EXCLUSIVE: SF woman shares story of domestic violence to help others escape abuse

A warning, some viewers may find the story disturbing

Dan Noyes Image
Thursday, February 22, 2024
EXCLUSIVE: SF woman shares story of domestic violence to help others
A San Francisco woman is sharing her story of surviving domestic violence hoping to help other victims seeking justice.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A survivor of an especially brutal case of domestic violence spoke to the ABC7 I-Team. She wants to encourage other victims to seek justice for a crime that is vastly underreported. But, there's another reason.

RESOURCES: Get help with violence, assault and abuse at home

A warning, some viewers may find the story disturbing

She also wants to complain about how the San Francisco Public Defender's Office treated her.

A word of caution - this report could be disturbing, especially for anyone who has experienced domestic violence; we have our list of Take Action resources here.

The I-Team read more than a thousand pages of court records in this case and obtained police bodycam videos, recordings of phone calls, photos and other court exhibits. It may be difficult to see for some people, but keep in mind, this survivor wants you to see it - to hopefully bring about change.

Jordana Cahen tells us, the night of February 5, 2022 started out great. Her parents and grandmother came for dinner in the San Francisco apartment she shared with her partner, Antonio Gamero.

He was 12 years older than Jordana, got her a job working for him in commercial real estate, and he liked to cook.

"So he made dinner for my family," Cahen said. "Cooked lamb shanks for them. And then he made me sea bass because I don't eat meat. And we had a great time, like it was really nice. Everyone was getting along and laughing."

A surveillance camera caught her family leaving after 10:30 p.m. that Saturday night. Jordana and Antonio seemed in good spirits as they walked back upstairs, but he was actually seething about something her father had said. Jordana got in trouble as a 13-year-old for texting an older man even though she never met him in person.

JORDANA CAHEN: "And it was just something so small-"

DAN NOYES: "Right."

JORDANA CAHEN: "---that I didn't share with him because I knew how volatile he was and how violent he was over things that nothing, like he would find any reason to become violent with me."

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Antonio exploded and told Jordana to get out of the apartment, throwing all her clothes into two garbage bags.

Jordana walked us across the apartment: "He punched me a few times here, and then he grabbed my clothes here and threw them out of that window on the right."

The building's front door camera caught Jordana at 10:58 p.m. rushing outside to retrieve her belongings. For 10 minutes, she agonized over what to do. Then, Antonio came down. She told him she didn't want to go home to her parents.

JORDANA CAHEN: "I'm not going home."

ANTONIO GAMERO: "All right, take your ass upstairs."

JORDANA CAHEN: "Why?"

ANTONIO GAMERO: "You're going to leave tomorrow. I already got you a hotel."

JORDANA CAHEN: "What do you mean you got me a hotel?"

ANTONIO GAMERO: "Tomorrow. You leave tomorrow."

As soon as they got to the third floor, the violence started again.

"And I had tried to like leave out the front door because he started to punch me," Cahen said. "And then he had grabbed me with one arm and then like slammed the door on me repeatedly, and then closed it and locked it. And he started punching me."

Jordana says when she fell to the floor and tried to protect her face, he kneed and kicked her, then dragged her down the hallway to the bedroom.

"And he had grabbed me by the back of my head and was like repeatedly slamming my face into the door. And then he like pulled my mouth open, his fingers in my mouth, and said he was gonna rip my mouth open."

Antonio dragged her by the hair to the living room couch and started choking her, but she broke free.

Cahen said, "I ran over to the window to throw it open because I thought I was gonna have to jump out of the apartment, because he wasn't gonna let me leave."

Antonio grabbed Jordana, threw her onto this marble table, breaking it and gashing her forehead. She tells us he continued to punch her, until he started to cry.

"And then he looked at me in the face, I was covered with blood, and said, 'You deserve this. You know that right?'"

A teenage girl happened to be parked across the street with her friends and called for help.

The witness told 911, "We heard screaming so I turned and I looked and the window's open and some guy was hitting her."

DAN NOYES: "I wonder what words you have now for that teenage girl who called 911?"

JORDANA CAHEN: "I am incredibly grateful to her. She saved my life. I don't think I ever would have been able to get out of that relationship with him."

OFFICER KRYVORUKA: "Hi, where do you live?"

When police arrived, Antonio opened the building's front door and told officers a series of lies; first, that he lived on the second floor, not the third floor.

OFFICER KRYVORUKA: "Did you hear anybody fighting upstairs?"

