The Unduly Long Arm of the Law

When the feds indicted Izzy Gonzalez, they may have reached too far

The I-395 shooting was the only one in which Izzy was implicated. I can understand why the case looked good to the feds. Hames and Mervolion say they knew guns were planted, and both say they met the next day with six others at the Barbecue Barn restaurant to plot cover stories. But Izzy, who is 43 years old, has a strong defense. Mervolion placed him at the meeting. Hames didn't. This seemed to me to be the definition of reasonable doubt. Essentially that was the case against him. He was not accused of planting the guns or talking to anyone at the scene about planting a gun. The shooting, as defined by department policy, was justified. So it really was a matter of whether he was at the meeting where a conspiracy allegedly was hatched.

I spent some time with Izzy before the trial began. Because of a gag order he was careful not to talk about his case. We'd sit and have a beer at Soyka on Biscayne Boulevard and discuss police work in general, or motorcycles.

Every time I was with him, I thought: Is this guy lying when he asserts his innocence? How well do I know him? I dug through his personnel records at the police department for clues. Among other things, I found a 1984 commendation for confronting a man carrying an Uzi submachine gun. "Officer Gonzalez ordered the man to drop the gun but he hesitated as if he was not going to drop it, causing Officer Gonzalez to fear for his life. Officer Gonzalez held his fire and the man dropped the machine gun." And one from 1990, in which Izzy tried to calm a man who had stabbed his brother with a screwdriver and was brandishing a knife and machete in front of several officers. "Officer Gonzalez continued talking to the subject, trying to get him to disarm himself. This was an exhausting job that lasted more than two hours" until police grabbed him. Both of these incidents easily could have ended in "justified" gunfire.

Israel Gonzalez leaves the federal courthouse as a jury begins deliberating his fate and that of ten other Miami police officers
Israel Gonzalez leaves the federal courthouse as a jury begins deliberating his fate and that of ten other Miami police officers

And I remembered what former Lt. John Campbell told me. Campbell headed homicide until 1999, when then-Chief Raul Martinez transferred him out and appointed Izzy in his place. "They came to me and said I had to go talk to Izzy, because he wouldn't take the job unless he knew it was all right with me," Campbell recalls. The two aren't friends. In fact Campbell helped persuade one of the indicted officers to plead guilty and cooperate.

Izzy's simmering rage at being a defendant, seeing his career ruined, and facing incarceration had somehow evolved into resignation. He'd been through worse, he would say. Over a beer one night he talked about his wife Lidia. In 1999 carjackers shot her dead for her Rolex -- a grim twist of fate for a cop sworn to protect others from precisely such crimes. It colored his view of the 25 years in prison he faced. "They can't do anything to me now, it doesn't matter," he muttered. Wherever he was, he'd be alone. He even told his family, including his parents and two sons from a previous marriage, to stay away from the courthouse. They did. "Like birth and death," he said, "there are some things you need to go through alone."

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