The family of a Black motorist fatally shot by police while she was in her car believes the office used excessive force in the incident that cost the woman her life.
The lawyer hired by the relatives of Tracy Gaeta insists the cop who shot her not only violated department protocol by firing into a moving vehicle but engaged in “preventable police violence.”
Gaeta’s family retained the legal services of Gary Gwilliam to help them get answers about why their loved one was shot approximately 30 times by K-9 Stockton police Officer Kyle Ribera two months ago.
Gwilliam noted the family has not yet filed a lawsuit and is “mainly interested in why she was killed and what the circumstances were.”
The woman’s son, Alex Gaeta, said he was distraught and beside himself “trying to understand why such a violent excessive use of force was used to handle this situation.”
“I just want justice for my mother,” he said through the lawyer.
Their attorney says the family has requested on multiple occasions the force reveal the “justification” for the officer’s shooting of Gaeta, but instead of a personalized statement they were directed to a link to watch a “public relations piece with select body cam clips of the incident in an attempt to twist the narrative to their favor.”
In the video statement, authorities allege that on Tuesday, Feb. 22, the California grandmother was driving in a gray car and hit an officer in a police cruiser while he was stopped at a red light at Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd and I-5 facing westbound.
Immediately, after contact she fled the scene.
The officer attempted to follow the woman in his vehicle, as Gaeta illegally turned onto an on-ramp, the department reports, saying she drove her car in his direction, making him pull to the side to avoid getting hit.
He allowed her to drive away, telling dispatch he lost visual of the vehicle he believed was driven by a Black male, 50 years of age.
A short time later, a city block camera operator located the car driving westbound on Charter Way, where it apparently caught Gaeta running a red light on Fresno Avenue. Ribero caught up with her not long after that as she turned eastbound into a dead-end street.
Ribero’s bodycam video depicts Gaeta stopping her car at the end of the block and the officer parking behind her and getting out of his SUV as his police dog barks loudly in the background.
As the officer yells at Gaeta, the Sacramento resident accelerated her car in reverse and hit his vehicle.
The video shows the officer falling back into his vehicle as his door knocks him down and he hits his head. He called in over the radio reporting the person in the car had rammed him, seconds later he begins unloading.
As the car continued to drive a little bit forward and then backward, Ribera unloaded shots into the 54-year-old’s car, despite her never coming to a full stop.
The Stockton Police Department adopted a policy in 2019 stating not to shoot at suspects in moving cars, aligning with the Supreme Court’s 1985 decision on Tennessee v. Garner.
The high court ruled that it is unconstitutional for cops to use deadly force on a suspect fleeing the scene of a crime unless there is a clear threat of danger to the officer or others in the vicinity.
Almost 40 years ago, Justice Byron White wrote for the Court, though it is “no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, it is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape.”
Ribera shot into Gaeta’s car regardless of the policy mandate.
His bodycam shows that after he fired almost 20 times into her moving car. The officer then shot several more rounds into the car, changed the clip in his firearm, and yelled for the driver, who he originally thought was a man, to put his hands in the air.
Gaeta started driving again, the footage shows.
This time she moved forward several feet, before reversing away from the officer. He then opened fire on the woman, dumping a dozen more shots into the car. Injured by the gunshots, she was taken to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Gwilliam says he is “fighting for this family” because someone needs to be held “accountable” for Gaeta’s death, especially since her death was a result of someone not following a nationally recognized standard.
He blasted in a statement, “Nationally recognized standards prohibit officers from firing at moving vehicles absent the most compelling circumstances.”
“Stockton PD has quickly moved to stand by Officer Ribera rather than hold him accountable,” he said. “When listening to the select video clips posted by the Stockton Police Department, one can clearly hear over 30 shots being discharged in under a minute.”
Stockton Police Department spokesman Joe Silva said after the shooting Ribera was placed on three-day paid administrative leave before being allowed to return to work before February ended.
He also said there was a multi-agency investigation looking into the appropriateness of the officer’s actions and calling the incident a “tragedy for the community.” The findings will be shared with the local district attorney’s office which will then decide whether or not Ribera should face criminal charges.
“No matter what was going on with her — even if she had committed a heinous crime — he didn’t have the right to shoot her,” Gwilliam maintains. “She never threatened him.”
“The excessive force is shocking,” he added.
Angelina Austin, another lawyer working with Gwilliam on behalf of the family, said Gaeta was like “too many black women across this country” adding, she “is yet another victim of preventable police violence.”
The family is waiting anxiously, wondering why their mom was 50 miles away from her home in Stockton anyway. They said she had no diagnosed mental illness, nor a criminal record. She was experiencing some level of depression after breaking up with a longtime partner.
Her son called her “a warm-hearted, kind soul woman,” who “always saw the light in others and was such a delight to be around.”
Her daughter, Tressie, echoed her brother, saying, “She was the life of the party, and always knew how to put a smile on your face.”