Former detective gets prison for beating suspect

USA Today Network
Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
4:21 p.m. EDT October 14, 2016

The video, as shown to a jury, of former detective Rodolfo Gomez’s confrontation with Deron Love, while the suspect is handcuffed to a wall.

MILWAUKEE — A former city police detective was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for beating a handcuffed homicide suspect during an interrogation in 2013.

The encounter between then-Detective Rodolfo Gomez, 50, and Deron Love was recorded, but the video, so incriminating at first view, led to Gomez’s acquittal in a 2015 trial in state court after an expert who analyzed it frame by frame concluded Gomez was acting in self-defense.

Then a federal grand jury indicted Gomez earlier this year on a charge of “willfully depriving an arrested subject of his civil right not to be subjected to excessive force.”

In exchange for Gomez’s guilty plea in June, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend no more than a year and a day in prison, below the guideline of 18 to 24 months.

U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper said Thursday that even accounting for Gomez’s years of positive contributions — in the military, the U.S. Postal Service and the police department — a probation-only sentence would send the wrong message and erode trust between the community and the system its members depend on to protect them.

“This job, fair or not, requires a higher standard of accountability,” Pepper said.

Pepper recounted details in the video that she said showed Gomez’s use of force against Love was not reasonable.

“He was attached to the wall,” she said of Love. Gomez, if he truly felt threatened, could have just left the room.

She allowed Gomez, who now lives in Texas, to voluntarily surrender to the Bureau of Prisons once it decides his placement. She added one year of supervision after release and a requirement that Gomez talk with her within 90 days of leaving prison.

Love, 29, eventually was charged with reckless homicide of his son, the death Gomez was trying to question him about, but was acquitted at trial. His lawyer in a civil action attended Thursday’s hearing to make a victim-impact statement on his behalf because Love is serving 26 years for a 2016 conviction for kidnapping and human trafficking.

Walter Stern told Pepper that Love said he still suffers post-traumatic stress from the beating and asked that Gomez get three to four years in prison. Love’s brother and uncle asked for the same sentence.

Michael Steinle, Gomez’s lawyer, tried to persuade Pepper that the conviction was punishment enough. He cited Gomez’s lost career, marriage and health since the incident.

Steinle took strong exception to the prosecutor’s claim that Gomez lied under oath at the state trial.

Gomez agreed to plead to the federal charge because it would be easier for the government to prove at trial, Steinle said.

“And he’s tired, judge,” Steinle said. “He just can’t do it again.”

Gomez was fired in December 2013 after the department video showed him beating Love while Love had one hand cuffed to the wall inside an interrogation room at police headquarters in August of that year.

Gomez appealed, but his hearing before the Fire and Police Commission was delayed while he was investigated for possible criminal charges. Not until July 2015 did the commission uphold the termination.

A judge ruled last month that the delay denied Gomez a valid appeal hearing, but by then he had been convicted of the federal felony, meaning he could not be reinstated even if he prevailed at a new commission hearing.

Gomez’s tactics had gotten him into hot water before:

• In 2010, during an investigation of an attempted carjacking of a custom orange Oldsmobile, Gomez planted evidence in a homicide case, The Innocence Project suggested.

• In 2013, a federal jury found Gomez had falsified a search warrant that led to police shooting a man in his New Berlin, Wis., home in 2006 and awarded a $1 million in damages.

• In 2012, questions arose about Gomez’s conversation with a woman later convicted of killing a pregnant woman and her unborn fetus in an attempt to pass the child off as her own. During prosecution of that same case, Gomez was arrested on charges of domestic violence, but prosecutors declined to file formal charges, prompting a demand for an explanation from the judge overseeing the fetal abduction case.

Follow Bruce Vielmetti on Twitter: @ProofHearsay

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