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Gilroy
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August 18, 2022

City hires firm to investigate deadly party at Armendariz home

Inquiry will look into potential city code, admin violations

The City of Gilroy has hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation into whether City Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz violated any city codes or administrative rules in relation to the deadly Oct. 30 shooting on her property.

Gilroy City Administrator Jimmy Forbis informed Mayor Marie Blankley and the city council in a Nov. 5 letter that the city will hire San Francisco-based law firm Hanson Bridgett LLP to conduct the administrative investigation.

“To avoid any perceived or actual conflicts of interests, the City will not conduct the administrative investigation into such possible violations of City Code or regulations internally,” Forbis wrote in the letter to the council.

On the evening of Oct. 29 and into the next morning, a large outdoor party was taking place at Armendariz’ home on the 400 block of Las Animas Avenue. Just before 1am Oct. 30, police responded to reports of a shooting at the party.

Police arrived and determined four people had been shot during an altercation. Pronounced dead at the scene was 18-year-old Michael Daniel Zuniga-Macias. Three other victims—between 17 and 19 years old—were injured by the gunfire.

Specifically, the administrative investigation by Hanson Bridgett, according to Forbis, will focus on possible violations of the city’s social host accountability ordinance; possible violations of the city’s special event permit requirements; possible unauthorized use of city assets; and possible unauthorized closure of a city roadway.

“I continue to ask our community to exercise kindness towards each other and especially to the families of the victims, and to respect the ongoing nature of the investigations that will shed light as they unfold,” Blankley said. 

Armendariz’ mother, Augustina “Sally” Armendariz, owns the property in question on Las Animas Avenue. Rebeca Armendariz lists the address as her permanent residence.

The ongoing homicide and criminal investigation into the Oct. 30 violence is still being led by the Gilroy Police Department and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

Armendariz has not responded to numerous phone calls from the Dispatch. She told ABC7 News after the shooting that she was home at the time of the shooting, but she was not participating in the Halloween party on the property.

A Nov. 1 post to the Gilroy Dispatch’s Facebook page showed an invitation to a party hosted by “Ben” at the address for the Armendariz home.

Some Gilroy residents think Armendariz should resign from the council even before any investigation is complete. Melissa Valdez, a 40-year resident of Gilroy, started a petition on change.org demanding that Armendariz step down from the council. A total of 497 people have “signed” the web petition as of Nov. 8.

The petition alleges that Armendariz allowed underage drinking and marijuana use at the Oct. 30 party, and suggests she is at least partially responsible for the violence that occurred that evening.

Valdez said although the petition is not binding, she hopes it sends a strong message to city officials about public opinion on the subject. If Armendariz does not resign, Valdez said she may lead an official effort to remove her from office through a recall election.

“I have a hard time believing this council person did not know there were (allegedly) 70 guests on her property,” Valdez said. “It’s hard to believe that she had no knowledge that there were underage drinkers.”

She accused Armendariz of exhibiting “very poor judgment.”

Valdez noted she does not intend to run for city council or any other office. She added she does not know Armendariz on a personal level.

A citizen-led recall election requires a lengthy process that requires public noticing and verifiable petitioning of voters. In a municipal election, a recall proponent would ultimately need to gather signatures from 20% of the city’s registered voters in order to set a recall election. There are more than 24,000 registered voters in Gilroy, so a petition for a recall election for a city council member would require at least 4,800 signatures. 

Armendariz was elected to her first term on the Gilroy City Council in 2020.

Gilroy Police Sgt. John Ballard said on Nov. 8 that of the three injured victims, one still remains in the hospital. The other two were treated at the hospital following the Oct. 30 shooting, but have since been released.

No suspects are currently in custody in relation to the shooting. On the afternoon of Oct. 30, Gilroy Police and the Regional SWAT team arrested a 19-year-old local man on suspicion of homicide. However, the DA’s office declined to file charges without further investigation.

Armendariz told ABC7 that the man arrested Oct. 30, Benjamin Calderon, is her cousin.

Police have said they think two suspects fired weapons during the Oct. 30 violence. Two firearms were recovered at the scene, but it is unknown if these weapons were used in the Oct. 30 incident.

The City of Gilroy’s “social host accountability” ordinance holds adult hosts or landowners responsible if they “knowingly allow such loud or unruly gatherings to occur on their premises, at their residence or at rented facilities where alcoholic beverages are served to, consumed by, or in the possession of underage persons.”

“It shall be unlawful for a person to knowingly conduct or allow a loud or unruly gathering where alcohol is served to, consumed by or in the possession of an underage person,” the ordinance reads.

The city also requires a “special event permit” any time a resident, property owner or organizer plans to host a large-scale meeting, concert, live music, assembly, fundraiser or parade that involves the closure of public streets or the use of amplified sound, according to the city’s website. Special event permit requirements apply to public and private events. 

Michael Moore
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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