Was this guy a burglar or just some homeless man sleeping rough in the bushes alongside a commercial building? That question apparently was not answered before he was shot to death by Stanislaus County Sheriff’s deputies just about a month ago.
Still, that question, and others, have not been publicly answered.
All we really know is that Eloy Mares Gonzalez Jr. was hit by several bullets fired by two deputies after about an 8-minute standoff. Mr. Gonzalez had refused to come out of his cardboard nest at the side of the building in Modesto’s Beard Industrial District at about 5 o’clock on that Sunday morning.
There were 8 or 9 deputies pointing pistols, a shotgun and Tasers at the 41- year-old man, along with a barking police dog pulling at the leash of his handler. Then, the deputies ran out of patience, shot him with the Taser, and sicced the dog on him.
His hands were visible and empty when they rushed him. Once set upon by the deputies and the dog, he a pulled a hatchet from among his meager belongings. That’s when they opened fire at almost point blank range.
The information for these first few paragraphs comes from a press release the day of the shooting and from our view of body camera videos released on Oct. 7, with narration by Sheriff Jeff Dirkse. Obviously, some of that information comes from our interpretation of the videos. It had to because simple questions we asked, like how many shots were fired, went unanswered.
Authorities wouldn’t even say whether the burglar alarm which brought the first deputies to the scene was a false alarm or signaled an actual break-in. Surely, they knew the answer, if not then, by now.
You can do your own interpretation as the Sheriff’s presentation is available on the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s You Tube video. You will be warned that is graphic. It does show a man being shot to death but it is no more graphic, otherwise, than what is on TV, not to mention what is available through ROKU.
Let’s set the scene:
Modesto’s Beard Industrial District is a large commercial area running roughly south of Yosemite Boulevard from El Vista Avenue east well past Claus Road and stretching almost to Empire. Its southern border is the Tuolumne River flood plain. Once a thriving complex, there are now commercial “wounds”— empty buildings featuring “For Lease” signs on huge lots, some of which note that they have more than three acres under roof.
The building we are concerned with is at the western margin of the district, with a vacant lot to the west between it and the old county pound. It is part of the River Bluff Business Park, six essentially identical buildings with parking lots in front where there are parking spaces and entrance doors.
There are shared areas in the rear, where each building has ramps and roll up doors. Our incident happened at the southwest corner of the building at the west end of the business park in front of a set of windows and by a set of bushes which are about waist high. Wait here for a minute while we introduce Mr. Gonzalez.
We said in the first paragraph that he might have been a burglar because he was at least accused of that in the past. His rap sheet is not readily available and Stanislaus County Superior Court has rather terse internet entries about charges and pleas and dispositions.
In one case he was charged with burglary but pled to vandalism; the probation terms required him to stay 200 yards away from the Bank of the West in Patterson. So, did some form of break-in occur? We just don’t know.
His homelessness seems apparent. He was swaddled in cardboard when deputies first encountered him. Clues also come in the first few statements made to deputies including that his father was a Senator and that his father owned the building. Later, referring to the few belongings he had with him he said, “This is all I got.”
In addition, other internet records show five evictions and court records show that at least twice he was sued and judgments for eviction were granted.
So, it’s 4:57 am and two deputies are sent to 820 Business Park Drive off Finch Road. The business there is a document shredding company. There is a veteran deputy and his trainee.
They park in the lot on the west side of the building and begin a counter-clockwise walk-around of the building. They walk through a gap in a line of bushes and head east.
Suddenly, there is a voice: “Hey, what’s up man?”
Shining their lights toward the sound, they see Mr. Gonzalez standing behind bushes roughly waist high. Their voices stressed, their language coarse, they demand to see his hands, to raise his hands. He does and they are empty.
Then the deputies demand he come out from behind the bushes. This is an ask too far for Mr. Gonzalez. He sits down, holding his cap with one hand, trying to shield his eyes from the bright lights. His hands are still raised and they are still empty.
One of the deputies tells Mr. Gonzalez he is interfering with his reconnaissance of the building to see if there had been a break in. He wants the man to come out and lay on the ground.
