Two conflicting use of force experts testified in the trial of a former Milwaukee detective who stands accused of assault for a violent confrontation with a suspect during an interrogation. The trial of Rodolfo Gomez, Jr. will turn on whether jurors determine the former officer was justified in punching and physically subduing a suspect who became angry during a tense questioning session, and both sides called experts to directly argue the crucial point.
Milwaukee Detective Charged with Prisoner Abuse
In August, 2013, Gomez was interrogating Milwaukee resident Deron Love who was accused of fatally abusing his infant son. During the questioning, Love had one of his arms handcuffed to the table, but the two men nonetheless engaged in an increasingly heated exchange throughout the session. Video evidence presented during trial showed Love standing up to shout at Gomez, and the detective responding by punching the suspect in the face, forcing Love into a corner, and punching and kneeing him a few more times before leaving the room.
According to Gomez, he forgot that Love was handcuffed to the table and was responding to a legitimate threat of potential violence from a suspect who was bigger and stronger than him. Gomez stated that Love refused to comply with an order to sit back down, creating the necessity for him to physically neutralize the suspect before the interrogation got further out of hand. Gomez testified that he did not intend to use force against Love, but was forced into the situation by Love’s outburst.
Love, who was not seriously injured by Gomez, was acquitted of all charges in the death of his infant after a trial in September of last year. As a result of the incident, Gomez was immediately suspended and later fired from the Milwaukee police force before being formally tried with two felony charges – misconduct in office and abuse of a prisoner.
Police Use of Force Experts Testify During Former Officer Trial
Prosecutors and defense attorneys called expert witnesses to testify about whether or not former Milwaukee detective Rodolfo Gomez, Jr. used appropriate force during his interrogation of a suspect in August of 2013. Prosecutors called Lt. James MacGillis, who trains the Milwaukee police department in appropriate use of force, who testified that jurors should examine Gomez’s actions on the whole rather than at an individual level. According to MacGillis, some of the punches and kicks against Love may be justified when analyzed alone, but the overall interaction was evident of excessive and unlawful use of force.
Defense expert witness Robert Willis took the opposite approach, and broke down the interaction frame by frame to explain that at each point Detective Gomez was justified in responding to an unruly and potentially threatening suspect. According to Willis, a handful of the supposed punches that Gomez threw were actually attempts at openhanded grabs that missed their mark – indicating that the former officer was trying to subdue Love rather than attack him. Willis counted only three punches and one knee strike, and testified that all were within Gomez’s authority to try to control a suspect who had just jumped up and angrily shouted at him.
The trial will likely conclude this week, but the expert witnesses testifying to Gomez’s use of force may get another crack at the case due to the civil lawsuit that Love filed against Gomez following the incident.