By: Jack Fleming, A Special to Kenosha County Eye
Although Kenosha Police Officer Albert “Brian” Gonzales has a loyal following, there are several aspects to his candidacy that may cause him difficulty in winning not only the upcoming partisan primary, but also the general election. Questions about his history in law enforcement, his qualifications and experience, and even his intent for running have piqued the interest of many voters, and it seems as though those voters have begun to pull away from Camp Gonzales as election day rapidly approaches.
The most obvious of these issues is that of his controversial involvement with the Michael Bell Jr. shooting that happened in 2004. Many Kenosha County citizens are just now becoming more acquainted with the case because candidate Brian Gonzales was the officer who pulled the trigger. Even though this incident happened long ago, Michael Bell Jr.’s father, Michael Bell Sr., has kept the issue alive and at the forefront of everyone’s minds with consistent advertisements and public statements in an effort to ensure his son’s death was handled justly. He has continued to claim that the Kenosha Police Department was involved in a cover-up to protect the officers involved and the department, and that the shooting of his son was in fact unjustified rather than a justified self-defense shooting which was what the Kenosha Police decided it was. He has called for further investigation of forensic evidence, specifically the bullet that was fired from Gonzales’ weapon, and has specifically targeted Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian to re-open the case. It’s well-documented that the officers involved in this incident changed their stories a number of times—not just a few, but 19 times total between them, which Michael Bell Sr. believes could be evidence of a cover-up. Regarding the investigation and trial of the officers, Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel stated: “At worst, [the officers] might have lied” in their testimony.
In addition to holding the brunt of the controversy around Michael Bell Jr.’s death, Gonzales may have created an uphill battle for himself when he wrote and self-published a memoir which details the incident rather graphically. In it, there are such statements as “the blood oozed its way down the hood and made its way over every dent…and began pooling near my boots.” Many voters have voiced their shock and disapproval in Gonzales’ choice to publish such material, and are further concerned with excerpts such as, “…my mind flashed to every deer I had ever killed,” and “’Yaay—woohoo! I did it!’ I cheered inside my head, as though I had scored a winning touchdown.” Gonzales loyalists have maintained that the book was written for other LEOs and military personnel who may have PTSD or other traumas associated with committing violent but necessary acts, but others still maintain that the book taints Gonzales’ credibility as he runs for public office. This author asked a retired law enforcement officer about the quotes in question, and although they prefer to remain anonymous, they provided us with their perspective: “As a former law enforcement officer in a major city, there were countless times I pointed my weapon as a use of force at a suspect. There were several times that my finger was on the trigger only a split second away from shooting someone. In those instances I knew the gravity of what may happen and never once did I take it so cavalierly as to think of it as shooting a deer or scoring a winning touchdown.” It’s reasonable to assume that other law enforcement officers may feel similarly, even moreso because Gonzales has not sought or received any endorsements from law enforcement officials or organizations that this author is aware of.
An additional, more recent controversy surrounding Brian Gonzales’ candidacy is his retirement from the Kenosha Police Department, which he submitted June 2, 2022. Gonzales has served the Kenosha Police for over 25 years, but his retirement comes at an interesting time considering its proximity to his seeking public office. If Gonzales were to win the race and become Kenosha County’s next Sheriff, he would then be able to “double dip,” meaning he would collect both his pension from his retirement as well as the Sheriff’s salary, all on the taxpayer dime. While this isn’t an illegal practice, it’s generally frowned upon and many voters feel untrusting of a candidate they’ll be forced to pay twice. It looks even more conspicuous given that he requested his employment to end specifically on August 9th, which is election day for the partisan primary.
Gonzales’ supporters, most of whom are connected to a local activist group which his wife is an active member, have been aggressive in their online campaigning tactics. They routinely fill social media comment threads with links to his website or offer defenses against these controversies. They also seem undeterred by the question of whether or not Gonzales could defeat the Democratic candidate for the general election, James Simmons. August 9th will reveal whether or not their efforts will be rewarded, or if they will have accidentally turned away too many voters with their militancy.