EVERETT — The camera didn’t capture the kick, but it showed Juan Gonzales clinging to a fence, his legs wobbling, at a homeless camp off Smith Avenue. His final conscious moments were streamed on YouTube.
The man who kicked him in the head, Joshua Thompson, 42, pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree manslaughter.
Thompson was mad that night in September 2017, because Gonzales, 47, and a woman sat on a mattress that Thompson felt belonged to him, behind a hole cut in a fence along I-5, according to charging papers.
Thompson came up to Gonzales and kicked him in the face “real hard,” the woman reported. Gonzales wandered back to Smith Avenue and leaned against the chain link fence.
He collapsed at 11:02 p.m. on Sept. 25, 2017. An anonymous 911 caller reported he’d overdosed. In reality, his brain was bleeding. The head injury was inoperable. He died two days later, while still on life support.
While Gonzales’ collapse was captured on video, the attack itself was out of view of a camera set up by a businessman who ran a write-in campaign for mayor. It aired a live feed of his homeless neighbors online that became known as “Tweaker Cam,” a purported effort to bring attention to the realities of Everett street crime.
The woman was able to describe the attacker to police. She knew him only as Josh. Another woman reported she tried to help Gonzales when he fell. She confronted Thompson. He calmly admitted to the attack, according to her report. Police arrested Thompson. He waived his Miranda rights and rambled about a fire down the street that evening.
In a police interview, Thompson claimed Gonzales told him telepathically that he wanted to be kicked. He insisted that he only tapped his ankle against the man’s head, and that he didn’t kick with any force.
“He asked me to,” he told officers. “He said, ‘Bro, I’m sorry, but look, next time just hit me in the head. Kick me in the head,’ he said. That’s what happened tonight. It wasn’t a kick. It was a touch of my ankle.”
Forensic mental health reports show Thompson had been diagnosed in the past with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and unspecified psychosis. Court documents show he had many hospital stays for mental health issues from 2009 to 2017. He’d been found incompetent to stand trial in at least seven other criminal cases.
After his latest arrest, Thompson underwent new mental evaluations at Western State Hospital. His public defender, Jennifer Bartlett, tried to have the case dismissed in late 2017, when a psychologist found at the time he lacked the mental capacity to assist in his defense.
That motion was denied.
Thompson had grandiose delusions. His comments were sprinkled with “references to his creative powers of producing tools, buildings, tanks cars, etc., as well as metals out of non-mineral substances that aren’t connected in any known way to the smelting of such metals,” according to a progress report from April 2018.
Over time Thompson responded promisingly to treatment, wrote Dr. Brandi Lane, a psychologist at Western State, last May.
“Based on his improvement thus far, there is a reasonable expectation that Mr. Thompson will continue to improve with additional pharmacological and psychosocial treatment,” Lane wrote.
In August, a Snohomish County judge ruled his competency was restored to the point that the case could proceed. Almost a year after his arrest, the defendant was arraigned for the first time.
Based on the charge Thompson pleaded guilty to, state guidelines suggest he faces a range of about eight to 10½ years in prison.
Gonzales has family in California. A deputy prosecutor said they plan to fly to Washington for a sentencing hearing in February.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.