Homicide charges dropped

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Last week’s fatal shooting in Las Animas Veterans Park – initially reported by police as an attack on a 68-year-old Gilroy man depicted by friends and family as “helpful” and “loving” – is now being examined in an entirely new light, according to court files detailing the event as an act of self defense in the face of violence and racism.
In a complete turn of events Tuesday, authorities decided not to charge alleged shooter Jerome Moore with homicide, according to a formal complaint filed with the Santa Clara County Superior Court. Though Moore was arrested on a murder charge Feb. 12 and booked into jail the next day, the 33-year-old Gilroy man “was acting in reasonable self defense,” according to the latest court records, which also contain statements from multiple witnesses that corroborate Moore’s claims. Moore told police he was targeted and ganged up on by a group of up to 30 men because of the color of his skin, court documents show.
Moore, who made his first court appearance Tuesday, is a convicted felon following an unrelated conviction of possession of a controlled substance in San Diego County. He’s still facing three felony charges of possession of a firearm as a felon, carrying a loaded firearm and possession of a controlled substance for sale, after police officers found approximately 13.6 grams of methamphetamine and a scale in his pockets after the shooting, according to court records.
Moore is currently being held in the Santa Clara County Jail on $100,000 bond. Originally scheduled to submit a plea Feb. 21, Moore’s hearing has been moved to 8:30 a.m. March 27 in Department 110 of the South County Courthouse in Morgan Hill.
The shooting victim, a former homeless man named Martin Gonzales of Gilroy, was pronounced dead Feb. 11 from a gunshot wound to the abdomen minutes after the incident occurred at approximately 6:10 p.m. on the sidewalk in front of Las Animas Veterans Park on the 300 block of Mantelli Drive, according to GPD Sgt. Pedro Espinoza. Police discovered an open pocketknife covered in blood beneath Gonzales’ body, court records show.
During the GPD’s investigation, detectives confirmed that Moore – who was stabbed twice by an assailant whom police have not yet identified – was defending himself from the attacks of between five and six men, including Gonzales, based on multiple witness statements.
According to police, both men have residences in Gilroy.
Shortly after the altercation, Moore was transported via air ambulance to San Jose Regional Hospital, where emergency room staff treated two stab wounds and later cleared him for release.
Moore volunteered a statement to detectives the day after the shooting and said he frequently visits Las Animas Park, where he often saw Gonzales. According to Moore’s statement, Gonzales always used to yell at him to leave the park, saying, “he does not belong.”
That’s exactly what happened the evening of Feb. 11 at Las Animas, according to Moore. He said he saw Gonzales – plus an estimated 20 to 30 other males – coming towards him and ordering him to leave the park.
“Moore believes this is because he is black,” according to the statement of facts prepared by GPD Detective Michael Bolton.
Moore told detectives he began to back up, but he didn’t make it out in time. He recalled being attacked by the group and “felt himself stabbed in the upper right back” – but he doesn’t know by who. Moore said he broke free and ran to the sidewalk in front of the park facing Mantelli Drive, but the group caught up with him and the assault continued.
Police found Moore bleeding and lying on his back between 6 and 8 feet from Gonzales’ body. Officers also discovered several spent shell casings on the ground near Moore, including one between his legs, Bolton said.
Police have only revealed the gun used in the shooting was a semi-automatic handgun, and have declined to describe it further. One witness told detectives she watched an unidentified male who was assaulting Moore “take something from (him) that appeared to be black in color and was being held with one hand.” The witness said the group then walked away and disappeared from sight.
Espinoza confirmed Wednesday the handgun used during the violent encounter has not been recovered.
Details on why Moore allegedly shot Gonzales were not included in court documents obtained by the Dispatch.
Multiple witnesses who claimed they saw the confrontation corroborated some of Moore’s description of events. Witnesses gave statements about what began as a physical fight, but escalated when multiple gunshots rang out and unidentified males began kicking Moore while he was on the ground.
One witness told police she saw Gonzales and five or six males run from the dog park near the center of Las Animas Park toward Mantelli Drive, according to court records. She said she saw Gonzales and Moore fighting face to face and a group of males trying to “intervene.”
The witness also told authorities she saw Moore stumble during the struggle before falling on his back. And that’s when she saw Moore point a black handgun at Gonzales and fire an unspecified number of shots.
Another witness said he heard between five and six gunshots and immediately looked in the direction of where he thought they came from. He told police he saw at least three men kicking a black male. He also noticed a second man lying on the ground nearby.
When the GPD arrived, Moore was going in and out of consciousness but told police he “may have been shot but was not sure.” He was initially treated as a gunshot victim and originally identified as a second victim in the shooting, but doctors at San Jose Regional Hospital confirmed he had, in fact, been stabbed.
During a search of Moore, the GPD found a glass pipe in his pants pocket “commonly used to smoke methamphetamine,” police say. Officers also found a black pouch beneath him that allegedly contained the drug and an unspecified amount of cash, along with a scale police say is commonly used to weigh illegal narcotics.
Friends and family of Gonzales erected a memorial Feb. 12 were he was pronounced dead, leaving flowers and balloons on the sidewalk and pausing to reflect on his life and death one called “senseless.”
Gonzales’ sister-in-law, Rosie Gonzales, said the man’s 11 brothers and sisters, his mother and his aunts and uncles – all from Gilroy originally but now spread across California and Arizona – miss his “helping, loving” spirit.
According to his friends and family gathered at the memorial, Martin Gonzales had an apartment in Gilroy but spent most of his time at Las Animas Park alongside his dog, talking teenagers, homeless individuals and families through their problems.
“I know that when (Martin) was faced with his last moments, I truly believe that he called upon the Lord and that he went to be with God,” Rosie said.
According to court records, Moore has been convicted of “several” prior narcotics-related crimes and was arrested April 1 for second-degree burglary, passing fictitious checks, driving with suspended privileges and grand theft of personal property.
Gonzales had previously been arrested on July 7, 2012 at Las Animas Park for possession of drugs after GPD officers found marijuana and six pills thought to be illegal depressants on his person.