Gonzalez is warned that other deputies are on the way and things will get worse for him if he doesn’t comply promptly. There is mention of a dog and bites. He is asked if there is anything that the deputies can do to get him to comply with their demands.
This is, apparently, the de-escalation effort that the sheriff mentions in his narration of the videos. Other deputies arrive, including one with a dog. The level of tension seems much higher at this point.
The deputy with the dog shouts loudly to Mr. Gonzalez that he is going to release the dog and that the dog will bite him. The deputies point a Taser, a shotgun, pistols and canine teeth at the 41-year old man wearing a t-shirt and shorts.
Mr. Gonzalez sits still, his hands still empty. The bushes he is sitting behind have a gap so deputies can see what he is doing. At this point, there are as many as 8 or 9 deputies present. As far as can be determined, none of them has made an effort to determine if there had, in fact, been a break-in.
It was this determination which Mr. Gonzalez was impeding when only the two deputies were there. Obviously, those two couldn’t separate given their differing experience level — one was a trainee.
But, apparently, based upon what has been disclosed, none of the backup deputies did anything other than confront Mr.Gonzalez. Unwilling to simply freeze the situation, the deputies attack. One shoots him with a Taser. Another lets the dog loose to bite Mr. Gonzalez. It is then that Mr. Gonzalez apparently pulls a hatchet from his belongings.
The dog handler shouts repeatedly for Mr. Gonzalez not to hurt his dog. Someone shouts a warning about the hatchet and the guns come out. The dog handler and one other deputy open fire as the bushes are rustled by the thrashing of the dog, clamped hard on Mr. Gonzalez, as trained.
Then it is over. The guns are holstered. First aid efforts begin and an ambulance is called for. The only thing at the scene a few days ago was a pile of dirt. It looks like someone put the dirt down to cover blood stains, like you would for an oil spill on your driveway.
AUTHOR’S NOTES: Do we see parallels in this death and that of Evin Olsden Yadegar who was shot to death by deputies from this same department in Ripon in late February of 2017?
Mrs. Yadegar sat in her parked car and refused to come out. Deputies escalated the situation by breaking her driver’s side window. She reacted and one deputy opened fire.
Did we not learn anything from that event? The word “WE” was used in that last sentence and in the headline to this article because the sheriff’s deputies are OUR employees. Sheriff Dirkse “manages” them but they are public employees and we can ask the best of them. “Monday morning quarterbacking” of events such as these is not only fair, it is are required, I submit. When the review is done by what some see as members of the same team, the conclusions are often seen as less valuable
Is there an independent body which could review both incidents and make recommendations? The Civil Grand Jury?
Steve Ringhoff is an independent journalist. See more of his work here
Justice for ELOY! he did not deserve to be murdered by those officers!
Lillian Tegio says
I agree!! Justice for Eloy
My condolences to you and your daughter
WJ Liu says
Justice has already been served to him, one round at a time.
Jamie Francis says
I second that
Damon Woods says
Well, my initial reaction to this article, was- just what we need, another set of BLM protests to deal with……but, then , since this homeless guy was white, that won’t happen, as he isn’t perceived as a minority…….but, maybe there is a story here……and maybe the grand jury should look into this…. seems this guy was in the wrong place at the wrong time….
He is Mexican decent and a was a childhood friend the years and life grew us all apart but never the less he was a human in need of help not punishment. We have all sorts criminals sitting in death row, punishment on hold because it is inhumane but this sort of action on some visually in need of help was rendered judgment and punishment in 8 minutes.
He wasn’t complying, but with eight deputies on scene, it seems like they could have just tackled him to the ground. They were so close to him. Seems like adrenal
was taking over. How many Deputies fired shots? Poor judgement on someone’s part.
WJ Liu says
Poor judgment to attack the officers with an axe indeed.
Ed Bearden says
Reminds me of the killing of Elizabeth Kropp at Catherine Everett Elementary School. Elizabeth had obvious mental problems but had been successfully contained by two school officials, meaning frightened children had been returned safely to classrooms. Within five minutes of the police arriving, Elizabeth had been shot and killed.
