The following contains editorial content which is the opinion of the author, a retired Police Chief and current staff writer for Law Enforcement Today.
BALTIMORE, MD- Last month, Kyle Rittenhouse was (correctly) found not guilty in the shooting deaths of two men and the wounding of another for a self-defense shooting that occurred in Kenosha, Wisconsin the year before.
There is another self-defense case that has flown under the radar but is just as clear as the Rittenhouse case.
On September 5, Alejandro Gonzalez, a decorated veteran of the global war on terror in the Iraqi theater fatally shot and killed a gang member in Baltimore, Maryland after he was threatened, according to his attorney Mike Stark as reported in the Daily Caller.
Ironically, Stark is a Democrat who has been an advocate for gun control.
“I’m still pro-gun control. I know generally speaking if you’re a good guy with a gun you’re firing second because good guys don’t fire first,” Stark told host Vince Coglianese on his radio program, The Vince Coglianese Show.
“The whole ‘good guy with a gun’ argument never made sense except in the rarest of circumstances but that’s exactly what we have right there.”
In an editorial written for The Daily Kos, Stark referred to Gonzalez as “a goddam straight-up war hero.” Stark then went on to detail the sequence of events which led to Gonzalez’s arrest.
On the date of the incident, Gonzalez traveled to Baltimore along with his two sons and his girlfriend from Atlanta, Georgia, Stark explained. The plan was to stop in Baltimore, pick up Gonzalez’s mother and continue to New York City to visit his grandmother.
On arrival at his mother’s home, there were a number of feral cats on the front patio, with his mother explaining that an upstairs neighbor had been stacking trash on the balcony instead of brining it to a dumpster.
That led to liquids seeping from the trash and dripping to the patio below, which of course led to vermin being attracted to the area. His mother began feeding the cats to act as a deterrent to keep the animals away, Stark related.
Gonzalez’s mother related to her son Alejandro that she had attempted to speak with the neighbor about the situation, but said he became disrespectful and that contact between the two had turned into a “hostile relationship.”
Gonzalez, according to Stark attempted to speak with the neighbor, however that devolved into an argument whereby the neighbor started to threaten him, then told him to “Stay there, we’re going to take care of this,” the attorney said.
Stark said that Gonzalez immediately thought the neighbor was part of a gang and was “calling for backup.”
“He’s nobody’s fool, I think he knew,” Stark said of Gonzalez.
Fearing the worst, Stark said Gonzalez retrieved his mother’s legally registered 9mm handgun as a precaution and then had his family get back into the vehicle, realizing things were devolving and as an attempt to remove himself and his family from the situation.
“He did the right thing, as far as I’m concerned. ‘Alright, we’re out of here,’” Stark said.
Gonzalez began assisting his mother in getting into the vehicle, when the neighbor and suspected gang member came downstairs carrying a wooden chair. He proceeded to slam it against the sidewalk, breaking it and began walking toward Gonzalez with one of the broken legs. As the gang banger approached Gonzalez, he fired three shots at the man, Stark said.
“This is classic self-defense. If you saw pictures of the yard, there is no way for Alejandro to retreat. He’s got his back against the car and the whole yard is maybe 18 or 20 feet so three steps and this guy is on top of you with the club,” Stark said.
“He was approaching Alejandro, he had his club raised…and Alejandro had nowhere to go,” Stark continued.
He noted that due to fear of other gang members showing up, Gonzalez fled the scene with his family.
“I think first and foremost in their mind there were going to be other gang members coming. Second of all, you put yourselves in the shoes of a soldier who was blown up…he’s got traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
I think he bugged out; I think he wanted to get his kids to safety. He told me that he didn’t want his kids to see him being arrested. I think in a high stress situation like that…I think he made the decision that felt natural which was to get away from danger.”
Stark said after Gonzalez left, officials arrived on scene, rendered first aid to the gang member, and transported him to a local hospital, where he expired.
The next day, Gonzalez went to a VA hospital, called the Maryland State Police, and turned himself in. Gonzalez was charged with one count of first degree murder, one firearm use charge, and a handgun on person charge, according to court records.
In the charging statements, authorities found bullet fragments and “a broken chair in the grass, a broken chair leg in the grass.”
Maryland does not have a “stand your ground” law, but rather has a “duty to retreat,” which means any self-defense claim must have with it proof that the party using such a claim had attempted to retreat and it was impossible to do so. According to Stark, Gonzalez was unable to retreat.
By way of background, Gonzalez was serving in Mosul, Iraq in 2004 as part of the “war on terror.” Sitting in a mess hall on Dec. 21 of that year, Gonzalez was on his way walking out of the building when he was passed by two men, one of whom would set off a suicide bomb. A man in front of him literally had his head taken off by the blast.
That explosion, described as the deadliest suicide bombing of the Iraq war, killing 23 people. Among the dead were fourteen U.S. troops, four civilian contractors and four Iraqi soldiers; dozens more were injured.
Just months later, in February 2005, his vehicle was struck by an IED, exploding behind the driver’s seat. Stationed in an air guard hatch, Gonzalez was struck by a rock which was dislodged by the explosion, ending up on the floor of the vehicle.
Six more times during that deployment, his vehicles were hit, twice being incapacitated. However the damage was done. He started suffering from headaches, memory lapses and wasn’t sleeping well.
In total, Gonzalez spent twelve years deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Due to PTSD and the traumatic brain injury suffered in the numerous terrorist attacks he endured during deployment; Gonzalez was forced to retire.
As with the Rittenhouse case, this is clearly a case of self-defense. An American war hero, put in an untenable situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, who was put in a position where he simply had no other choice than to defend himself from the possible use of deadly physical force was completely justified himself in using deadly physical force.
