Two brothers who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging a Los Angeles Police Department officer used excessive force in the 2016 fatal shooting of their father in Boyle Heights testified Wednesday that he was an inspiration to them and taught them right from wrong.
Officer Eden Medina testified earlier in the trial of the siblings’ Los Angeles Superior Court complaint that he fatally shot Omar Gonzalez, 36, of Los Angeles, during a struggle after he saw the suspect was armed. He said he believed Gonzalez posed an imminent threat to him and his partner.
Gonzalez’s oldest son struggled to maintain his emotions as he recalled how his dad coached him in sports and counseled him on how to be a better person.
“He basically told me that being independent was one of the best things you can be because you don’t have to be dependent on somebody else,” Omar Gonzalez Jr. said. “I’m really thankful for that. ”
He said his dad did not believe in complacency and “pushed me to do my best always.”
He said his father treated others well.
“He was very respectful, he had a lot of manners,” Gonzalez Jr. said.
His 15-year-old brother said their father once raised his voice at his sons after they failed to pick up their shoes and backpacks off the floor and put them away. He said he later saw his father crying.
“It … takes a real man to show his emotions,” the younger sibling said.
He said his dad taught him to not let others shape who he was.
“He wanted me to be my own person, to do my own thing.”
Cross-examined by Deputy City Attorney Colleen Smith, the brothers said that although a police body camera video showed their father struggled with innocent citizens, including a woman, shortly before he was shot, he never taught the boys that such behavior was proper. The siblings said their father also taught them to obey the law.
Gonzalez Jr. said he and his brother were removed from the custody of their father in 2015 and placed with their mother. He identified a photo for jurors taken around Christmas 2015 that depicted their smiling father standing between them.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs maintain Gonzalez was not a threat to the officers and that Medina did not do enough to deescalate the situation before using deadly force and shooting the man twice in the back.
The shooting in the 1200 block of Atwood Place occurred about 7:45 p.m. July 28, 2016, after a vehicle chase in which Medina was driving a second patrol car behind the main police vehicle conducting the pursuit, Medina said.
The pursuit began after Gang Enforcement Detail officers from the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Station attempted to stop a possibly stolen Nissan Altima east of downtown Los Angeles, Medina said. Gonzalez was a passenger in the car and reached down several times, leading Medina to believe he was either obtaining a weapon or hiding one, Medina said.
Medina said the officers gave chase and the Nissan driver stopped at the end of a cul-de-sac on Atwood Street, at which time Gonzalez got out and ran up the hilly driveway of a home. Residents tried to stop Gonzalez when officers arrived and attempted to take him into custody, Medina said.
Medina said he was fighting with Gonzalez when he saw the man holding the 25-caliber semi-automatic handgun by the slide on the top. He said he yelled “gun” four times to warn his partner and other officers on the scene.
Gonzalez dropped the gun into a gutter, but then picked it up, according to Medina.
Medina acknowledged that when he fired the shots, he did not know if Gonzalez was pointing the gun at him or his partner.
In March 2018, the District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Medina in the shooting of 14-year-old Jesse Romero on Aug. 9, 2016, less than two weeks after the Gonzalez shooting. The boy’s shooting also occurred in Boyle Heights.
Prosecutors said the boy fired a shot at Medina, but witnesses told police the teen threw the gun to the ground and then it fired.