On February 19, 2007, Glendale police officer David Goitia pulled over a small silver Kia that had a stolen license plate on it. They pulled over on a small neighborhood street near 59th Avenue between Bethany Home and Camelback Roads. Goitia walked up to the window, and asked all three occupants of the vehicle for their ID’s. When he returned to his cruiser to run the ID’s through his computer, he discovered that all three had warrants for their arrest – and at least one of the ID’s was fake, handed over by the man with long, curly black hair sitting in the front passenger seat. Goitia called for backup and officer Tony Holly arrived.
Goitia placed the driver under arrest and put him in the backseat of his cruiser. As he did this, Holly talked to the two remaining in the vehicle. When Goitia returned, they removed the long-haired man in the front passenger seat to arrest him. Unexpectedly, after waiting between twenty and thirty minutes for his turn to be arrested, the man produced a .357 magnum revolver from the waistband of his pants and fired. Officer Holly was struck in the head. Officer Goitia took cover behind a vehicle and returned fire, striking the shooter in the arm and the thigh. The shooter continued to fire as he crawled away, and Officer Goitia heroically left cover to drag his brother officer to safety so he could render aid.
Officers from every corner of Glendale descended on the area after the “Code 999” call came over the radio, signalling an officer was down and in grave danger. About a block from the scene of the shooting, a man with long black hair, bleeding from the leg and the arm, laid a handgun on the window sill of a small blue house and knocked on the door, asking the woman inside for water. Officers took him down on the front stoop of that house and handcuffed him, then as required called for an ambulance to transport him to the hospital for treatment. Paramedics arrived and transported both the shooter and Officer Holly to separate hospitals.
My friend Tony Holly was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s Hospital that morning. The tall, lanky kid with the bright smile and the easy laugh, the one everyone knew they could count on, the one who loved Hawaiian shirts and Christian ska music, had only been on the force for two years when he was gunned down in cold blood. He’d served four years in the US Air Force (contrary to what the news reported, he was not an Iraq War veteran) and come home to his beloved Arizona to continue to serve his community.
The man with the long black hair and the prison tattoos turned out to be Bryan Wayne Hulsey. He had only been freed from prison for a few months on the day he was pulled over in that Kia. He had a long history of drug offenses, all involving methamphetamines; his adjudicating offense (the crime that landed him in prison) was an attempted robbery gone bad. In Mesa, about an hour’s drive from Glendale, a Circle K clerk had locked the doors because Hulsey and a companion were outside acting strangely. The clerk called police while Hulsey pounded on the doors to get in, and an officer pulled up while both men were still there. They ran, but Hulsey tripped at some point and a stolen pistol went skittering across the pavement. After a scuffle with the officer in this case, Hulsey was arrested and earned a five-year sentence. He was released after one and a half for “good behavior” in late 2006, immediately returning to his drug addiction and thieving. The gun he shot Tony with was also believed to have been stolen.
Today, two years later, Tony’s family is still waiting for justice to be done. Hulsey is on his second team of lawyers. Because of the way the law is written in Arizona, any death penalty case requires a not guilty plea and a trial – the defendant is not allowed to plead guilty. Despite the overwhelming evidence of Hulsey’s guilt (the many witnesses, the recovered murder weapon with Hulsey’s fingerprints all over it, the gun residue on Hulsey’s hands and clothing, the ballistics match that proved Hulsey was shot by Goitia), we are required to give him a full jury trial. And we have to wait for his defense team to get ready for it. Because we’re better people, we’ll make sure Hulsey’s rights are observed to every detail. Tony’s rights have long been forgotten, though, and his family still lives with the pain of never again being able to hug him, never hearing his voice, never again seeing him walk in the front door, kick his shoes off, and start laughing with everyone.
The day he was killed, I put Switchfoot’s song “The Blues” on and played it over and over again. The lyric that says, “does justice ever find you / do the wicked never lose / is there any honest song to sing besides these blues” gets me to this day. This world is a horribly unfair place, made so by the human element in it. What makes life livable is the knowledge that there are still others out there, just like Tony, who know that they’ll never change the world – but try to anyway.
Think about this story the next time you see one of those YouTube videos claiming police brutality. Think about this when you see people on the news swearing they didn’t commit any crime. Think before you condemn the officer, because there’s always more to it.