(Image: Aaron E. Martinez/Austin American Statesman)
The family of a man shot and killed by police is suing APD.
Alex Gonzales Jr. was shot by APD officers after pointing a gun at an off-duty officer and then driving away when the officer fired on him. After a brief chase, Gonzales stopped his car, at which point his girlfriend, who had been shot by the off-duty officer, exited the passenger side and began yelling for her baby—who officers later found in the back seat. Gonzales also exited the vehicle and, ignoring police commands to put his hands up and get down, went to the back door of his car, and reached in. At that point, several APD officers fired, killing Gonzales. The child in the back seat was unharmed.
The family’s lawsuit states that Gonzales’ wounds “compromised his physical and mental functions and his comprehension.” It says that APD, in particular the officer who first fired on Gonzales, Gabriel Gutierrez, should have known that Gonzales was no longer a threat.
However, a gun was found in the car after Gonzales was shot.
While I cannot imagine the pain of the loss Gonzales’ family is experiencing, Austin must stand firm against this lawsuit.
I fully support the rights of Texans to carry firearms and use them to defend themselves, however, what we know of the initial incident would mean that Gonzales had unlawfully brandished his weapon. Gutierrez, the off-duty officer, says that he was turning into an intersection when Gonzales sped around his vehicle and cut him off while pointing a gun at him.
In no way would this be a legal, justifiable brandishing of a firearm.
Even if Guitierrez had not seen Gonzales’ car, and had cut into Gonzales’ lane, Gonzales would not have the right to aim his firearm at another motorist.
Again, Gonzales acted in an unjustified manner.
Furthermore, when Gonzales had stopped his car, there was no way that the police could reasonably confirm Gonzales’ intent. They knew he had driven recklessly and pulled a gun. And that’s not even counting his evading pursuit—which could be theoretically dismissed since Gutierrez was off-duty in his personal vehicle, Gonzales may not have known he was being pursued by police until Gutierrez’s backup arrived. What the officers knew at the moment they fired on Gonzales was that he was unpredictable and armed. He had committed a felony by pointing his weapon at another driver.
Police are not hired to be mind readers. They are not expected to understand every nuance of a perpetrator’s behavior. They cannot assume the best intent on the part of every person they encounter. They are heavily trained and the longer they are officers the more experiential knowledge they can apply to the actions they need to take in the moment. While in hindsight, it may sound as though Gonzales had been, in a state of shock, unaware of the police’s commands and was seeking to comfort the child, police knew he had a gun—which again was recovered in the car—and reasonably believed that he was seeking his weapon to fire at police.
It is always a tragedy when a young person dies. This man was the same age as I a.. He, like all of us, was a wellspring of potential. But he committed a crime. He persisted in his crime. He had threatened lives.
In doing so, he put his own life at risk.
Should the City of Austin settle with this family, it will be yet again sending the message, that APD is not to be trusted; that it should receive no benefit of the doubt; that every police shooting should be treated as a murder in which the defendant—the officer who pulled the trigger—is presumed guilty and must prove his or her innocence.
That is an unsustainable process. We will lose more officers. Our remaining officers will hesitate in protecting themselves and others; this will cost lives. Police will continue to pull back, leaving Austin a more dangerous city.
The City of Austin must stand its ground and fight this suit.
A Heartbreaking Tragedy; A Dangerous LawsuitTweet
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