that security camera footage was not available because they weren’t filming during the time of the incident.
Reviewing relevant video surveillance is part of standard police investigation, said Sgt. Vance Chandler. Chandler said he couldn’t disclose whether video surveillance was obtained for the case because of the ongoing investigation.
Taco Bell responded to the incident with the following statement, which reads in part:
"The safety of our customers and employees is our top priority, and we are glad the person responsible was caught. The franchise owner of this restaurant is cooperating with local authorities. While it was a shock to everyone, we always want to do the right thing for our customers and make sure they feel taken care of. The franchisee has personally called the customer to offer support and to ensure she has direct access to him. In addition, the franchisee has re-trained its employees on how to handle isolated incidents like this."
After sharing her story on social media, DeGuzman said she received some backlash from commenters, who said she should have fought back.
However, DeGuzman said she has a background in martial arts, and earned her black belt while taking taekwondo classes as a child. In her free time, DeGuzman is a bodybuilder and competes in contests.
“It wasn’t like a confrontation where you have to put your dukes up,” DeGuzman said. “I look strong on the outside — certain times of the year when I’m fit — but it doesn’t even matter. It doesn’t, it could happen to anybody.”
The next court appearance for Seals is Tuesday.