Hopefully as happened in Kenosha, a Baltimore jury reaches the same conclusion in the case of Alejandro Gonzalez, an American hero.
For more on the scourge of PTSD and how it affects our veterans, we invite you to read one of our prior reports on the subject.
Many of our readers understand there is a possibility of developing Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) as a law enforcement officer (LEO). The things officers regularly experience or observe- devastating car accident scenes, murders, child abuse- become normalized day to day but the brain processes it differently.
In many cases, PTS settles in and manifests itself in variety of ways, many unhealthy, some even dangerous- excessive drinking, drug abuse, anger issues, depression, and the list goes on.
All of that can wreak havoc on the officer and his or her family, especially the spouse who must live and deal with it every day. If not addressed and treated, that PTS can evolve into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
If you are an LEO and you think the job will not change you, you are wrong. And no one sees that more clearly than the person living side by side with you, observing this gradual change.
Few people in the world knows what it is like to live with someone suffering from PTSD better then Jen Satterly, author of Arsenal of Hope.
Jen’s husband, Tom Satterly, is a retired Command Sergeant Major with the U.S Army in one of the world’s most elite fighting units- Delta Force. After being involved in well over a thousand capture or kill missions, it is no surprise he left the battlefield with some internal struggle that led to PTSD.
If you are the spouse of an LEO, male or female, there is a particularly good chance you can relate to Jen’s experience. Living with someone who works with the decay of society will certainly have an impact on him or her as a person.
In an exclusive interview, Law Enforcement Today sat down with Jen to try to get a better understanding of what it was like to live with someone of that caliber who struggled day in and day out for years before finally finding relief.
Instead of giving up and leaving her husband like many spouses would have done, Jen decided to stay by his side and help him overcome his struggle, which included challenging him on occasion.
Jen told LET:
“This is a very dangerous game to play with someone who can kill me in a single move, someone who in a fit of rage is capable of great acts of violence; others in his unit have killed their wives under similar situations.”
Their relationship hit its climax on the night of their wedding. Like many weddings, alcohol was involved. What should have been a memorable occasion turned into an alcohol-fueled dispute towards the end of the night. It was not until the following morning that Tom fully understood the scope of the confrontation.
“When I showed him my bruised arms…his face, I’ll never forget. Shock, disgust, and embarrassment contorted his features. He jumped out of bed and fell to his knees in front of me. ‘Please God, please tell me it wasn’t me that did that to you.’”
As they went about their first day as a married couple, Jen did some soul searching.
Jen told LET about a critical moment that afternoon:
“In that moment, I had to decide. Would I keep loving this man? Looking at the face of the wounded warrior before me, I knew I could not live without him.”
Before they married, Jen had been working alongside Tom and other special operations soldiers for several years. She was responsible for filming military training exercises for the leadership.
While she was deeply embedded with them, she eventually noticed that Tom and other warriors exhibited many of the same attributes- anger, depression, anxiety, loss of empathy and compassion, isolation, and at times violence.
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She figured out the common denominator was that every one of them spent months, sometimes, years in active combat zones.
Instead of choosing to walk away the morning after their wedding to seek an annulment, which she considered, she decided to stay with him and commit her life to understanding PTSD.
Jen left her successful award-winning film production company and zeroed in on the effects of PTSD.
She told LET:
“I started to understand why Tom would unconsciously switch lanes under overpasses to avoid snipers or move away from roadkill because one too many times the terrorists had used roadkill to hide bombs. He didn’t think, he reacted.”
It is the same reason why some law enforcement officers are uncomfortable in large crowds where space is limited, or why they must sit with their backs to the wall at restaurants or taking second looks at sketchy characters. They are assessing threats- they are constantly in survival mode that cannot be easily turned off once their shift is done.
“PTSD affects each person differently, to varying degrees. A biological need for personal safety always, always has to come first, and any sense of safety security can short-circuit the PTSD trip wire. When they are home, often they want to reconnect with their families, but their mind won’t let them switch over from warrior mode to cuddly husband mode, not easily.”
As her journey to understand PTSD evolved, she began to focus on how to help Tom control and manage it.
Jen told LET:
“Those with PTSD must come up with a plan for how to handle the anger but do so during a period of calm. Fits of rage don’t usually go hand- in- hand with logic. Include your spouse or partner: ask them what triggers they’ve noticed and be clear in what you need from them in order for you to avoid them.”
During her transition to understanding PTSD, Jen began to focus both on the person suffering from it and their loved ones.
But there’s help for everyone.
Jen said to LET:
“Most people aren’t meant to fight this battle alone, and you shouldn’t have to.”
If any of this story sounds familiar to you, whether you are the LEO or the spouse, you are experiencing something that can happen to anyone. There are numerous programs available to help the LEO and his or her family.
Tom and Jen created their own non-profit to help warriors struggling from PTSD, the All Secure Foundation. Although their programs are designed to help special operations warriors, they never turn anyone away. In fact, they created a subsection non-profit program for the spouses called Virago- Latin for a woman of strength and spirit; a female warrior.
“This is why the All Secure Foundation created Virago, to support women who are in a relationship with either a military serviceman, veteran, or a first responder who is suffering from service-connected PTSD; everyone is welcome.”
Tom and Jen now travel the country bringing awareness to PTSD buy telling their story of how they overcame it as a married couple.
Their goal is to expand their programs to help everyone suffering from this curable ailment known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Like many ailments, it CAN be cured, it just needs the right treatment.
And that’s what people like Tom and Jen Satterly are here for.
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