An Air Force investigation found a security forces airman in Idaho acted appropriately when he smashed a woman’s car window to handcuff her when she tried to avoid being ticketed, according to an official review of the incident obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The June 26 confrontation between Tech Sgt. Ryan Green, a certified flight sergeant with the 366th Security Forces Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, and Tati Gonzalez went viral after Gonzalez posted a video of the forced entry online.
Air Force Times obtained the squadron’s after-action report, body camera and closed-circuit television footage, and an almost entirely redacted copy of the Air Force’s 61-page use-of-force regulation on Sept. 7 and 8 via a Freedom of Information Act request filed July 8. The report was completed June 29.
“Reasonable force may be used by AF personnel while conducting official duties to obtain compliance from an individual or individuals who pose a threat, as discussed below, in order to meet lawful objectives,” the Air Force’s use-of-force regulation states.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances … the objective reasonableness standard in accordance with Graham v. Connor, the tools available to [Green] and lastly, the subject’s actions, the use of force … was in accordance” with regulations, the report said.
Graham v. Connor is the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case that created a standard for judging whether military police have acted properly when using force. Criteria include the severity of someone’s crime, whether they pose an imminent threat to the officer and others, and whether they are actively resisting or trying to evade apprehension — as Gonzalez was that day.
Green was up to date on his use-of-force and expandable baton training at the time of the incident, most recently finishing the annual course on Dec. 8, 2020.
That training, as well as the run-in itself, came amid a fierce national debate over excessive force in policing sparked by George Floyd’s death last year. Floyd, who is Black, died after Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The situation began when Gonzalez arrived at the base’s gate and showed an identification card to an airman (identified as GOLF-1 in the report) working at the Airbase Road entrance. When the airman scanned the card, the system showed her base access had expired.
She “began arguing with GOLF-1 about the terminated ID card,” the report said. “GOLF-1 requested a patrol for assistance. Green, whom the report calls POLICE-2, and his patrol partner were dispatched.
Green and another security forces airman approached the white Chevrolet Cruze and briefly talked to Gonzalez outside the car, according to closed-circuit television footage provided by Mountain Home spokesman 1st Lt. Daniel Barnhorst.
Gonzalez, who said she was five months pregnant and arrived at the base with small children in the car, told Green she was visiting to retrieve items from her ex-husband.
“[Green] attempted to conduct a vehicle registration check on [Gonzalez’s] vehicle, but the state [name] was blocked by a license plate cover/border,” the report said. “[He] asked for [her] license, registration and insurance.”
Gonzalez produced a passport and an expired driver’s license, according to body camera and CCTV footage. The report noted that her vehicle registration had been expired for about nine months and she “failed to provide any documentation for the vehicle.”
The Air Force policemen walked back to the gate twice while checking the paperwork, then returned to speak with Gonzalez again.
In response to the July 8 FOIA request, the Air Force provided an incomplete segment of body camera footage that begins at this point in the encounter and lasts about 11 minutes. The Air Force declined to provide a full tape that includes the breaking of the car window, saying the file was corrupted.
Green approached the car and asked for a man’s name, which Gonzalez refused to give and told the airman he was rude.
“I’m not being rude,” he answered. “I’m actually doing a lot of homework, trying to figure it out and trying to help you.”
Green spoke into his radio and asked for DD Form 1805, which refers state traffic law violations on base to the U.S. court system, then turned back to Gonzalez and again asked for a driver’s license.
“We’re going to get ahold of your husband’s first sergeant,” he told Gonzalez.
The airman asked whether Gonzalez had tried calling her ex-husband, to which she appeared to respond that her former spouse hadn’t answered. He began filling out her ticket while the military police waited for an answer from the first sergeant.
An unidentified person called Green and told him the first sergeant agreed the situation seemed like a civil matter. Green told the man he was writing up Gonzalez for expired registration “because she’s being rude to me,” according to the body camera footage.
“We were actually monitoring via the CCTV, and it looked like you were berating the s*** out of her,” the unidentified man said.
