I hate to say it, but I don’t have a lot of hope that Gerardo Gonzales will succeed in his quixotic fight to clear his name of a 30-year-old molestation charge.
But I admire his unflagging determination.
And, for what it’s worth, I think he should win.
Gonzales was accused in the most notorious molestation ring case of the 1980s — the satanic molestation case.
Like nearly all the other “ring” cases, the satanic case, which prompted an investigation and scathing report by the state attorney general, fell apart.
But not before Gonzales and co-defendant Rev. Willard Thomas were all but forced to plead to one count each of lewd conduct with a child.
Those two pleas erased hundreds of charges pending against four other people and closed the books on an investigation in which the Kern County Sheriff’s Office had named 40 other suspects and had already taken 21 children into “protective custody.”
By any standard, that case and those plea deals were insane.
But Gonzales and Thomas, who died in 1992, had been in jail nearly three years. Gonzales’ children were in foster care and he and his wife had lost everything. A family friend mortgaged his house to put up bail money for Gonzales’ then-wife, Cheryl, and to help mount a legal defense.
When former Assistant District Attorney Steve Tauzer came to Gonzales and Thomas one night, offering the single-count deal, both men took it and didn’t look back.
Until years later.
Gonzales’ son (who still lives in Bakersfield and didn’t want to be identified), told me as his dad has gotten older, it has become more important for him to set the record straight.
So, in 2014, Gonzales filed a motion to withdraw his plea.
That was denied in Kern County Superior Court for a variety of technical reasons and has been languishing for the better part of a year in the 5th District Court of Appeal.
Meanwhile, Gonzales has been covering as many other bases as he can think of.
He tried to get the FBI to start a criminal investigation of Kern County. Or at the very least, take his report of criminal conspiracy relating to those molestation ring cases that so defined the early to mid-1980s in Kern County.
No dice on either try.
Now, he’s filed a federal civil rights case and is pursuing it “pro per,” meaning he’s representing himself.
Kern County Counsel Mark Nations acknowledged he had seen the suit.
“The complaint is hard for me to follow, but I get its general drift,” he said in an email. “I noted in his complaint that he is suing John Van de Kamp and alleging that the AG’s investigation was a cover-up. That surprised me. I also noted that several of the people he is suing have passed away — no surprise there given the passage to time.”
Van de Kamp died this past March 14.
Kern County Deputy District Attorney Kim Richardson, likewise, said Gonzales’ 2014 motion to withdraw his plea had been “rambling and hard to understand.”
I attended a few of the hearings on that motion and it was clear that Kern County Superior Court Judge John Lua and Gonzales’ attorney, Robert Salisbury, had major communication issues as to whether Salisbury was filing motions correctly per Kern County’s rules, among other problems.
Lua even tossed Gonzales out of the courtroom a few times for being disruptive when he tried to speak out of turn.
All of that is captured in this new lawsuit, which is raw, to say the least.
Gonzales’ anger and frustration at what he sees as a 30-year conspiracy is palpable.
I part ways with him on the conspiracy angle.
But I absolutely agree that his arrest and the handling of his children and trial was reprehensible.
Gonzales was a hard-working guy with a wife and two little kids in 1984 when sheriff’s Deputy Bill Rutledge arrested him on suspicion of molesting a neighbor girl named Brooke Hastings without a single shred of evidence other than Brooke allegedly told her mom, Janet Hastings, she was touched by a Hispanic man and a black man.
When they arrested Gonzales, they took his 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son to the downtown jail as well and interrogated them from about 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Gonzales said he could hear his kids crying in the office next to where he was being questioned.
Besides Brooke and the Gonzales children, sheriff’s deputies and social workers gathered a host of other children. Some from the neighborhood, some whose parents knew the Gonzaleses socially.
At least 21 children were removed from their parents, most of whom were never charged in the case.
Each removal required its own lengthy juvenile court process for the parents to get their kids back.
Here’s how crazy it got.
Apparently, one of the children who’d been removed from their parents claimed to have seen another neighbor child molested.
That little girl was snatched up by the county, too, even though her parents were never charged.
The parents’ pastor, Farrell Neeley, came to court to support them and one of the kids saw him and named him as a suspect as well.
Neeley’s children weren’t taken because he was tipped off about an impending visit by sheriff’s deputies and sent his wife and kids, literally in the dead of night, to a sister church over the Oregon border.
The children in the satanic case ultimately made allegations against numerous adults, including prosecutors and social workers.
They claimed to have been molested as they were hung from hooks, tied to boards, drugged and fed the blood of babies that had been sacrificed.
These poor kids had all been taken from their parents, interrogated by strangers, many of whom promised they could go home if they agreed they’d been molested, then stuck in foster homes and put into group therapy together where the stories grew darker and more far-fetched by the day.
When they tried to say it wasn’t true and no one had molested them, which many of them did, no one believed them.
Oh, and the District Attorney’s office actually handled the custody cases of the Gonzales children while it was prosecuting their parents — a huge conflict of interest.
This case, in particular, was mishandled in just about every way it could have been.
So, it just seems to me that even if Gonzales is filing rough-edged motions that don’t quite fit inside all the rules to try and be heard, shouldn’t the “justice system” look at the whole picture?
Either way, knowing Gonzales, I’m sure he’ll keep fighting.
By the way, the girl who made the initial accusations, Brooke Hastings, told the District Attorney’s office in 2014 she wanted nothing to do with the case any longer and doesn’t remember anything anyway.
Her mother, Janet, told the DA she still thinks Gonzales is guilty.