ANTONIO GAMERO: "I did hear something across the street."

OFFICER KRYVORUKA: "Okay, what's wrong with your face, dude? Why is your face all scratched up?"

ANTONIO GAMERO: "It's not scratched, what?"

OFFICER VILLANUEVA: "You got scratches on your chin."

OFFICER KRYVORUKA: "Just stay down here."

He later claimed his cat had scratched him.

OFFICER VILLANUEVA: "Who's up there with you?"

ANTONIO GAMERO: "No one's up there, just my cat and I, yeah."

OFFICER VILLANUEVA: "Okay."

As officers arrived at the apartment, they found the door wide open and shouted, "Anyone in here? Police, are you hurt?"

They searched but couldn't find Jordana. Finally, one officer walked past the laundry, through the door that leads to the back stairwell. Antonio told her to hide from police there.

OFFICER HAI LI: "Ma'am."

JORDANA CAHEN: "Yeah."

OFFICER HAI LI: "Talk to me. Come here, come here, talk to us, get up here. Come here. This was you?" (she emerges from stairwell)

Jordana wouldn't tell the officers what happened, but she did identify Antonio as her boyfriend and said they had been dating a year-and-a-half.

OFFICER KRYVORUKA: "Now, would it be okay if we documented your injuries a little more from the side?" (nods yes)

Jordana suffered a broken nose, fractured eye socket, deep laceration to her forehead that required two sets of stitches, a black eye, bruises to her ear, legs, arms and body. She had to undergo invasive surgery to address "facial asymmetry" caused by the attack; it still feels numb.

Officers arrested Antonio Gamero, and during his domestic violence trial, his attorney - Deputy Public Defender Ilona Yanez -- tried to turn the focus to Jordana Cahen. She told the I-Team, "I was constantly bombarded with like, why did you stay? Why didn't you leave? One, it's extremely dangerous to try to leave a domestic violence relationship. But two, there's so much shame and guilt and embarrassment surrounding it already."

From court transcripts, Yanez told the jury, "She's obsessed with Antonio, so this isn't the story of the poor, vulnerable, abused woman over and over. This is more Fatal Attraction. This is a woman who couldn't let go."

But, phone calls Antonio Gamero made from jail didn't help his case. Here, he talks to a family member about Jordana's testimony at the preliminary hearing: "Truth, hearing her testimony as well, you know, I was really trying to hear if she was going to inflate anything or you know be hyperbolic, but honestly she wasn't."

And here, he talks to his downstairs neighbor about "mitigating" or trying to avoid the harshest penalties: "I'm here to mitigate, this is where I'm at, yeah, I'm mitigating, I'm not going to- Santa Claus didn't f---ing hop down the g---damn chimney, beat her ass, bro. It was me. I'm sorry, I get it, it was me."

For that incident, the jury found Gamero guilty of Torture, Domestic Violence with Great Bodily Injury, Battery and False Imprisonment -- and several more felonies associated with three other incidents the year before, for which Jordana Cahen kept notes and photographs of her injuries. She showed us the materials and said, "He wouldn't hit me every time he drank. But if he drank and did cocaine, he was going to become violent, like for sure."

The judge gave Gamero two years in state prison, followed by 7-years-to-life indeterminate sentence. And now, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is considering filing for sanctions against Deputy Public Defender Ilona Yanez.

BROOKE JENKINS: "It's something that we are taking very seriously about what our next steps may be."

DAN NOYES: "So, there could be a next step?"

BROOKE JENKINS: "Correct."

DA Jenkins is concerned about four issues:

Number 1

The survivor in the criminal case, Jordana Cahen, filed an $8,000 small claims court complaint against Antonio Gamero for back rent and other money he owed. This email exchange shows that Deputy Public Defender Ilona Yanez got involved in the matter.

Cahen tells the I-Team, "And she was trying to propose like an alternative amount and settle without us going to court."

Retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Ladoris Cordell reacted, "It is absolutely, in my view, inappropriate because it brings her in contact with the victim, who has been traumatized by the person she's representing. You don't want to cross those lines and those boundaries."

Judge Cordell explains, Small Claims Court is supposed to be one individual against another - no attorneys. She's concerned Gamero's deputy public defender may have been trying to arrange a payment to his victim.

"Well, he's willing to give you this money," Judge Cordell told the I-Team. "He'll give it to you, and maybe that'll soften her attitude and she won't be as concerned about maybe seeing that he's prosecuted. Very scary stuff."