“I’m getting a little upset with her, but … I feel like I’ve been pretty nice,” Green answered.
Another unidentified person then contacted Green to tell him that the first sergeant was on his way, but unhappy with the situation: “He asked, like, why does he even need to go?” she said.
Green asked the woman to run Gonzalez’s Illinois license plate through the registration database, then noticed Gonzalez walking over to the gate with a small child and her phone.
“You’re actually being detained right now, because I’m writing you a citation” for an expired driver’s license and registration, Green told Gonzalez. “Stay in that vehicle or I’m going to take the keys.”
Gonzalez told Green she was leaving and would call the police, though the Air Force had already called Elmore County sheriff’s deputies for help.
The body cam clip ended as Green ushered Gonzalez back to her car. She climbed into the vehicle and began driving away, with security forces in pursuit. Green’s partner began closing the outbound street lanes.
Green drew his M18 pistol and aimed it at the car, slapping the Cruze’s hood to get Gonzalez to stop. She pulled a U-turn and swung around to the gate once more. They disappeared off-screen.
Green holstered his gun and ordered Gonzalez to get out of the car three times, according to the report. Her doors were locked and windows were up, so Green unfurled his baton. While the report claims that Green told Gonzalez to cover her eyes before breaking the window, none of the footage from any source shows that warning.
Gonzalez’s own cell phone video, about 80 seconds long, begins moments before Green smashes the driver’s window with the baton as a child wails in the background. He demanded she step out of the car.
“I’m pregnant. Don’t f***ing touch me,” she said.
“You just committed a felony,” Green answered.
“For what? You’re not the police,” Gonzalez responded.
“Yes, we are law enforcement,” the airman said.
Green reached through to unlock the door as Gonzalez resisted being pulled out of the car. She was then handcuffed, protesting that Green was overstepping his bounds.
Green told her the civil matter became a criminal one when they discovered her license and registration were outdated.
“It’s on body camera. Congratulations,” he said.
About two minutes elapsed between when Gonzalez tried to leave and when a gate camera panned left to show a county sheriff’s deputy directing traffic away from her car, which was pulled over in front of the gate. Green had broken her window off-screen and was handcuffing her when they reappeared on CCTV.
Green led Gonzalez toward the gate and out of the frame, and law enforcement began directing the line of stopped cars onto base.
Military medical personnel who checked Gonzalez and the children for injuries found a tiny cut on her upper left arm that did not require emergency care. The kids were medically cleared as well and left with the woman’s ex-husband.
Gonzalez received three citations for expired registration, fleeing a stop after being told she could not leave, and child endangerment violations for trying to leave with small children in the car, according to the report.
Gonzalez was read her Miranda rights before county sheriff’s deputies took her into custody as part of an agreement with the base to detain people arrested on federal property.
Law enforcement found nothing of interest while searching her car. All told, the situation lasted nearly three hours.
Stars and Stripes previously reported that Gonzalez was held on a $600 bond over the weekend before being released on her own recognizance — meaning without paying bail but pending trial. She received several possessions back since the incident, 366th Fighter Wing spokesperson Master Sgt. Eric Harris told the publication.
“The federal charges against Ms. Gonzalez have not been dismissed,” wing spokesperson Capt. Krystal Jimenez said Friday. “Ms. Gonzalez was scheduled for an initial appearance on 13 September 2021 at U.S. District Court in Boise, Idaho. However, Ms. Gonzalez failed to appear. The 366th Fighter Wing will continue to support the U.S. Attorney’s Office in prosecution of this case.”
The Air Force can convene a use-of-force review board if an incident involving non-lethal weapons or firearms results in an injury, fatality or publicity, the document says. Reviews can help point to any needed changes to training, policy and procedures, and can be used in military justice or administrative proceedings.
“There is no requirement that Security Forces personnel utilize the least intrusive or minimum force in all cases, as long as the force is reasonable in intensity, duration and magnitude,” the Air Force regulation added.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Sept. 17 at 4:36 p.m. to correct the transcription of “You’re actually being detained right now.”
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.