Judge dismisses charges against man shot by CHP in Atherton following high-speed chase | September 19, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



News - September 19, 2012

Judge dismisses charges against man shot by CHP in Atherton following high-speed chase

by Renee Batti

A judge has dismissed charges against a man accused of driving a car at California Highway Patrol officers and sheriff's deputies in Atherton in 2006, but his defense attorney says "he is serving a sentence worse than any court could have given him."

The man, Nelson Gonzalez Jr., 44, of Redwood City, was shot by a CHP officer during the incident and is now paralyzed. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon for driving his car at the officers following a high-speed chase in Menlo Park and Atherton.

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Karesh dismissed the charges Sept. 12, during the fourth day of a trial. The judge determined that Mr. Gonzalez could not assist in his defense because of his dire mental and physical condition, and because medications he must take for pain "cause a severe mental degradation," according to a district attorney's report.

The DA's office objected to the dismissal, but Karen Guidotti, chief deputy DA, later said: "We are not upset by Judge Karesh's decision. We believe his ruling is reasonable given the testimony that was heard."

Among those who testified were his doctor, his brother (who is his caregiver), and his defense attorney Rachel Holt, who explained the difficulty she had communicating with her client because of his mental and physical condition, the DA's report said.

The shooting occurred Aug. 19, 2006, after Mr. Gonzalez led CHP and Sheriff's Office deputies on a chase that began in Redwood City, traversed a section of the Bayshore Freeway and Menlo Park roadways, and ended when he crashed his car into a fence and berm in Atherton.

Police say that after the crash, Mr. Gonzalez drove his car at them, which led one officer to fire his gun at him.

Mr. Gonzalez's trial was hindered by the extremity of his disabilities, which largely confine him to a bed in his mother's home. His court appearances were limited to a few hours.

Ms. Guidotti told the Almanac that although the DA's office had the authority to dismiss the case, the prosecution objected to dismissal because Mr. Gonzalez, who has a lengthy criminal record, "engaged in extremely dangerous conduct toward officers." The officers, she added, wanted the case to go forward.

But she said her office wasn't seeking a prison sentence under the circumstances. Instead, it was pursuing a conviction and "seeking for him to admit responsibility," she said.

Ms. Holt said that her client "wanted to exercise his right to a trial," and hadn't intended to harm the officers. She said she was surprised that the DA's office didn't choose to dismiss the case after seeing "how bad off" Mr. Gonzalez is. His doctor had testified that he shouldn't be in the wheelchair he needed to attend the trial for more than a short time because his body needed to be rotated every two hours to avoid pressure sores that could lead to serious infections, she said.

The trial had consolidated the charges from the Aug. 19, 2006, incident with charges stemming from a South San Francisco incident five days earlier, in which Mr. Gonzalez allegedly tried to leave a motel without fully paying his bill, Ms. Holt said. In that incident, Mr. Gonzalez fought with officers, and was hospitalized under psychiatric watch, she said.

In both incidents, Mr. Gonzalez was found to be under the influence of drugs, she said.