The I-Team's Dan Noyes approached Ilona Yanez after the sentencing to discuss the case.

DAN NOYES: "Ilona, I'm Dan Noyes."

ILONA YANEZ: "I don't want to talk about it."

DAN NOYES: "No?"

She didn't give Noyes a chance to ask specific questions; he later sent them to her office in an email. And even though we gave her boss, Public Defender Mano Raju, precise details about what we were investigating, he would not agree to an interview. His staff sent a statement that reads in part, "There was nothing improper about Ms. Yañez's conduct on the Gamero case. ... It's commonplace for public defenders to convey information from our clients to victims since, in domestic violence cases, our clients are often barred from communicating with victims except through their attorneys."

Number 2

In this text exchange, Jordana Cahen turns down the Public Defender's request to meet in person about the small claims case, writing, "After speaking with my lawyer, I think it would be best if your team could pose any questions regarding this in an email." But, the very next morning, Ilona Yanez cold-called Jordana at work, spoke briefly about small claims court, and focused on the domestic violence case.

JORDANA CAHEN: "She essentially tried to make me feel bad for him."

DAN NOYES: "What did she say?"

JORDANA CAHEN: "She said, 'You know, he had an effed up childhood.' And she said, 'He said he was sorry.'"

The I-Team interviewed David Yosifon, an expert in legal ethics from Santa Clara University School of Law. "When the victim said I will communicate with you, but only by email that should have been respected." Yosifon added, "That was in direct contravention of the victim's expressed wishes with respect to being contacted. So I think that was a violation. I think that was unethical and could certainly subject that defense attorney to bar discipline."

In his statement, Public Defender Mano Raju argues, "It is commonplace for public defenders to speak to victims to get a sense of what kind of resolution they are looking for and to convey information to

Number 3

On the day the judge discharged the jury, Gamero's attorney, Ilona Yanez, bought drinks for several jurors at this bar near the court house. One juror signed this declaration saying he "did not feel comfortable" with what "seemed like victim-blaming" by Yanez and some of the jurors.

Brooke Jenkins told the I-Team, "When you are buying them things, even a drink in order to potentially persuade them to assist in your argument for sentencing that, too, is very disturbing and inappropriate."

According to the declaration, Yanez informed the jurors in that bar because of their verdict, Gamero "would be looking at a life sentence." After, three jurors wrote emotional emails asking the judge to be lenient, one stating, "Mr. Gamero deserves a second chance."

Jenkins said, "The conduct is inappropriate under our ethical rules. We are not to be sharing information with jurors post-conviction that they weren't entitled to receive or considered during the trial itself."

Ilona Yanez' boss, Mano Raju, did not address her buying drinks for the jurors, but did confirm she went to the bar with them, adding, "It is extremely common for attorneys to speak to jurors after a verdict to gather feedback on the trial. ... Jurors asked her what Mr. Gamero's sentence could be, and she told them."

Number 4

On the day of sentencing, the judge asked Ilona Yanez if she'd like to make any final comments. I-Team reporter Dan Noyes was there and observed, "In all my time covering courts, I've never seen an attorney sob so hard that he or she became difficult to understand. Without my knowledge, someone made a recording of the session."

On it, you can hear Ilona Yanez sobbing, then continuing, "... that leaves the world a little bit less full of pain."

Yanez cried for the bulk of her comments and several times, she had to stop, drink some water, and try to compose herself. She said, "Because his life is worth more (crying) than what we dispose of every day."

The statement from Public Defender Mano Raju's office says, "Ms. Yañez served her client impeccably throughout this case, and to criticize her for showing emotion and caring about her client is offensive and sexist."

But Judge Cordell believes it raises questions of competence: "The sobbing and crying in court where you can't even speak when you're there to advocate for your client, particularly during a sentencing. If you're so enmeshed with the client, you cannot, you cannot adequately represent your client, you just can't do it, you have to have boundaries, you have to draw that line. And I didn't see that happening here."

One final point - Through his attorney, Ilona Yanez, Antonio Gamero turned down a plea deal in which he would have received six years in prison. He wound up with a much more serious sentence. Right now, Gamero is an inmate at North Kern State Prison outside Bakersfield. He's being processed and will find out soon where he'll serve his sentence of 7 years to life, for torture and domestic violence.

Many people can relate to what Jordana Cahen endured. If you need help to "take action" against violence at home, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). We also have a long list of resources in the Bay Area here.

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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