Grief and outrage: Gonsalez family urge for independent investigation of killing by Hayward Police

Hayward Councilmember Francisco Zermeno, right, having words with a police accountability activist Tuesday night at Hayward City Hall.

Family and friends of Agustin Gonsalez, the 29-year-old Lathrop man who was killed by Hayward Police last November, are calling for an independent investigation of the incident. In addition, numerous public speakers at a lengthy and grief-stricken Hayward City Council chambers Tuesday night called for both officers involved in the shooting to be taken off of active duty.

Hayward Police and the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, meanwhile, are conducting  ongoing investigations on the matter. Hayward Police fired 13 times on Gonsalez, believing he held a knife. Officers later learned the object was a safety blade.

Earlier this month, Hayward Police released body-camera video of the incident, along with private security camera and audio that preceding the shooting. Upon arriving on the scene, one police officer waited just seven seconds before opening fire on Gonsalez, who had previously struggled with mental illness, it was reported afterward.

“In the meantime, I would ask that all of you–keep in mind that the police officers involved, we–you have not heard their story. We have not heard their story.”Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday to family of Agustin Gonsalez, the man killed by Hayward Police last November

“All he needed was help and you guys didn’t do that,” said Gonsalez’s aunt, Cynthia Moreno. “My nephew did not deserve to die and not in that way.”

Several speakers Tuesday night were critical of the officer, while questioning the police department’s training and protocols.

“It’s very clear that a murder took place and Agustin had no chance at survival,” said Beatrice Johnson, the aunt of Oscar Grant, the Hayward man killed by transit police at Fruitvale BART in 2010. “There was nothing on the part of the police department to save life. That’s murder and I think there should be an independent investigation.”

Calls for a third-party investigation are necessary, the family believes, because of conflicts of interests between Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, several Hayward councilmembers, and the contributions each have received in the past from various police labor unions.

“Do you work for the people of Hayward or the [Police Officers Association] (POA)?” Franco Canto, Gonsalez’s uncle, asked Hayward Councilmember Francisco Zermeño, Al Mendall, and Mayor Barbara Halliday.

Hayward City Council Fire Killer Cops.jpg

During O’Malley’s re-election campaign last year for district attorney, the prevalence of contributions from police unions undermined her credibility to some. Of note was a $10,000 donation from the Fremont POA while her office was investigating an officer-involved shooting of a pregnant 16-year-old, also occurring in Hayward. O’Malley’s office later decided against charging the Fremont police officers.

The outpouring of grief and criticism over the Gonsalez shooting was the third such demonstration at Hayward City Hall since last December. Each time the city’s reluctance to remark upon the incident due to the ongoing investigations left family members frustrated. But the mayor’s apparent inability to show heartfelt compassion toward the family triggered a brief demonstration Tuesday night, momentarily pausing the public meeting. A similar situation occurred last month.

The overflow crowd at City Hall erupted in chants and angry catcalls after Hayward Mayor Halliday followed conciliatory remarks with an admonition for crowd to view the incident from the police officer’s point of view.

“I can assure you we have been listening to all you tonight. We have been listening. We will not let this go without learning from it,” said Halliday. “We will be continuing to discuss what can be done to prevent it from happening again.”

Noting the investigations into the case, along with a the lawsuit filed by the family on Feb. 8, Halliday added, “We all want justice. Justice can take some time.”

“Justice for who?!” a family member yelled out.

A flustered Halliday responded, “In the meantime, I would ask that all of you–keep in mind that the police officers involved, we–you have not heard their story. We have not heard their story.”

“We saw your story. Are you serious?” another family member exclaimed. “Thank you for letting us know which side you’re on. Good job mayor.”

Halliday quickly called the meeting into recess after chants of “Justice for Augie” rang out, and some council members chose to leave the dais. Halliday, Zermeño and Councilmember Elisa Marquez later gravitated toward the back of the room and interacted with friends and family of Gonsalez, along with activists.

One man, a police accountability activist, briefly exchanged words with Zermeño, who urged him and others to refrain from disrupting the meeting. “You’re not helping,” Zermeño repeatedly told the activist.

Earlier, Zermeño raised eyebrows after he excused himself from the public comment period–one highly critical of law enforcement–and walked toward two on-duty Hayward police officers in the room and pointedly shook hands with both.

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