Appeals Court rules in favor of City in 2012 Antioch officer involved shooting case

By Acting Captain Tony Morefield, Antioch Police Department

On June 28, 2012, Denny Gonzales lost his life in the City of Antioch in a confrontation with Antioch Police Department (APD) officers. On that date, Gonzales, a local barber, made numerous statements to the police that clearly indicated he was homicidal, including comments that he was going to kill a police officer and other threats. Gonzales, who was later found to have been emotionally distraught and significantly intoxicated, was shot and killed when he challenged officers with a firearm in front of his Antioch home.

(See related articles: Distraught Antioch Man Shot and Killed by Police, and Judge dismisses case against Antioch Police in shooting death of Antioch man in 2012)

In 2013, the wife of Gonzales and his young daughter (Plaintiffs) filed a lawsuit against the City of Antioch for claimed civil rights violations, negligence and battery. In October of 2015, Judge Westmore of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, ruled in favor of the City of Antioch on all claims, dismissing this lawsuit. Judge Westmore found that “a reasonable officer at the scene would have reasonably believed that Mr. Gonzales posed a threat of serious physical harm to him or his fellow officers, justifying the use of deadly force.” Judge Westmore went on to state that “the undisputed evidence shows that the officers acted reasonably under the totality of the circumstances, and the City, therefore, faces no liability for the officers’ conduct.”

Plaintiffs appealed this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, challenging the ruling by Judge Westmore. The appeal was argued on April 20, 2017, by outside counsel for the City, Noah G. Blechman, Esq., from the McNamara Law Firm in Walnut Creek. On June 7, 2017, the Ninth Circuit unanimously ruled that Judge Westmore did not err in dismissing the lawsuit in favor of the City.

See Memorandum, here.

The Ninth Circuit found that “viewing the facts in the light most favorable to appellants (Plaintiffs), no reasonable jury could conclude that the officers’ use of deadly force was objectively unreasonable.” Pg. 2. The Ninth Circuit found that it was undisputed that the “responding officers were confronted with a suspect who had repeatedly threatened to kill a police officer and raised his gun in the direction of officers.” Pg. 3. In addition, the Ninth Circuit found that Plaintiffs did not show sufficient evidence of any negligence on the part of any City employees with regard to their actions or tactics leading up to the shooting.

Per Mr. Blechman, “The Ninth Circuit extensively analyzed this incident from start to finish on this appeal and came to the same rightful conclusion as Judge Westmore, that these officers acted lawfully, appropriately and reasonably in this difficult situation to which they were thrust. While it is clearly unfortunate when any citizen escalates a situation that necessitates the use of deadly force by officers, these involved officers of the City had no choice but to act in self-preservation and to protect fellow officers and the public when Mr. Gonzales came out onto his driveway with the firearm and raised the firearm. The extensive training of the involved officers and the well supervised tactical decisions on that date protected all other citizens as well as possible.”

The City of Antioch continues to extend their deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Denny Gonzales who have suffered from this unfortunate incident. The City of Antioch also wants to praise the actions of those involved officers and supervisors for their efforts which no doubt likely saved the lives the others and maintained public safety on June 28, 2012.

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