A Lindsay man is suing the city, alleging wrongful death and use of excessive force after his grown son stopped breathing in the back of a police car while reportedly hog-tied and unable to breathe.
The city said he tried to attack officers and died from an overdose of methamphetamine.
Joshua Gonzales, 24, died April 10, 2015. He was single, never married and had no children.
The family has been grieving ever since and blaming the Police Department.
“We miss him very much,” said Joshua’s father, Ray Gonzales, an employee at a large retail store. “I’m very irritated because he’s gone and because of the circumstances involved.”
One year after he died, Joshua’s sister Kathy Gonzales, 28, held a candlelight vigil to remember him and draw attention to the case.
In January, Ray Gonzales and his ex-wife, Sheila DeoCampo of Patterson, sued Lindsay, population 12,670, in U.S. District Court in Fresno, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
A magistrate on Thursday heard a request for a trial date next year and is expected to set the date soon.
Ray Gonzales gave this account of what happened:
He was at his job in Visalia and his son was at the family home with his grandfather – who has dementia and who his son was helping keep an eye on – when tools belonging to his grandfather were taken from a tool shed.
Joshua Gonzales suspected that a neighbor had taken the tools and confronted the neighbor. Blows were exchanged, then he went back inside.
Another neighbor witnessed the incident about 7:30 p.m. and called police.
Police arrived at the Gonzales home, which is surrounded by a 4-foot-high chain link fence and a locked gate.
(Police) hog-tied him by handcuffing his arms and legs behind him, and then placed him face down (in a police car).
Wrongful death lawsuit against city of Lindsay
Police told the grandfather, who was outside, to get someone from inside the home to come out, and Joshua Gonzales came out and up to the fence. Police asked him to unlock the gate, but he refused, his father said.
At that point, officers reached over the fence, grabbed his son and pulled him over the fence, causing him to fall head first onto the ground, eyewitnesses told Ray Gonzales.
A CT scan after his death showed he had suffered a cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain, according to the lawsuit.
Officers “hog-tied him by handcuffing his arms and legs behind him, and then placed him face down” in the back of a police car, the lawsuit states. But it’s against Police Department policy to transport a suspect that way, according to the lawsuit.
While taking him to the Tulare County jail, an officer witnessed an unrelated drunken driving incident and made a stop. The officer left the police car to deal with the drunken driver, and when the officer returned, Joshua Gonzales was not breathing.
The officer removed the handcuffs and administered CPR, but Gonzales did not regain consciousness and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
He died of “positional asphyxia,” meaning he couldn’t breathe because of the way his hog-tied body was positioned in the police car, the lawsuit states.
(He) suddenly came rushing from the residence while screaming incoherently.
City of Lindsay response in a court document
Acting police Chief Chris Hughes said the city can’t comment on pending litigation.
But a court document that includes the city’s side of the story said the lawsuit leaves out important details.
Gonzales “reportedly attacked his neighbor for no apparent reason,” the response states.
Officers went to the fence line to get his side of the story when Gonzales “suddenly came rushing from the residence while screaming incoherently,” it states.
Gonzales reached out to try to grab the officers standing on the other side of the fence, and “officers grabbed his arms as (he) attempted to jump the fence and attack officers,” the response states.
The response makes no mention of Gonzales being hog-tied.
On the way to the jail, he appeared calm and was breathing normally. But when the officer returned “after a very brief time” from the DUI stop to call the California Highway Patrol, Gonzales suddenly stopped breathing, the response states.
“A subsequent autopsy revealed that he had died from an acute overdose of methamphetamine,” the response states.
Ray Gonzales disputes the coroner’s findings.
“He had something in his system, but not a lethal amount,” he said.
He said his son grew up in the Bay Area, but moved to Lindsay to help care for his grandmother, who died, and his grandfather.
He studied psychology for a year at a community college and greatly enjoyed the subject, his father said.
He said he wishes he had made his son go back to school after his grandmother died, even though it would have been difficult financially.
“You think you have all the time in the world,” he said. “I really regret it.”