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Gonzalo Gonzalez

Other McLennan county, Texas exonerations
On June 9, 2018, police in Lacy Lakeview, Texas stopped 44-year-old Gonzalo Gonzalez for backing up on the shoulder of 500 South New Dallas Highway, also known as U.S. Highway 77, near Waco, Texas.

Police officer Kardaro Klanika said that backing up on the shoulder was a traffic offense, which was incorrect because such conduct is only an offense on a controlled access roadway such as an interstate. Gonzalez had backed up to pick up a friend who needed a ride.

Klanika asked Gonzalez for his driver’s license. When Gonzalez hesitated, Klanika, in a loud voice, declared, “I’ve seen you in our city—you don’t have a driver’s license.”

After Gonzalez handed over his driver’s license, Klanika said he would check for outstanding arrests and if there were none, Gonzalez would be “free to go.”

While Klanika waited for a response to his warrant check request, Sgt. Amanda Leka and officer Casey Lander arrived as backup. Klanika ordered Gonzalez out of the vehicle, but he refused. Shortly thereafter, Klanika was informed that there were two active arrest warrants for Gonzalez, though both were for offenses which carried maximum sentences of monetary fines and no jail time.

Klanika then told Gonzalez he was under arrest. Gonzalez got out of the vehicle and immediately tried to run away. Klanika tackled him and placed him under arrest.

This was not captured by Klanika’s bodycam. However, just before the video cut off, there were two loud striking sounds, and Gonzalez could be heard asking Klanika to “get off of me.”

Police found methamphetamine in Gonzalez’s pocket. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance and assaulting a public servant—Officer Lander.

Gonzalez told his first attorney, Paul Flores, that he did not assault any officer and that video would prove it. Flores requested the videos, but was unable to get them. In September 2019, Gonzalez, a native of Mexico who was facing deportation if convicted, told a volunteer with the Waco Immigrants Alliance about his case and the volunteer sent an email to the Lacy Lakeview police department requesting video and audio recording of Lander’s bodycam and dashcam.

Flores withdrew as Gonzalez’s attorney on November 1, 2019, and Samuel Martinez was appointed as his lawyer. Martinez requested copies of the videos from the McLennan County Criminal District Attorney’s office. The prosecutor handling the case said no video evidence existed.

Martinez obtained court-approved funds to hire an investigator, Ed McElyea, who subsequently reported that he could not locate any videos. Martinez told Gonzalez that without videos, it would be up to the judge or a jury to determine whether to believe Gonzalez’s claim that he did not assault Klanika. It was unlikely Gonzalez would be believed, Martinez counseled. He told Gonzalez his case was a “lost cause.”

On April 17, 2020, Gonzalez pled guilty to the drug charge and the charge of assaulting Lander. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

On November 3, 2020: Gonzalez was transported to the ICE South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, Texas. Although he was a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., he faced deportation due to his convictions.

On January 29, 2021, Gonzalez’s request for cancellation of removal was denied, and he was ordered deported to Mexico. Gonzalez appealed.

Subsequently, Gonzalez’s immigration attorney reached out to attorney Robert Daniel, who began representing Gonzalez on his criminal case. Daniel filed a public information request with the Lacy Lakeview Police department. On April 2, 2021, the department provided several videos: Klanika’s first bodycam video, which captured the traffic stop, but cut off before Klanika tackled Gonzalez; Klanika’s second bodycam video, which began recording after Gonzalez was in custody in the back of a police car; Klanika’s third bodycam video, which showed Klanika reading a list of charges to Gonzalez and asking him questions without reading his Miranda warnings; a dashcam video from Officer Lander; and Lander’s bodycam video.

On April 30, 2021, Daniel filed a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Gonzalez seeking to vacate his conviction. “None of the videos captured an assault on a public servant offense, nor did any of the videos capture the officers’ use of force” against Gonzalez, the petition said.

On June 18, 2021, in response to a request from the District Attorney’s office, the police department discovered Klanika’s dashcam video on an external hard drive. The video was turned over to Daniel in July 2021. However, that video did not capture any physical interaction between Gonzalez and Klanika.

However, the video revealed conversations among the officers that suggested Gonzalez was telling the truth all along. At one point, Sgt. Leka said, “You ran from us.” And Klanika said, “Now you got an evading…you knew exactly what was going on, you knew what you were doing and you ran.”

Several minutes later, Lander told Leka that he had punched Gonzalez. After that statement, Sgt. Leka began to suggest that Gonzalez “threw punches.” At that point, Klanika accused Gonzalez of “swinging” at him.

Gonzalez, in response to these comments, could be heard saying, “I did not punch y’all, y’all punched me,” and added, “It’s on camera.”

Gonzalez also could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe” at least 20 times. Sgt. Leka said, “If you say you can’t breathe, you can breathe."

A voice of an unidentified officer then was heard to say, “Nobody said anything about punching, you’re the only one bringing it up,” and added, “Apparently, I was punching him.”

Klanika told Gonzalez, “Nobody hit you.” Sgt. Leka said, “Nobody hit you, you hit the ground when we tackled you.”

Gonzalez passed out in the back of the police car. When Klanika said that he had passed out, Sgt. Leka said that he had “hyperventilated himself.”

The petition said that Lander, in addition to admitting to Sgt. Lega that he hit Gonzalez, put in his report that he did “strike [Gonzalez] with a closed fist in the face.”

The petition said that while Lander did suffer a “scrape” on his head, it was because Lander lost his balance. Lander was later treated by a paramedic, who asked Lander whether he “got in the gravel.” Lander replied, “Yeah.”

When Gonzalez was treated, he said, “I was being punched,” and that the “worst pain was when they put a knee to my head.”

On August 9, 2021, the immigration court's order to deport Gonzalez was reversed.

The prosecution opposed the writ. While conceding that the bodycams and dashcams should have been disclosed, the prosecution contended the evidence contained on the recordings was not material and would not likely have changed the outcome of Gonzalez’s case.

On August 26, 2021, Criminal District Court Judge Thomas West recommended that the habeas writ be denied. His ruling was appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

On October 22, 2021, an immigration judge granted Gonzalez's request for cancellation of removal and he was released from ICE custody shortly thereafter.

In December 2021, the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded the case to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing. The court said, “Although trial counsel submitted an affidavit in connection with [Gonzalez’s] habeas application, in which he confirmed that the videos were requested but not provided to the defense, trial counsel’s affidavit does not detail the investigation he performed or the advice he gave to [Gonzalez] with regard to pleading guilty or going to trial on the charges. More importantly, trial counsel’s affidavit does not indicate whether he has watched the newly-disclosed videos, and whether any advice he provided to [Gonzalez] would have been different had the videos been disclosed to the defense prior to the plea.”

A hearing was held during which Martinez testified that he had not seen the videos and that he would not have recommended that Gonzalez plead guilty if the prosecution had disclosed them.

On March 4, 2022, following the hearing, Judge West recommended that the writ be granted.

On April 27, 2022, the Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated Gonzalez’s convictions. “Based on the record, the trial court has determined that the State’s failure to provide the videos to the defense rendered Applicant’s plea unknowing and involuntary, and that had the videos been disclosed prior to trial, there is a reasonable probability that Applicant would not have pleaded guilty but would have exercised his right to a jury trial,” the court ruled.

On November 14, 2022, Gonzalez pled guilty to the drug charge. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but was released based on time previously served. On December 19, 2022, the prosecution dismissed the assault charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/22/2022
Last Updated: 4/23/2023
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2018
Sentence:5 years
Age at the date of reported crime:44
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No