FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The man arrested on allegations he tossed an explosive device at an Indiana State Trooper during racial protests in downtown Fort Wayne in May 2020 has been acquitted.
An Allen Superior Court jury on Thursday found Juan Pablo Gonzalez, 45, of Elkhart not guilty of felony charges of Detonating a Destructive Device or Explosive, Possession of a Destructive Device, Battery with Bodily Injury to a Public Safety Officer and Battery Against a Public Safety Official, along with misdemeanor charges of Rioting and Disorderly Conduct.
The video showed the 45-year-old accused bomb thrower winding up and throwing a bottle at police lined at Clinton and Berry streets during one of the most riotous nights of the George Floyd protests.
But the video wasn’t telling enough to prove that the bottle Juan Pablo Gonzalez threw at police dressed in riot gear was the one that injured an Indiana State trooper, causing him potentially lasting injuries.
As Superior Court Judge Fran Gull read one not guilty after the other, Gonzalez wiped his eyes with both hands, his shoulders shaking with relief. He turned to shake the hand of his attorney, Ryan Gardner, grasping it as he said “thank you,” through tears.
Gardner, who ridiculed the testimony of a jail house snitch and the idea that the prosecution could prove the bottle detonating at the feet of Trooper Tyson Waldron on May 30 around 8 p.m. was thrown by Gonzalez, said after the verdicts it was a tough case.
The protests were an historic event for the city and county. Thousands of people turned up that weekend for demonstrations. “My client got caught up in the middle of all that,” Gardner said.
Michael McAlexander, Chief Deputy Prosecutor, and deputy prosecutor James Posey led the defense. They defended the jury’s decision even through their own disappointment.
Over the weekend of May 29 – 30, there was video of many people throwing bottles, rocks and other items at police. “We had video that was developed that showed a person throwing something towards police,” McAlexander said. “We had video showing the defendant in this case throwing something, but that item was never recovered. What the defense pointed out was that we didn’t have a trajectory of the item being thrown definitely establishing that it injured the officer.
“The jury apparently felt that that created reasonable doubt. We felt like it was circumstantial evidence, enough to gain a conviction, but clearly the jury felt differently,” McAlexander said. “
The prosecutors said they’d bring this kind of case again.
“It’s our responsibility to protect our community,” McAlexander said. There are a handful of cases related to protests that have warrants. Many were disposed of in pleas and diversion programs, he added.
The device in question landed near Indiana State Police trooper Tyson Waldron – who was “providing security and visual surveillance for the front line officers” – and it exploded.
Waldron was struck and cut and in “major pain,” according to court records. He was taken to a Fort Wayne hospital and later released, but was off work for several days.
An ATF task force officer and FWPD bomb technician said the explosive device was likely an “overpressure device,” according to court records.
After the explosion, Gonzalez ran off but was struck with a tear gas canister on his back.
Gonzalez was arrested in Freimann Square. He had a “slightly scabbed over back injury” that appeared like he’d been hit with a tear gas canister, police noted.
During his trial this week, a former cellmate of Gonzalez testified Gonzalez told him that he’d gone to Fort Wayne on May 30 “to blind and kill those (expletives),” referring to police. He said Gonzalez was disappointed that his device didn’t do more harm.
Gonzalez was identified from video and photographs, according to testimony in court, and a photo on a protestor’s Facebook page showed him at the demonstration, his tattoos clear and visible.
A jury didn’t buy his role, it seems.
Attorneys said after the verdict the jury was likely not convinced that Gonzalez threw the device. He threw something, but it wasn’t certain he threw the explosive.
Gonzalez was one of about 100 protesters arrested during the protests that began on May 29 and actively went on for two weeks. His was the last of several Allen County felony cases stemming from the protests to be adjudicated.