Mom Seeks Justice for Son Killed by APD

The police kill, advocates rally, white people urged to act

Liz Gonzales prepares to speak to the crowd at Huston-Tillotson during the Austin Justice Coalition's "Rally for Our Rights" on Jan. 28 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

A mother, grieving for her son who was recently killed by Austin police, stood before a crowd gathered at Huston­-Tillotson University to call for an end to police violence. "What keeps me going every day is my commitment to myself and my son," she said to the crowd of thousands assembled before her, "so that no more moms and dads and children go through this torture that I live under while we wait for answers and only hear lies."

That was Brenda Ramos, in June of 2020. Last Saturday, Jan. 28, another mother, also mourning her only son after he was killed by Austin police, stood before a different crowd, again assembled at Huston-Tillotson to grieve and demand an end to police violence. "My son was murdered by APD," Liz Gonzales began. "They don't know how much this tears us apart as a family. I can't focus on anything because I'm determined to get justice for my son."

The Austin Justice Coali­tion organized both rallies at H-T, each prompted by lethal police brutality elsewhere as well as in Austin – George Floyd, killed by police in Minneapolis in 2020, and Tyre Nichols, killed by police in Memphis in early January. At this year's rally, AJC Executive Director Chas Moore reflected on the need to hold two of these somber gatherings within three years. "We had 15,000 people on this field" in 2020, at the beginning of the "George Floyd Summer" – a reckoning over race and policing in America that swelled and crested amid the chaos created by the COVID-19 pandemic. "We had at least 12,000 white people saying, 'I'm ready to step up and do what needs to be done.' Yet here we are again."

“My son was murdered by APD. I can’t focus on anything because I’m determined to get justice for my son.” – Liz Gonzales

So, "What does that sign in your front yard [about] 'Black lives and science' actually mean," Moore continued, "if you're not disrupting the powers that be to ensure that the lives that you have plastered on your yard signs and on your posters are actually saved?" Once again, Moore was addressing a mostly white crowd.

After the rally, Moore told the Chronicle, "Black people suffer enough. It shouldn't be on us to fix this system, so I'm glad white people are out here listening. They just need to act."

Liz Gonzales also hopes the crowd that gathered Saturday will help pursue justice for her son Alex. But unlike Brenda Ramos, whose son's killer, Austin police Officer Chris­topher Taylor, has been charged with murder, the path to justice for Gonzales has narrowed considerably. She has sued the city, like too many grieving families before her, but the cops who killed her son, Officers Gabriel Gutierrez and Luis Serrato, will neither face criminal charges nor be fired, or even disciplined, by police Chief Joe Chacon.

Gonzales' killing a year ago began as a road rage incident with either Gonzales or Gutierrez – accounts differ – swerving his car in front of the other driver. Gutierrez told investigators that as the cars came side by side, Gonzales pointed a gun at him and he fired his own in response. The officer emptied his clip, firing eight shots and hitting Gonzales in the side of the head and his girlfriend Jessica Arellano in the back, neck, and lungs – all while their 3-month-old son sat in the backseat.

The two drivers then parked. Gutierrez called 911, describing Arellano as lying on the ground outside the passenger door and Gonzales as standing next to the driver's door with blood on his face. Officers Serrato and Brian Nenno arrived, pointed their guns, and shouted orders. Dash-camera video shows Gonzales walking around the back of his car, unarmed, to check on his baby. Serrato yells, "Don't reach!" repeatedly. Gonzales pushes his head into the back passenger-side door and Serrato fires 10 times into his side and back, killing him and sending bullets flying within 3 feet of his baby.

The Austin Police Department's statement excuses Gutierrez's conduct as self-defense, a claim for which there is little publicly available corroboration. It says that Serrato followed department policy, though the video shows that he did not try to de-­­escalate the situation. Both the Office of Police Oversight and the Community Police Review Commission recommended that both officers be fired.

Chacon's rationale, of course, offers no solace for Liz Gonzales, who is still learning to navigate the world without her son. She remembers Alex as someone who loved to be outside, hiking, fishing, and hunting. He was generous and playful; someone who "would give you the shirt off his back and the food off his plate." Liz, Alex, his father, and his sister would frequent the scenic trails of Mt. Bonnell. There, Liz recalls, she and Alex would wander the mountainside together for hours, connecting through conversations about life and family.

"I'm not able to do that anymore," Liz told us. "That's what they took from me. My baby. They took my baby and our future together."

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Liz Gonzales, Alex Gonzales, Gabriel Gutierrez, Luis Serrato, Austin Justice Coalition, Chas Moore, Joe Chacon, Jessica Arellano

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