Friday, July 22, 2011
Giovanni Ramirez's mother reacts
By Ramona Shelburne
LOS ANGELES -- She hasn't spoken to her son since he was arrested for a crime he did not commit.
She has seen him only on television or in court, handcuffed and wearing a prison-issued jumpsuit.
Soledad Gonzalez says she always knew her son, Giovanni Ramirez, was not the man who brutally beat San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium.
"I never thought this was him," she said during a tearful news conference Friday at the downtown offices of her family lawyer Jose Romero. "Never. He has made mistakes before. Every mistake he's made, he paid for it. But he didn't make a mistake here. He didn't do this."
A few hours after she spoke, L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck formally exonerated Ramirez as a suspect in the Stow investigation, and L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley charged two other men with three felony counts in connection with the beating.
Ramirez has been in police custody since his highly publicized May 22 arrest at an East Hollywood apartment complex. He was never charged in the Stow case, but rather held on a parole violation his attorney Anthony Brooklier called "bogus" and politically motivated.
According to a Los Angeles Times report in May, police said Ramirez was a documented member of the Varrio Nuevo Estrada street gang and had at least three prior felony convictions. According to police sources, the Times reported that he was convicted of attempted robbery in 1998, robbery in 1999, and firing a weapon in a public place in 2005.
Brooklier and Romero said they have already begun a process to get Ramirez released from prison.
"The parole commission abdicated its responsibility and made a decision to hold him with zero evidence linking him to the gun," Brooklier said of the weapon found at the residence Ramirez was staying at, constituting a violation of his parole.
"It was a political decision made based on the pressure from the [Stow case] and they know it, and they should do something about it."
Brooklier couldn't guess when Ramirez would be freed, but whenever that day comes, Gonzalez said it would be little consolation for the ordeal Ramirez and the family have endured.
"They can say they are sorry, but what does that do?" she said. "That won't help my health, or my son's health."
While she acknowledged being upset at the situation, and the LAPD's handling of the investigation -- notably releasing Ramirez's name and photograph without having enough evidence to present the case to prosecutors -- she stopped short of saying the family would pursue legal action against the city or the department.
"That will be up to him," she said, referring to her son.
Brooklier was even more conciliatory.
"I'm not interested in a civil case. You can't sue somebody every time the police are wrong," he said in a telephone interview Thursday night. "That would mean that every time there's a not-guilty verdict they can sue the police. The police have to be free to make mistakes, they just have to be good-faith mistakes. This is not a situation where the police manufactured evidence. They thought they had the right guy, they were wrong. That's why we have courts and law and thank God, defense attorneys. Every once in a while, we help."
The case against Ramirez unraveled almost immediately after he was taken into custody. While he was immediately picked out of a lineup by seven eyewitnesses to the attack, defense attorney David Arredondo argued that the "lineup was prejudiced" because Ramirez was the only one with a neck tattoo.
Defense attorneys reconstituted the lineup, this time with the five other men holding towels around their necks, and each one with a tear-drop tattoo painted below their eye.
This time, only one witness picked Ramirez out of the lineup, two picked someone else and four others couldn't pick anyone.
Defense attorneys also found 11 witnesses who said they saw Ramirez on the day of the beating, and that he was not at Dodger Stadium.
They also presented photographic evidence that he had hair on March 31. Eyewitnesses described the main suspect in the case as bald.
Ramirez's uncle, Eleno Gaitan, said Friday he told police Ramirez was at his house on the day of the attack. Ramirez had been staying with his family, at their house in East Hollywood, for the previous six months.
When policed stormed the house on May 22, ordered him and his family outside, then questioned them about Ramirez, Gaitan said he knew there had been a mistake.
"Defense attorneys can be pretty forthcoming when we are defending an innocent man," Brooklier quipped.
Gonzalez did not deny her son's reported gang affiliation or previous arrests, saying only "My son, when he was little, when he was at my house he took care of his brothers, he cleaned. He was the big man with a sweet heart. When he grew up ... he started making mistakes. But he did not do this."
Gonzalez was visibly emotional and upset as the defense attorneys recounted the ways they defended her son. She shook her head, dabbed tears from her eyes and muttered words under her breath.
"I was very upset," she said. "Why would they say he did it if they didn't have any proof? Because he looked like the picture. There's a thousand people he looks like. There's a thousand people that look like the picture.
"I feel so sorry for the family of Bryan Stow, I wouldn't want to be in the place of his mother. But I would also want to get the right person."
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.