T. Ramirez says
Regarding Ms. Kropp… Who actually seen her having a butchers knife? Did she really have one? Does anyone know? Story just did not add up right…. They did not have to kill her.
Something needs to get done he was a good friend he was just going there some hard time leaving in the streets but still a homie RIP
John Moore says
As I read the story and even before that I watched the video I was concerned that we moved to deadly force so quickly in the game. It appears that when direct orders are not complied with early in the situation the patience of some law enforcement officers run thin. I love the fact that we have less lethal weapons available to help control people that are Stubborn or have mental illness. These folks do not need to die they really need some help to cope with their issues. I just do not understand why we can’t shoot them with a dart and knock them out so we can apprentice them without harm? This happens all to often and I am concerned about how patients is taught in the academy. Also how about a team that is called out that has the expertise to handle these particular kind of situations? In watching the video the first two officers were seeming to become annoyed at the progress of the situation. Then you could hear the screaming of sirens in the background and the cavalry arrives. Now the situation becomes even more volatile as more people are screaming lights are flashing and being shined in the Gentlemen’s face and the situation only goes from bad to worse. Please Mr. Dirkse Look into additional training for your officers, look into some kind of tranquilizing dart that you can use to take these type of people into custody without the use of deadly force. At the end of the day there’s still people and it’s traumatizing I’m sure not only for the family but the officers that are involved in the shooting and taking a life. I think moving forward all law-enforcement agencies need to have some kind of swat team that has less than lethal force and they are armed with knowledge to resolve these situations without the taking of human life.
Murdered point blank range. One of the officers Brandon Silva killed in May of 2018. Protocol is not being followed and they need to be held accountable.
T. Ramirez says
Our county officers can kill anyone and get away with it. And afterwards the paper will make the victim look like he was a major criminal. (The papers can lie about anything they want, because they know they will be believed by people who have no idea about reality!) We have corrupt officers, corrupt DA;s and a very corrupt court. But what can we do about it? NOT A DAMN thing! They have control of so many things,,, even things we are not even aware of. We have had so many people murdered by officers yet no one steps up to stand up for the victims. People accepts them as “criminals” wo desrved to be shot, like they want us to. Too, they claim the person they killed had a weapon… always. Funny thing is with the body cams they are usually blocked in a way, that they can go plant a weapon near. They always have to make their murder victim look like they had a weapon… Everybody will believe it. The guy they shot near ensslin… Shows a body cam but blocked to where they could easily plant a gun… WATCH IT….And i think they did. And how about the off duty officer who shot his lovers husband at Beyer Park???? He claimed the husband came up to him with a BB GUN… Did you believe that? Who in their right mind would take a bb gun to meet up with a cop who has a real gun??? NO ONE! No one would be that stupid. I did not believe he was even armed, for a second. But killing him was deemed justified!
My husbands cousin was killed by officers in Keyes… The guy needed mental help, a trip to behavioral health would have been ideal!! He was unarmed (although they claimed he had a weapon) and they shot him. The official DA report that we read was outrageous and the family did not agree with any of it
Yadager, I met a couple times during karaoke…. Sweet lady!!!! But oh…. she was “off her meds.” NO NO NO! not a reason to kill her!!!!! but people have accepted it as that! That lady had to be scared for her life when she seen cops chasing her and shooting at her.
They kill anyone and are justified. The 15 year old they killed as he was running away, justifed. Evin, no one punished for killing her!
They have the fallen officers wall. 3 officers right? What about a citizens killed by police officers wall???? It would be a much bigger wall. Because the DA’s take up for the officers, they can and will continue to kill people for no reason. Those cold blooded killers are protected and they know it!!!
T. Ramirez says
Curious as to why there is no “Justice” subject on your site, (whether seeking, denied, or failed) Or crime subject. Articles that can written in a non biased way, as i believe articles should be written.
I did appreciate the above article and the link to the video. It shows the public that “someone cares” about the wrong going on in this county.
If only we can come together and do something about these injustices….
