Deadly Secrets 

How California law shields a small cadre of Oakland police officers involved in violence.

Page 4 of 6

Depositions given by OPD also indicate Gonzales fired rounds at the crowd. The class-action lawsuit led to more than $2 million in payments to injured demonstrators and workers. But by the time Gonzales was firing lead-filled beanbags into a crowd of protesters, he had already turned up at the center of a more lethal conflict with suspects.

On Gonzales' fourth year on the job, he was involved in his first shooting incident. On March 27, 2002, alleged Norteño gang members Joshua Russell and Randy Posvar tried to rob an acquaintance with a pump-action shotgun in East Oakland. Gonzales, then 26, arrived on scene with a number of other officers, at which point the 19-year-old Russell pointed his shotgun towards police. Gonzales and Officer Rudy Villegas opened fire, killing Russell. Investigations by OPD's Homicide and Internal Affairs departments, as well as the Alameda County District Attorney, determined that Gonzales' shooting did not violate criminal code or departmental regulations.

Future shootings, however, would present far murkier situations.

Ameir Rollins, now 22, lives a limited life. His arms and legs have atrophied from years of disuse. He sits in a room on the side of his family's plaster and stucco-sided home in East Oakland, watching a flat-screen television on the wall of the same small, dimly-lit space he's lived in since childhood.

Rollins met then-Officer Gonzales on June 5, 2006. Gonzales and Sansone were responding to a shooting call when they spotted seventeen-year-old Rollins with a sawed-off rifle in his hands. Rollins says he was taking the rifle home from a friend's house; others from the neighborhood say he was carrying the gun for protection after being shot at a few days earlier. According to Rollins' lawyer, gunshot residue tests later proved he had not fired the weapon.

When Gonzales and Sansone spotted the weapon, they ran their patrol car up on the curb in front of Rollins and jumped out with their guns trained on him, according to the young man.

What happened next remains in dispute.

In the days after the incident, police told the news media that Rollins refused to drop the gun. Rollins insists he dropped it and that he was frightened and "ready to go to jail." What's certain is Gonzales fired one round at Rollins, which passed through his wrist as he raised his hands and plunged into his neck. Gonzales was four to five feet away when he fired; his partner did not shoot.

"I didn't even feel it; I just hit the ground," Rollins said. He fell face first on the sidewalk as blood welled up in his mouth. "I thought I was hit in the chest," he recalled.

Rollins' family and friends describe a gruesome scene. Effie Smith, his mother, ran to the scene with one of her daughters. "They had a sheet on him," she recalled. "All you could see was his tennis shoes." Police had taken him for dead and covered him from public view after handcuffing him, before medical personnel arrived on the scene. Rollins faded in and out of consciousness, briefly coming to in an ambulance and then passing out.

The bullet wound to his neck rendered him a quadriplegic. His family filed a civil claim in state court and received a $100,000 settlement from the city that mostly went toward medical bills.

Still, despite two shootings and multiple use-of-force controversies on Gonzales' record, his career advanced. After the June 2006 shooting of Rollins, Gonzales was promoted to sergeant and reassigned as the supervisor of a "crime reduction team" in North Oakland, his first posting away from East Oakland. Gonzales' new unit was tasked with crime suppression and apprehending violent felons. He had also become a firearms instructor for OPD and had been assigned to the department's SWAT team.

On the afternoon of September 20, 2007, Ameir Rollins was sitting in his bed at Children's Hospital in North Oakland when he heard sirens and saw police cars and ambulances speeding towards the intersection of 54th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. An angry crowd gathered in the street and milled around for several hours, but Rollins dismissed the event and fell asleep. It wasn't until the next day that he learned that another young black man had been shot by Patrick Gonzales, this time fatally.

"I saw all the police and wondered what was going down," Rollins recalled. "I didn't believe it until I watched the news."

Gary King Jr., a twenty-year-old vacuum salesman and contractor, lived around the corner with his parents and siblings. That afternoon, King and a few of his friends went to East Bay Liquors to buy snacks. As they exited the store, Gonzales drove by in his patrol car.

Gonzales was on the lookout for a suspect in a month-old murder that had taken place several blocks away. Witnesses say he swerved across six lanes of traffic into the liquor store parking lot, where he got out of his car and approached King. The two exchanged words. Gonzales then slapped soda and chips out of King's hands and grabbed hold of him. King resisted, and witnesses say Gonzales pulled the young man into a headlock by his shoulder-length dreadlocks and punched him repeatedly. Gonzales then Tasered King multiple times, according to a civil suit filed by King's family.

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