Anaheim Police Closed Book On Killing of Unarmed Man, But Judges Say Not So Fast

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Judges are pondering Anaheim PD's lethal-force use
Federal appellate judges have a message for the Anaheim Police Department, whose officers probably believed the books had officially closed on a September 2009 killing of an unarmed 21-year-old Latino: Not so fast.

A judge had refused to let a jury consider the excessive-force and wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Adolph Anthony Sanchez Gonzalez's surviving family members, and later, a divided Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel essentially agreed there was nothing suspicious about the lethal police action.

But the rulings troubled other Ninth Circuit judges, who've reopened the case after the National Police Accountability Project (NPAP) asserted that prior judges on the case had ignored "glaring inconsistencies in the story told by the police officers."

"The decedent cannot give his side of the story," said NPAP attorney John Burton of Pasadena. "The officers' testimony concerning the timing of events, the speed of the van and the distance traveled--the equation on which their justification for terminating this man's life depends--cannot be reconciled."

In May, two of the three members of the Ninth Circuit panel--Diarmuid F. O'Scannlian and Stephen S. Trott--opined that the dead man had been acting strange and raised legitimate fears in veteran officers Daron Wyatt and Matthew Ellis, who have a right to defend themselves from threats.

But Judge Richard R. Clifton, who filed a dissent, said evidence that contradicted the police version of events might lead a future jury to believe the official Anaheim PD story "was not believable."

Wyatt and Ellis initiated an early-morning traffic stop on Gonzalez after the man bought fuel at a gas station. The officers claim the driver refused to obey commands and attempted to put something in his mouth from a plastic baggie. Ellis put Gonzalez in a sleeper hold, and Wyatt entered the vehicle from the passenger side and began punching the man in face and head. Ellis then slugged the man in the back of the head three times with his flashlight.

Lawyers for Gonzalez's family say that at this point, the victim rightfully tried to escape the alleged excessive force by putting the car in gear and trying to flee to safety.

Lawyers for the officers claim Wyatt, who remained inside the moving vehicle, was justified in pulling his weapon and shooting Gonzalez in the head.

"Officer Wyatt had to make a split-second decision as the decedent continued to accelerate the minivan rapidly down the street," Anaheim PD lawyers told the court. "The undisputed evidence shows that Officer Wyatt shot Gonzalez in self-defense."

Gonzalez family lawyers claim evidence shows the van was moving at 3.4 mph when Wyatt drew his gun and, "without any warning," fired it 6 inches from the victim's head.

"During the 10 seconds that the van was moving, Officer Wyatt could see the driver's hands, and Wyatt never saw anything in the driver's hands that looked like a gun," the plaintiff's lawyers wrote in a court brief. "Wyatt never saw what appeared to be a gun on the driver's person. Wyatt never saw anything sticking out of the driver's pockets or protruding from his waistband that Wyatt thought maybe a gun. The driver never reached for Wyatt's gun and never attempted to punch, hit or kick Wyatt. . . . At the time he shot the driver in the head, Wyatt was inside the van, sitting in the passenger seat, and was not being run over by the van."

Even given that factual scenario, Anaheim PD maintains Wyatt--who is considered in law-enforcement circles as one of the county's best cops--was justified in employing lethal force because after ordering Gonzalez to stop, the officer had been "trapped inside the van, which was capable of inflicting serious bodily injury or death by crashing."

The Ninth Circuit will most likely announce a final decision next year about whether the plaintiffs can take their claims of excessive police force to a future jury.

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Email: rscottmoxley@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @RScottMoxley.

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18 comments
Jim Kennedy
Jim Kennedy

Many cities have civilian review boards that recommend reforms and changes when local police break laws and abuse their authority . What few people understand is that these civilian boards only have symbolic authority . The police take a look at the suggestions for reform , then carry on with their former policies .

18usc241
18usc241 topcommenter

At some point statistics become revealing.

Wendel Burdine
Wendel Burdine

its not against the law to drive a ford pinto with a dent in the hod red left fender and blue top looking stupid or brave vilont whatever looks

Wendel Burdine
Wendel Burdine

Titus 22 That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. 3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; 4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. 6 Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. 7 In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, 8 Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you. 9 Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again;

Wendel Burdine
Wendel Burdine

and to the youngster hip on death 2 That the aged men aresober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience; grave

Wendel Burdine
Wendel Burdine

Ecclesiastes 5:2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. 3 For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words. 4 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. 6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? 7 For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God. 8 If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.

Wendel Burdine
Wendel Burdine

Psalms 68:20 He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto GOD the Lord belong the issues from death.\

Wendel Burdine
Wendel Burdine

Ecclesiastes 9:16 Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard. 17 The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.

Wendel Burdine
Wendel Burdine

Ecclesiastes 9:2 All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.

Wendel Burdine
Wendel Burdine

a lot is intrusted so alot is required don't think for a minute there could not be a pig amongst the captains. this requres death penalty

nebeltex
nebeltex

Uh oh..... Federal judges maybe not be supporting the excesses of OC law enforcement agencies? I hope none of those judges get "arrested" while on a Sunday drive.... or worse. Maybe there needs to be more federal oversight of OC law enforcement. So many agencies, and so many questions about "un-armed" victims of circumstances. How long will it be before you or someone you care about just happens to be "at the wrong place, at the wrong time", with the wrong cop(s)?

FishWithoutBicycle
FishWithoutBicycle

Kudos to Judge Clifton and others for using their brains and logic to consider the actual evidence in front of them rather than simply rubber-stamping this case as another justified killing by police.

tongue_twister_for_t
tongue_twister_for_t topcommenter

"In May, two of the three members of the Ninth Circuit panel--Diarmuid F. O'Scannlian and Stephen S. Trott--opined that the dead man had been acting strange and raised legitimate fears in veteran officers Daron Wyatt and Matthew Ellis, who have a right to defend themselves from threats."

"The cops have a right to defend themselves from threats" (even though no threats were evident) but the citizen does not have a right to defend themselves from the threats of the police.

"The citizens have a right to defend themselves from the police." - OCDA Tony Rackaukas 2011 (in the Kelly Thomas police MURDER case.)

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