David Castillo says
I knew Eloy personally and know his family. Though he suffered from mental illness, he was a kind person that would give you the shirt off of his back if it helped you out. In the end, despite his struggles, he is still a human being and has rights. This was a bully tactic by the Sheriffs that went wrong and now no one is held accountable for what is outright murder. He had his hands visible and could have been detained with manpower as opposed to gunfire. This video needs more attention. This case needs more awareness. The family has no closure and there is no justice to seek because he was murdered at the hands of the justice system. If anyone can help the family in bringing more light to this, please do. The officer that opened fire was one of the officers who opened fire in the 2017 Ripon case. There is collusion behind the scenes and someone’s besides the victim and his family need to pay a price.
Steve Ringhoff says
Neither deputy in this case opened fire in the 2017 Ripon case. That Deputy was Justin Wall and he was eventually charged with manslaughter for killing Evin Olsen Yadegar. He was the only one who fired. We would like more information about Mr. Gonzalez. Please provide family contact information.
You are correct about none of these officers being involved in Ripon. But just like you did research of Mr. Gonzalez you should do the same for the 2 deputies that fired the fatal shots. Brandon Silva was involved in an officer involved shooting in May 2018 in Riverbank. Do we see a pattern of violence by this deputy? 2 murders in 2 years. I thought you would atleast publish the officers names (Chad Lewis & Brandon Silva) since that information was provided to you in the press release. I hope we get justice for ELOY but like Ms Ramirez said above the justice system gets away with everything and anything (immunity).
THE ROOT MATTERS says
Thank you for your correction. AND, THANK YOU for inquiring into contact info for the bereaved family.
I knew Eloy and worked with him for a few years, not to mention our kids were in the same class for pre school. He was the nicest person, always smiling and man did he love his little girl! As I heard about what happened to Eloy I was…. SHOCKED it was so hard to believe and I had so many questions? I’m not sure how many noticed but in the video right before that ass hole shot him he was yelling don’t hit my dog and went for his gun, well another officer tried to what looks like stop him from getting his gun! I’m just lost for words:( Rest In Peace my brotha🙏 JUSTICE FOR ELOY
My condolences to you and your daughter Eloy was a good man he was a good friend to me I have good memories of me and barbecuing in the backyard rest in peace
WJ Liu says
I’d like to see how you’d react to a “good man” swinging an axe in the direction of your face.
Janel Vargas says
This was senseless murder. This was my cousin, he had the biggest heart. I really hope we get some kind of justice. This is why we need to defund the police and have trained professionals instead. It literally took them 8 minutes to decide his faith.
THE ROOT MATTERS says
So much WE all could say. Elroy “Eloy” Gonzalez, certainly, did not have to die. NO MATTER how many times WE view the sheriff’s body cams, none of it adds up.
As Eloy stated to the sheriff officers “You KNOW how it is out here…”!
We did not see that Eloy had very much in the way of possessions. It makes sense that Eloy would carry some type of tool to cut down branches to make a makeshift shelter that would also serve as a weapon for self defense.
Just minding his own business in a remote area of an industrial park, very likely hoping NOONE would come along and bother him. GOD only knows what Eloy encountered during the too many to count, nights and days. One just slipping into another with little line of demarcation. For absolutely no good reason, far too many human beings “KNOW” how it is “out” there…
Then come along sheriff’s, rudely pushing their unilateral authority on him, flashlights IN HIS FACE and TAZERS in sheriffs’ hands, DEMANDS he OBEY their DICTATES. Ugly, ugly, scene for any HOMELESS PERSON, especially, SOMEONE possibly mentally ill. Anyone, who thinks HOMELESSNESS does not bring on mental illness, is woefully mistaken.
And, “Yes”, HOMELESS and/or HOUSELESS PEOPLE are human beings, deserving of RESPECT, DIGNITY, and LOVING KINDNESS. How absolutely DEVASTATING for all creation that WE have selective memory as regards how WE are, too, have been DEMANDED/COMMANDED just like Eloy to get on the ground, on our faces. GO commands nothing less from us.
Big difference is that Almighty GOD, as Eloy referenced, “MY FATHER OWNS THIS” land/property, where he stood, then, “I DONT CARE WHAT YOU DO”. Go back and pay careful attention to Eloy’s last few sentences.
WHEREAS, the sanctioned violence in which sheriffs and police officers play the role of GOD: amounts to SINS OF COMMISSION and OMISSION.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition, or empty pride, but in humility, consider others more important than yourself”. Phillipians 2:3. There are many more Biblical scriptures heeding us to place others as more significant than ourselves. Do WE???!!!
Did WE pick up on HOW tired Eloy sounded???!!! NOTHING LEFT to lose. ELOY’s LAST STAND for SELF DIGNITY, even if NOONE else gave a RIP.
Atleast, he KNEW the land he stood, sat, and was VIOLATED on, belonged, in reality, to HIS FATHER. Regardless of whether ANYONE else understood, Eloy was, and is, a CHILD of GOD. Anything WE claim as ours, is only on loan, from its rightful owner, WE all face that TRUTH, now or later.
FOR GOD’S and ALL OF HUMANITY’S SAKE, let us analyze: the first two (2) sheriffs had opportunity to utilize the BIG FAT YELLOW TAZERS in their fists, if they truly FELT they had to get their way: unquestioned obedience.
But, “NO”, that was not enough power for those two (2), they felt more JUSTIFIED in calling six (6) more sheriffs, plus or minus, the canine officer, in the count. Then, they threatening Eloy with being torn apart by “the dog”.
FEAR has well-KNOWN defensive mechanisms that arise: fight, flight or freeze. WHEN the canine officer gnashed its teeth and pulled on its leash, wanting to please its handler, just the way it was trained, by attacking Eloy, WE are left only to imagine WHAT that reality must have felt like to Eloy.
Judged, right or wrong, when that canine officer was let lose to do exactly what Eloy was warned it would do, let all of us ask ourselves to discern, whether or not it was instinctual for Eloy to reach for his only weapon, in self defense???!!! I did not see Eloy raising the hatchet, previously.
Sure some will say that ALL Eloy had to do was cooperate, obey, crawl on his belly like a reptile, and he would still be alive today…
If that is all living amounts to: sleeping behind a bush, laying on cardboard, and succumbing to what ever what may come his way. In this case, having to, out of the literal dead of night, suddenly submit to WHAT?, in order to keep on keeping on. A man wants to be recognized as what he is: a MAN.
Not some shell of a MAN…
We as a people, thats right, WE THE PEOPLE, ought to be ashamed that WE would sit idly by, day after day, as the mere shells of WE THE PEOPLE, that The Constitution and The Bill of Rights, DECLARES: WE are all to be, every last one of us, including Eloy.
HOW is it that ANYONE is forced to die a slow death, better KNOWN as HOMELESSNESS, while the majority of WE THE PEOPLE, allow such a TRAVESTY of INJUSTICE to PREVAIL???!!! Did Eloy commit suicide???!!!
“THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING…A TIME TO LIVE AND A TIME TO DIE”. Ecclesiates 3:1-2
When the Eviction Moratorium ends, WE THE PEOPLE will have no choice but be forced to face what little consciences WE have left… Have WE given any clear thought to the role WE will take part in, then???!!! If the role WE have taken, thus far, is any clear indication, WE deserve what comes OUR way. If WE do not like being on the receiving end of putting up with THE HOMELESS in our streets, WE have NOONE else to blame, than: WE THE PEOPLE who make a practice of telling ourselves that WE THE PEOPLE are powerless to be THE CHANGE WE ARE CALLED TO BE!!!
THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING… Ecclesiates 3:1-2
p.s. I think the sheriff called Eloy: Elroy. Yet, those who had the pleasure of knowing him, spelled his name, Eloy, in the comments, thus, I, too, called him: Eloy. Please forgive me if I am mistaken. Blessed are peacemakers…
WJ Liu says
“Blessed are peacemakers” indeed. Not “blessed are those who resist a lawful arrest violently by using a deadly weapon.”